Love and Relationships

[Two Pronged] Is this love or habit?

Margarita Holmes
[Two Pronged] Is this love or habit?
This week's letter-sender wants to know, three years in, if it's love or just habit

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr Baer,

I want to ask your insights regarding a query I have been trying to answer for the past weeks. My partner and I are on our third year of relationship. In the span of three years of long distance relationship, we were able to surmount challenges that came along the way. We text and call each other everyday. 

There came a point in time that I wanted to figure out if it is still love that sustains our relationship or have we reached a saturation point where everything seems to be just a routine or a habit.

Kindly enlighten me on this issue that keeps on rattling my mind. 

I am looking forward to relish your ideas and tips on how to sustain the “spark” of our relationship.


Dear Joe,

Relationships are difficult and for some,  LDRs are even more difficult.

Despite the time spent attempting to nurture them, the sense of togetherness can fade, especially if the ties that bind the couple slowly form less and less of their daily lives and therefore what they have in common is almost imperceptibly whittled away. 

If the bedrock of the relationship is sufficiently solid, the relationship may well survive but if those ties are more ephemeral, it is tougher to keep going. A couple married for 20 years, with one an OFW and, say, three or four children, have in principle more lasting ties than a couple such as yourselves who are comparatively only at the start of your journey.

In your particular case, you already feel that the relationship is fading away and that the contact between you is becoming merely rote. The key issue is whether you believe there is sufficient left on which to build something more lasting and worthwhile. Some people might walk away at this stage, while others might feel that they have already invested too much of their time, effort, and heart to end it without weightier

One interim solution could be to soldier on until you meet up in person once again. Then you may be able to judge what the future holds more clearly than just rely on what you can glean from an internet conversation, daily or otherwise.

Your very last sentence in which you use the word “sustain” rather than say “rekindle” suggests you still think there could be light at the end of the tunnel. 

If this is so, you might consider working on fostering intimacy, particularly via knowledge of your partner and self disclosure, as a means to counteract any further descent into habit and routine. Also, making pains to share things (like reading the same books, watching the same films, eating together etc.) helps to create more of a life together and narrows the gap.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Joe,

Thank you very much for your letter; and Mr Baer, thank you too for suggesting two options to Joe which, in my clinical experience, are the very best to help Joe answer his question: “Is our relationship still based on love or merely a friendship we have gotten used to, like a habit?”

“Share things (like reading the same books, watching the same films, eating together etc.) helps to create more of a life together and narrows the gap.”

The major reason doing things together, even virtually at this point — like sharing a meal, praying, playing board games — is that you are doing things in real time.

Then more things happen to the both of you together, more “shared experience,” which is always better than merely talking about your shared experiences with other people. Hearing about what your partner did, and talking about what you did with other people, is important, but nowhere near as important as actually experiencing the fun, sharing the insights gleaned, etc that you do with each other.

Of course, being in an LDR (long distance relationship) makes that difficult, and something else you can both do together is brainstorm the many ways this can be achieved.

In other words, don’t just talk about what you can finally do when you meet, actually do them now.

“foster…intimacy, particularly via knowledge of your partner and self disclosure,”

Intimacy (which is more than mere sexual/physical intimacy) is what differentiates a real relationship from a routine acquaintanceship, or even a formerly special relationship to one that is now continued due to habit.

Mr Baer is right. You foster intimacy by self-disclosing… by sharing parts of yourself that you may not have felt safe enough to share with other people, but feel safe enough to share with your partner.  

Sharing secrets, insecurities, painful experiences you may not have shared with anybody else before is what helps you keep more in touch with yourself and with the person you share these things with. This takes courage and trust, and thus does not happen overnight.  

Usually, when people start a new relationship, it is as if they can stay up all night talking about themselves and many of them actually do! 

This desire to share something new (at least to your partner) or to explore new feelings that you have that you haven’t actually put a name to, (because you are just finding out more about the situation that brought about these feelings and about yourself) is what separates a vibrant relationship from one that is “same-old, same-old.”

If this makes you wistful, because you remember how you used to be together, stopping yourself from butting in – because 1. you want to hear what she has to say and 2. you want to share how this resonates so much with your own life – then reading Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2019) might help get you back on track…that is,  if you are stymied about ways to get back to talking the way you used to.

In fact, I dare say, Mr Baer and I might have the first of our eight dates tonight (not that he knows about it yet – haha) given how the lockdowns limit our options so much.

Good luck!

MG Holmes

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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