What It Really Means If You Love Your Partner But You're Not In Love With Them

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist By Linda Carroll, M.S., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Linda Carroll 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.

Photo by GIC

OMG is one of the current expressions that prevails our culture; I hear it in airports, in the grocery store, and see it posted all over social media. In fact, I use it myself in texts and emails with friends. What does it mean? The house is on fire? I just saw a photo of my first boyfriend 30 years later? I heard something on the news, which took my breath away, or there is a beautiful new flower on the rosebush?

There is an expression among couples, often the opening sentence on the phone calls to make an appointment for the start of a therapy session about relationships.

"I love her, but I'm not in love with her."

In the 35 years in which I have been a relationship counselor and life coach and among the thousands of couples I have seen, at least 25 percent begin with this statement.

Although this 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 cycles of love, or is it signaling the end of the relationship?

My concern is that 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 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, police person, kindergarten teacher." 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." Yet it seems that for so many people, that feeling is interpreted as the end of the relationship—or at least Very Big Trouble. Here are some of the many other things it can mean:

1. 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 and 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 with whom I feel alive, like I used to with my current partner.

If the primary criteria you are using to end a relationship is, "This new person makes me feel alive and you don’t anymore," chances are you will end up in this place with the new person in the future. Your aliveness needs to come from within you; falling in love is a chemical high that isn’t meant to last forever.

3. I'm noticing we're arguing a lot and instead of feeling like you're my person, I'm closing off to you emotionally.

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 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.

4. Sex has become dull, boring, or predictable.

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.

5. The person feeling this is depressed and, since the Technicolor has gone out of many things they once enjoyed, this has happened in the relationship as well.

So, what do you do about it? Well, begin by recognizing this as a sign that something needs to change; this feeling is a signal, and you won’t know what it's saying until you investigate it.

Sex can be rekindled, intimacy can be rediscovered, and depression can be treated.

A long-term relationship has many seasons: Don’t interpret that feeling of not being in love as a recipe for disaster but as a mystery to explore and find your way through.

Want more insight into your relationships? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn what the number of sexual partners you've had actually says about you.

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