5 Ways To Interpret "I Love You, But I'm Not In Love With You"
"I love him, but I'm not in love with him."
In the 35 years I've been a relationship counselor and among the thousands of couples I've worked with, at least 25% of them start their sessions with this statement. Although this statement is expressing a real feeling, it can mean many things. It usually takes the client or couple several sessions for them to discover where it falls on the continuum. Is it a part of the normal stages of a relationship, or is it a sign of the relationship is over?
There are five main things that this statement may really mean:
1. "I want out of the relationship."
I want out of the relationship and am clear it's done, and I want to be nice about it. I don't want to hurt my partner's feelings, and this is easier to say than "It's over."
Ending a relationship won't ever be nice or easy. It's painful and hard, which is why some people might try to cushion the blow with statements like "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." They may earnestly care about their partner but simply don't want to continue in the relationship anymore.
Just note: if what you really want is to break up with someone, know that it's not a comfort to the person being broken up with that their partner loves them but is not in love with them.
2. "I've met someone else."
I've met someone else with whom I feel alive, like I used to with my current partner.
Sometimes a person will meet someone new who makes them feel alive, and they realize they don't have that feeling with their current partner anymore. The difference between how they feel about the new person and the current partner may make them come to the conclusion that they're no longer in love with the person they're in the relationship with.
Of course, chances are, they would end up in the very same situation with the new person in the future if they were to enter into a relationship with them. Every relationship will go through lulls. Your aliveness needs to come from within you; that "falling in love" feeling is a chemical high that isn't meant to last forever.
3. "I feel emotionally closed off."
I'm noticing we're arguing a lot, and instead of feeling like you're my person, I'm closing off to you emotionally.
Some people feel they're no longer in love when there's been a lot of conflict. The thing is, everyone has difficulties and parts of their relationship that don't work. All couples have many irresolvable issues, and the difference between the thrivers and divers is not whether they have differences between them (because, seriously, every couple has them) but how they are managed. This happens because we learn the skills to handle it, and the good news is that anyone can learn skills.
(Here are a few ways to rebuild a relationship that's falling apart.)
4. "Our sex life no longer excites me."
Our sex life no longer excites me. The sex has become dull, boring, or predictable.
Sometimes not having sex for a period of time can make people believe the love is gone. Our sexual relationships are like the other parts of our connection—we need to find new ways to keep things alive. In the same way a runner can feel wiped out and then push through the wall to find a second wind and a better high than ever, this often happens in our lovemaking when we get a little creative. (Here are a few ways to slowly build up sexual desire again in your relationship.)
5. "I'm depressed."
This one is harder to translate, but it's a very real possibility. The person feeling this could be depressed, and the color may have faded in many things they once enjoyed—including their relationship. If you investigate and believe you or your partner is actually depressed rather than falling out of love, it's time to reach out to a mental health care provider to seek out support.
Love but not in love: Is the relationship over?
We interpret this feeling, which is also about the absence of another kind of feeling, as a sign the relationship is not going to last. Although this may prove to be the truth, it is more likely that it isn't.
Think about what you do for a living. Are you a professional, a student, an artist of some sort? Can you remember when you had the thought that brought you to this place? "I want to be a musician." "I just got the greatest job as a graphic artist." "Finally I'm an attorney, a kindergarten teacher, a business owner." This is often accompanied by a sense of expansion and happiness, as though you have reached the top of a mountain, a sense of arrival. Three months later, when you're knee-deep in desk work, administration complications, or having to manage an impossible co-worker, what do you feel then? Does it mean you put in your resignation immediately? Probably not—and it's no different in our relationships.
We don't stay in that high place all the time. Some days are cloudy, some are stormy, some are gray, and sometimes the sun shines. Relationships are seasonal and cyclical, and the statement, "I'm not in love with my boyfriend" can mean many more things than "it's time to leave." Sex can be rekindled, intimacy can be rediscovered, and depression can be managed.
A long-term relationship has many seasons: Don't interpret that feeling of not being in love as a recipe for disaster but rather as a mystery to explore and find your way through. If you've fallen out of love with your partner and are committed to bringing back the spark, here are your next steps.
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Linda Carroll, M.S., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and board-certified life coach currently living in Oregon. She received her master's degree in counseling from Oregon State University and has practiced psychotherapy since 1981, specializing in couples and communication. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love, which has been translated into four languages, and she regularly teaches relationship courses based on the Love Cycles method at wellness spa Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. Her next book, Love Skills, will be available in February 2020.