“I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
A letter in my Washington Blade advice column this week wondered if this sentiment is the death-knell for a relationship.
Working as a couples therapist, I hear clients tell each other this all the time–and it’s not just a Washington DC phenomenon.
I still love my boyfriend, but I’m not in love with him.
Connor and I* have been a couple for two years, living together for the past eight months. Lately, the magic is gone.
I used to be sad when we weren’t together, daydream about him at work, and want sex every morning and every night–more on weekends (no kidding). I loved surprising him with fun treats I’d find online or at Trader Joe’s. We had so much fun planning weekend getaways.
Now I’m happy when Connor works late or is out with friends and I have the place to myself. Although he still has a hot gym body, I feel like I could take him or leave him. And the little things I used to find endearing are now irritating. I can’t understand it.
Connor is a great guy and I still care about him a lot, but I no longer feel a spark.
To top it off, recently I met Jordan. Nothing is going on between us but I have a strong attraction toward him. I wonder if I should accept that my feelings have changed and move on to someone I’m really drawn to.
Is there any hope to recapture the romance?
If you were saying, “I don’t respect Connor’s values”, “I can’t trust him”, or even, “I’ve decided he’s incredibly ugly and I never want to sleep with him again,” I’d agree that it’s time to move on.
But when people say, “I love him but I’m not in love with him,” it often means that you’re just experiencing a normal part of being in a relationship.
A lot of us feel the way you do about our romantic partners from time to time, because being close to someone can be annoying and monotonous, just as it can be blissful.
And when you are feeling like this for the first time, after the initial intensity of new love, it’s easy to think that something is wrong.
When we start a relationship, we usually feel like we’re floating in the clouds, and we see the object of our attraction through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses. Contributing to this, our brains are being flooded with feel-good bonding hormones. (But let’s not reduce a complex and delicious phenomenon merely to a matter of brain chemistry.)
After a while, reality inevitably sets in. We start seeing our partners as mere humans, the flood of bonding hormones recedes, and it’s easy to get annoyed by all the little and big things that just didn’t register in that gooey courtship phase.
That might be where you are. And now, just as Connor is fading in your eyes, along comes Jordan, seemingly perfect, a potential new object of your attraction.
You could go on like this for the rest of your life. Many people do, riding one relationship till the initial magic begins to fade, and then looking for the next fix.
Your other option: Accept that nonstop bliss is just the initial stage of a relationship, and that you’re not going to keep feeling like you are “in love” automatically, without making an effort to so.
Your first step is to embrace the reality that this shift is normal and you needn’t panic.
Next, acknowledge that it’s up to you to figure out how to generate loving feelings toward your boyfriend and find ways to keep your relationship interesting. By the way, it’s Connor’s job to do the same.
A necessary part of this is deciding to make a commitment to your relationship rather than entertaining the fantasy that there’s something better out there.
But how do you strengthen love and devotion? How do you make your relationship one you want to be in? While I can’t give you a list of steps to take, obviously, I can point you in the right direction: Focus on making your relationship special through thought and action. Prioritize the two of you. Cultivate your appreciation of Connor. Make the effort. Plan dates. And of course, remind yourself that you’re going to be irritated at times, and do your best to have a sense of humor about the inevitability of your partner driving you crazy now and then.
Everything I just said is also true of sex. Because novelty is more exciting than what is familiar, sex changes over time. Focusing on the closeness and connection between the two of you rather than just the physical may help you and Connor to have a deeper, more intimate sexual relationship.
If you are going to be with anyone for a considerable length of time, you’re going to run into the same wall you have run into with Connor. While you’re free to move on, you may want to stay where you are and figure this out.
*All identifying information changed.