I love you but I'm not in love with you
From passionate love to compassionate love - what happens when we love our partner but we’re not in love with them any more?
Relationship counsellors will probably have lost count of the number of times they have heard the statement "I love my partner but I’m not in love with them".
I always wonder what they mean by those words. What are they saying? What do they mean by love and in love? What are their ideas about love?
Here are some things I’ve heard from people in a relationship, both in the counselling room and elsewhere;
- "I have lost connection with you"
- "I'm no longer excited by you"
- "The unresolved issues are the reason I feel this way"
- "I have no idea how to maintain romantic love over a long-term relationship"
- "I'm confused as to what love is"
- "I have met somebody else and we have connected; I'm sorry but I want out of this relationship"
In this article, I will make the distinction between two different forms of love in romantic relationships. I will also give you hope for the survival of your relationship, and a few other reflections.
Change happens when two people are in a relationship
Many romantic relationships progress to a committed relationship where they find shared expectations and goals. Sometimes the challenges of life can see them going in different directions. For example, life changes, like a partner going back to university to study, or getting a work promotion, whilst at the same time the other partner is at their wits end with worry about the possibility of redundancy at work. They are both focused on their struggles, forgetting their partner is struggling with things too.
Not sharing your fears and concerns can mean that goals and expectations can change. When this happens, a couple may begin to lose their connection. The shortage of empathy and support can lead to a bigger sense of feeling disconnected from the partner. The couple can begin to slowly become more disconnected without even noticing.
Could the statement mean I have lost the connection to you?
What happens when we get off the rollercoaster?
The early days of romantic relationships are filled with wonder and amazement; we feel that rollercoaster of positive emotions. We fall head over heels in love and want to be with our idealised partner at all times. When we are apart, our thoughts are constantly on our partner. We become almost obsessed, and despair at the thought of losing this connection.
We are blind to any possible flaws in our partner, hence the common saying "love is blind", but there is science behind that. Lucy Brown, a professor neurologist from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, puts madly in love people into an MRI and asks them to think of their beloved. Subjects show brain activation in the same parts of the brain as a person receiving a shot of cocaine. The excitement of being connected with your beloved seems overwhelming in this romantic stage.
A person can become addicted to the high of being in love; in fact, Professor Brown makes links to this love as an addiction. As time goes on, different life challenges begin to appear. The endorphins have quietened down, so the rollercoaster of emotions has as well. As the relationship continues, issues may remain ignored and are left unresolved, and this can cause the couple to become emotionally distanced from each other.
Not keeping the companionship and other aspects of the relationship in mind might lead the couple to struggle with adjusting to change. One may become anxious and start to question the relationship.
"The state of this relationship has caused me to feel this way about you"
They may be left feeling despair about not being in love with their partner. They become confused and scared about the love that they feel - or don’t feel - for their partner.
In the next paragraphs, I’ll compare passionate love versus compassionate love, in an aim to help you move with the changes that happen in any long-term relationship, that might have snuck up on you.
Passionate love vs compassionate love
Passionate (romantic) love
Here are some characteristics of passionate love;
- it is similar to a profound addiction (neurological research)
- it brings ecstatic joy
- it has the potential for great despair (unrequited love)
- unrequited love can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other more extreme situations like suicide or homicide
Our drive for love is said to be stronger than our drive for sex. Research on the subject of romantic love found it to be the most powerful of human emotions. Psychologist Elaine Hatfield proposes that passionate love is rather fleeting, and normally lasts for the first three years. She goes on to suggest that, in long-term, committed relationships, passionate love eventually turns into compassionate love.
Characteristics of compassionate love;
- it’s less intense than the early passionate love normally experienced at the start of a relationship
- the couple starts to find the capacity to open up and be vulnerable with one another
- trust needs to be in place for this kind of love to develop
- it has elements of tenderness, which helps to develop a strong bond, a friendship, and enjoyment of each other’s company
- greater commitment emerges from the time the couple have already spent together
- this type of love is solid and stable
- it is the type of love seen in family bonds and friendships
This love forms gradually from passionate love, almost like a morphing of one into the other. To allow this process of transition, the couple normally commits to each other. Commitment is the hallmark of compassionate love, according to Hatfield.
The couple may or may not go the whole hog and make vows to each other in a church or town hall, but the couple will make an enduring commitment to each other.
Is there any hope and can the relationship be saved?
I believe that there is always hope in a relationship. I believe that the relationship can be saved. Being more self-aware and aware of your partner will help restore and increase the passion and compassion in your relationship.
Here are some ways in which you can reignite your relationship;
- Become more aware of what is happening in your mind and body of what’s going on for you; this will positively impact your life and your relationship.
- Make time to nurture your relationship - plan adventure trips, join a dance class, or something else you both like or are willing to try together.
- If both partners are committed and willing to work on the relationship, then you have a strong foundation for a healthy intimate relationship.
- Learning how to communicate with each other about the things you need from one another, how you’re feeling, and how to move forward, will be very important throughout your lives together.
- Practice compassion with one another through understanding and communication.
Some of the above can be achieved on your own, but sometimes the help of a professional might help you. Seeking a relationship therapist will help you put things into perspective and start putting things into practice, so you can save and/or improve your relationship.