Love on Autopilot

Falling in love is easy, but taking care of love on a daily basis isn't so simple. In fact, there are those who take affection for granted, view care as unnecessary, and constant conversation as something that's excessively tiring. However, these relationships on autopilot soon hit a dead end.
Love on Autopilot
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 26 October, 2022

Do you use your car to go to work? If so, try to answer the following question. How was your ride home yesterday? Most likely you won’t remember. You won’t be able to say exactly how many times you changed lanes or how many traffic lights you had to stop at. That’s because, like many other of your activities, you drive on mental autopilot.

Your brain makes your life easier. It does so by automating routine behaviors. Therefore, you save energy, both physical and mental. After all, the most important thing for this sophisticated, but at the same time, fundamental organ, is that you survive, not that you have to reason and make decisions every second of the day.

As a matter of fact, it’s your unconscious that assumes control for many hours in your life. Getting up, showering, getting dressed, having breakfast, going to work, completing certain tasks, and coming home. Your daily life is often so routine that you leave your psychological autopilot in control of it.

In fact, you spend a good part of your time disconnected from immediate reality, letting yourself be carried away by mere automatisms. However, what happens in the emotional field? Can love also fall under the domain of your unconscious?

The answer is yes. Let’s find out more.

Relationships fall into autopilot mode when we no longer pay attention to each other.

Brain with light bulb to represent love on autopilot
The unconscious mind acts on autopilot, taking over routine tasks.

Love on autopilot and why many relationships ‘crash’

There’s nothing easier than falling in love. Indeed, certain people come into our lives, turning them upside down and filling them with unexpected hopes and almost irrational passion. When this happens, you let yourself go, because love is like that. Effervescent, intense, magical, and wonderful.

However, what happens when you move from the falling-in-love phase to a regular relationship? What happens to partners who’ve been in their relationships for three, four, or nine years? In fact, they run the risk of entering the phase of automatism. Love on autopilot appears when a relationship is carried away by everyday routine, allowing everything to happen on its own, without any mutual dedication.

Let’s look at some of the characteristics of this type of situation.

If a couple takes their relationship for granted and assumes that nothing is going to change, they can fall prey to the kind of monotony that dulls their hopes and minds. We must understand that we’re constantly changing and that love can vanish at any moment if it isn’t taken care of.

Disconnected conversations

Disconnected conversations are clear examples of love on autopilot. Some people just listen to their partner while they speak without paying attention or understanding the message. They lose the thread of the conversation and completely disconnect from what their partner is telling them. This is both annoying and harmful.

Letting their mind wander to other topics and thoughts and neglecting the present moment with their partner is one more relational automatism. These situations inevitably end with arguments and tension. The one who was speaking gets angry when they perceive that their partner isn’t paying attention or listening to them with any interest.

They may also be trying to communicate something important but their partner is paying no attention to them. This later causes problems and misunderstandings.

Poor emotional connection

A study conducted by the University of Washington (USA) claims that a considerable part of our daily lives involves managing, in stable contexts, work, home, walks, shopping, etc. In these contexts, our brains turn on autopilot as it’s capable of responding to really simple demands, as well as routine.

Life as a couple often takes place in a context marked by routines. When this happens and many actions become repetitive, their brains stop responding emotionally. This causes the two partners to be like two stones dragged along the riverbed by the current, allowing the water to erode all the affection, hope, and fun in the relationship.

Love on autopilot moves by inertia, taking affection and even mutual commitment for granted. However, in the midst of this artificial movement, the couple stops connecting emotionally with each other. They’re living together yet feel like two strangers.

Automated love

Many couples reach a point when they mistakenly assume that reaching relationship stability means not having to invest any more effort and energy in it. In effect, they feel like they’ve already done and achieved everything. However, thinking that a stable relationship doesn’t require any more investment traps the couple in rituals and routines. Communication becomes ritualized (How was your day?  I’ll cook dinner shall I?). Routines become automated and even sex becomes predictable.

Gradually, even affection becomes subject to the mental autopilot that makes everything predictable and even monotonous. Life no longer contains any novelties in the sentimental area and, almost without realizing it, an insane kind of attachment is created to the partner. They want them to be there in their life, they want them by their side, but their emotions have become stagnant. Something has failed. At the same time, they feel as if they’re being suffocated.

Young couple who have overcome love on autopilot
No matter how busy you are, spending time with your partner is key to strengthening your relationship.

How to turn off the autopilot on love

If you think your relationship is dominated by love on autopilot, you need to get back in the driver’s seat. You must take control and take action before your relationship crashes and fails altogether.

If boredom, routine, and automatisms dominate you, you’ll have reached a stage marked by disappointment and a lack of emotional intimacy. What can you do in these circumstances? Here are some tips.

  • No matter how busy you are, find time to be together. Devoting time to each other gives you both presence. In effect, you both realize that you’re important to each other. 
  • Talk about your dreams and goals in the short and long term. What do you want as individuals and what do you want as a couple for the future? Reawaken your joint hopes when making plans together.
  • Break the routine by giving each other surprises. Organize dates and weekend getaways and try new experiences together.
  • Reformulate your idea of what love is. Affection mustn’t be taken for granted. You’re both constantly growing, your needs have changed and will continue to change. Therefore you must both contribute not only security but also affection, attention, challenges, new knowledge, experiences, etc to the relationship.

Being a couple means continuing to grow together without stagnating, without taking your relationship for granted just because you love each other. Love isn’t everything, dedication is. It’s well worth thinking about.

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.

  • Harasymchuk, Cheryl & Cloutier, Anika & Peetz, Johanna & Lebreton, Janelle. (2016). Spicing up the relationship? The effects of relational boredom on shared activities. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 34. 10.1177/0265407516660216.
  • Vatansever, Deniz & Menon, David & Stamatakis, Emmanuel. (2017). Default Mode Contributions to Automated Information Processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114. 201710521. 10.1073/pnas.1710521114.

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