Love Burnout: When Affection Becomes Stressful

Some relationships are exhausting and stressful and make you feel down, even though love remains. What should you do in these cases? Can your relationship be saved? Find out here.
Love Burnout: When Affection Becomes Stressful
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 01 April, 2023

Does your relationship with your partner cause you a lot of stress? Do you feel emotionally low? In reality, some bonds hurt. They go from passion to spite, affection to reproach, and hugs to screams. They’re the kinds of scenarios in which happiness that’s dominated by harmony, trust, and the ability to agree rarely germinates.

It’s often said that love burns. However, we’re not talking here about the intense smoldering kind of love that’s dominated by desire, oxytocin, and serotonin. We mean the situations when falling in love leads to dysfunctional situations in which one partner invests too much energy and receives only suffering in return. In fact, everything is chaotic and exhausting.

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of and possibly experienced work burnout. It happens when the demands of your job exceed your resources. You experience frustration, discouragement, and extreme emotional and physical exhaustion. But, what if we told you that this experience can be transferred to the emotional realm? That’s right, relationships can also ‘burn’.

If love remains, you might continue in a relationship that, due to the incompatibility of your values or communication problems, has become unsustainable.

Woman suffering loving burnout
Frequent fights and disagreements are common in love burnout.

Love burnout

Love burnout is a situation of progressive wear and tear in a relationship in which the two members are united by love, but their coexistence is unsustainable. The main problem in this type of situation is that no strategy is applied to solve the problems, nor is there an end to the tortuous link.

As a rule, these couples are caught in a constant cycle of passion, disagreement, distance, and reconciliation. They’re ties that suffocate but are nourished by extreme emotions and experiences that range from love to contempt, desire to rejection, and anger to passion. Although it might surprise you, these roller coasters of emotions end up being as addictive as they’re exhausting.

In fact, they’re not only relational scenarios dominated by conflict. Despite the constant discrepancies, there are certain elements that continue to unite the couple. For example, sex, desire, passion, and love. Indeed, there’s something in the relationship that works well and that’s sometimes rewarding, but the rest of the time the relationship is little more than a constant battle.

The characteristics of love burnout

The main characteristic of love burnout is the physical and emotional exhaustion it generates. Partners feel drained, with no strength, energy, or feelings of encouragement. At the same time, they find themselves reflecting on why they continue in a relationship that brings them more suffering than happiness. And the answer is almost always the same: they can’t end a relationship where love still remains.

The manifestation of love burnout

Love burnout manifests in the following ways:

  • The relationship is based on emotional dependency.
  • Partners demand constant displays of affection and validation from each other, but these are never enough. Consequently, there are constant reproaches.
  • Arguments and differences arise continuously and are poorly resolved. Feelings of resentment are always present.
  • One of the partners feels that the other doesn’t support them or consider their feelings, except when there’s an ulterior motive.
  • There are serious communication problems.
  • The only scenario in which harmony seems to exist is on the sexual plane.
  • One of the partners usually has an insecure attachment style. Therefore, they need the reaffirmation of their loved one. However, at the same time, they don’t trust them. This means that their emotions are always confusing. For instance, there’s a need for closeness yet also self-protection, so they might keep their distance to not get hurt.
  • The exhaustion that love burnout generates affects dimensions such as sleep, productivity, and even relationships with other people.

The most extreme cases of this type of dynamic can lead to somatic disorders and social isolation. In fact, an investigation conducted by the University of Macedonia claims that burnout, understood as an extreme emotional and physical exhaustion, is one of the most common and challenging mental health problems.

If you’re aware that your relationship isn’t working despite the fact that the love remains, you may even question yourself. This can result in extreme exhaustion.

Couple in therapy due to love burnout
Couples therapy allows partners to make way for healthier relational dynamics.

What can be done?

Love burnout is hurtful and exhausting and it subjects partners to relationships based on dependency. They’re scenarios nourished by stress. There’s a need for affection yet emotional loneliness. A search for attention yet constant reproach. There’s love but no harmony and happiness.

What can you do if you find yourself at this kind of emotional crossroads?

Talk to someone and regain your perspective

In any stressful situation, you lose perspective. That’s because your brain is acting at a minimum level and is only reacting. In effect, it’s in survival mode. This means it’s really difficult for you to reflect and make decisions. Therefore, it’s essential that you talk to someone close to you about the situation in which you’re submerged.

By sharing your suffering with someone significant, you’ll probably become aware that you need to respond. You must act. The psychologist and Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, claims that we’re often subject to the ‘illusion of focus’. This means that you focus on only one aspect of your life and neglect to see everything else.

Therefore, you may be only focusing on your love for your partner, but not the harmful effects of your relationship.

Agree on short-term improvement goals in the relationship

Love burnout requires changes in your relational dynamics. This can be achieved by enlisting professional support. Couples therapy is a particularly useful strategy that can help you make the necessary changes. That said, as you can imagine, it requires the firm commitment of both of you.

If nothing changes, make a decision

Your relationship that’s been reinforcing itself in a dysfunctional way must change. Stress will only dissipate with new ways of relating and communicating, along with building the foundations of a healthy, enriching trust. If this doesn’t happen, the problem will become entrenched.

If this is the case, you need to make a decision. The problem is that the glue that’s sticking you to the harmful bonds is emotional dependency. Escaping from this psycho-affective prison requires the support of your environment and also of specialized professionals. It’s only when you let go of the source of the stressful situation that you’ll begin to feel better.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Forth A, Sezlik S, Lee S, Ritchie M, Logan J, Ellingwood H. Toxic Relationships: The Experiences and Effects of Psychopathy in Romantic Relationships. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2022 Nov;66(15):1627-1658. doi: 10.1177/0306624X211049187. Epub 2021 Oct 6. PMID: 34612077; PMCID: PMC9527357.
  • Solferino, Nazaria & Tessitore, M.. (2019). Human networks and toxic relationships. 10.13140/RG.2.2.18615.68001.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.