I love him/her, but I'm not in love with him/her

Close-up of ayoung couple holding handsHow often have I heard this saying from both male and female clients, colleagues and recently a member of my family, 'I love him, but I'm not in love with him'.
I started to ponder on what this actually means or what it indeed means to the speaker. It did appear to be a contradiction, so it gave way to thought and reflection on my behalf.

A recent meeting with a family member that asked to meet me, explaining 'it's complicated' before further revealing they had 'met someone else'.

After shaking their head and telling me they hadn't been happy for years, they further explained the intimate spark had fled and had given way to separate bedrooms and seemingly separate lives. Not surprisingly, they felt lonely, isolated, unloved and confused.

On the other hand, the new lady was attractive, adventurous, fun, sexy and made him feel 'alive'. In fact, she made him feel all those positive feelings he lacked in his marriage.

The demands of looking after and providing for a large family had stretched him to the limit over their 28-year marriage. The further pressure of modern technical gadgets including laptops, iPhones, and iPads arriving on the scene meant all household members were 'doing their own thing'.

This no doubt further isolated him from his wife and family. The conversation had become further limited and despite the occasional family meal such as Christmas, meal times were very much on a 'do it yourself' system.

The sight of his wife dressed in pyjamas by early evening or the unsightly onesie just didn't do it for him. Of course, the new woman (not interested in that type of attire) was into sexy clothing finished off by the lingering perfume, manicured and polished toenails emerging from a pair of coloured stilettos. This without doubt magnified the problems at home.

However, I was aware there was great sadness in his body language and speech. He looked tired and I guessed the romantic meals out for two followed by the passionate nights of wild sex were no longer having the same effect.

The deceit had become exhausting. The guilt was suffocating him. The family weekends at home were more isolating, and he felt more confused. After explaining both parties had fallen 'in love' with each other, he further explained that they felt 'stuck' as they were both married. It seemed even with this new found 'love', both parties were reluctant to leave their marriages. I concluded both were 'stuck' in the dance of deceit, yet gripped with the passion and fantasy that the intimate nights provided.

I further concluded that the fantasy of the ideal woman or man in the bedroom perhaps should remain exactly what it is, 'a fantasy', escapism from what had become an unfulfilled existence at home.

My point is that marriage and relationships need constant nurturing, love, energy and input. Time management with working lives and managing children and finding quality time for a couple has to be in place. 

It's a difficult decision to leave a long term relationship, but it's even more unfair to compare the newness of a romantic love to the familiarity and comfort of a long term marriage that has to date stood the test of time, raised children, dealt with the challenges of teenagers, and waved goodbye through the tears as your oldest child leaves home. Did one just lose sight of their partners needs through the demands and needs of the children and the constant juggling of jobs to fit in around our offspring? Did our sexuality that was so fulfilling in those early years give way to the exhaustion one felt by the evening? 

Perhaps the statement 'I love him but I'm not in love with him' is, in fact, meaning the first part of the sentence 'I love him'. Perhaps there is a depth of love that has become likened to wearing slippers and become familiar? Is this perhaps the real love?

Could it be that the new romantic love is in fact little more than sexual lust and desire, a sparkle that temporarily provides us with an excitement reminding us of all the feelings that we once felt for our husbands and wives that we simply are missing? Could this desire and fantasy prove further down the road to just become another dead end? 

To leave a long term relationship, to sever the roots we made, the family, our homes for this 'promise of romantic love', should be worth considering that it may just be nothing more than a fantasy. Perhaps the reason both parties stay in their marriages are that they are blind to the fact that they really do 'love' their partners. 

Perhaps like myself the author here, that did move on to find that romantic love didn't last and provide the everlasting romance it had once promised. I would say that as an onlooker now, I would give everything to go back to the familiarity and comfort of the marriage that had seemed so dull next to the sparkle and dazzle of the new man that turned my head.

I once used that saying 'I love him, but I'm not in love with him'. I now know that twenty years on, I should have just said 'I love him'.

So before you leave and sever those ties forever, really pay attention to the statement you made and reflect on what you really are saying. 

A marriage needs work and for the couples that attend relationship counselling that are going through difficulties, they find positive outcomes. One thing I can tell you is that somewhere behind the bringing up of children and the juggling of working lives, when the couple begin to find time together they can and do rekindle their love. It just got buried for a while behind the demands of family life.

A young couple sit together on a rock, looking out across the sea

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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