“I love you but I’m not in love with you.”
Ten words that no one ever wants to hear, as they usually sound the death knell of a relationship. But they are also word that I don’t really understand. If you really think about it, what does that actually even mean? What is the difference between loving someone and being “in love” with them?
The Nature of Love
Think of all the people you love. Chances are your list contains a number of family members. Parents, grandparents, siblings, and children (plus more, but I don’t want to go on forever). Who else do you love? You probably love your friends. What about acquaintances or co-workers? Doubtful, but I’m sure there is some sort of connection with them. How about your doctor or dentist? Probably not.
For the people you love there are definitely differences in the way that you love them. So what is love? I think love all about connection. Imagine for the moment that the depth of love can be measured in the degree of connection we have with someone. In that case, then not counting children and our partner, the person who we have the deepest connection with is likely our best friend (I actually think your partner and best friend should be the same person, but I’ll take this to be your best friend other than your partner).
Something I have often wondered is what does this mean for romantic love? How is the love you have for your best friend different from the love you have for your partner? The key difference between your romantic relationship and your closest non-romantic relationship seems to be intimacy. But there is emotional intimacy in your close non-romantic relationships too. So what is the difference? Is it purely physical attraction?
Let me put this another way – why is it that you will hug/kiss/have sex with your partner, but not your best friend?
The previous question may seem a bit facetious. One big roadblock is that a persons best friend is (normally) not of the same gender that they have a sexual preference for. But even if that weren’t the case, is a romantic relationship really just about sexuality? The sexual side of a relationship is important but relationships need to be based on more than that in order to survive.
In a number of posts I’ve talked about stages of love, and how in most romantic relationships when you fall in love the passion and emotion of the early stage is not sustainable. That’s not due to anything wrong with the relationship, it’s just the way “love” affects us physiologically. Love causes our hormones to go crazy, and in the early days it can color how we perceive the other person and their actions.
But it can’t do this forever. Science tells us that this early infatuation stage is temporary, lasting from six months to two years at most.
A different perspective
I recently read a great article on the idea of “I love you but I’m not in love with you”. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s the part I thought was the most interesting:
Some disenchanted partners confront their mate during marital counseling by saying: “I love you – but I am not in love with you”. They often use this declaration when they feel that their union is in jeopardy. Actually, the shift from ‘in love’ to ‘loving’ should be viewed as a normal transition from illusion to reality.
Psychologically, the end of the infatuation stage awakens the lover from viewing the love object as an idealized person to seeing him/her as a person with both assets and liabilities. This realistic perception is needed for healthy attachment and committed love. The response to “I love you, but I am not in love with you” should be: “Thank you for loving me, now we can begin a real and effective relationship”.
Relationships go through normal transitions. You initially fell in lust, now you are at the point that you need to determine if that lust will develop into love.
The Wear and Tear of Time
So when faced with “I love you but I’m not in love with you” it’s possible that it is simply the natural transition of a relationship. But it’s more likely they are using that term to describe the breakdown of the relationship. What they are really saying is:
We’ve had some good times, but I don’t want to spend my life with you anymore.
For this to happen both the romantic love and the basic connection has broken down.
Think of your relationship like a car. When you get it, it’s shiny and new. At any point in time there can be a major accident that makes the car irreparable, but it’s more common for cars to wear down over time. Parts wear down, but regular maintenance allows you to correct little problems in the car and prevent them from turning into big ones. If you don’t do regular maintenance you limit the potential lifespan of the car, and run the risk of having it completely break down.
Relationships are similar in that sometimes major incidents cause the relationship to break down. But it’s much more common for the accumulation of little hurts over many years to cause the connection to break down. Caught early enough it is possible to repair things. But if problems go unaddressed for too long, the damage may be too extensive to repair.
Relationships require regular maintenance, and the article lists a few ideas for keeping your relationship strong:
- Hold your mate in reverence even when you do not appreciate his/her behavior
- Assume that all of your partner’s displeasing conduct comes from pain- not dysfunction
- Will yourself to be as compassionate as you can and your relationship will thrive
I can’t say I would use the word “reverence”, but I agree with the basic sentiment. I believe sustained love is dependent on “how” we approach love, and each other.
Love is a choice. Accept that your partner has flaws, and instead of focusing on who they aren’t love them for who they are. Make your partner a priority in your life, and never stop putting in the effort or doing the little things to show them that you care.
The main preventative measure for keeping your relationship alive is communication. Always take time to talk and to listen. Be present. Don’t let little problems build up and become big ones.
To keep your relationship alive make sure you laugh together, dance together, sing together, and take time every day to appreciate each other.