“I love you… but I’m not in love with you.”
What a thing to say!
What does that even mean—“I love you but I’m not in love with you”?
Does that mean this person still has feelings for you, so you might be able to work it out?
Does it mean he wants out, but he’s trying to spare your feelings?
When I First Heard This Phrase
Fifteen years ago, I co-wrote a book you can still find on the internet today called Save My Marriage Today.
For years, I’ve gotten emails from men and women who are desperate. Their partner has asked to separate. Almost to a person, their partners have tried to soften the blow by adding, “I love you but I’m not in love with you….”
Like that makes everything okay.
When I noticed this pattern, I wondered what was going on.
What does that phrase even mean?
So I did some digging, and here’s what I found out…
You Don’t Have to Be “In Love” to Love
When someone says that to you, what he’s saying is that he has no clue what love really is.
He believes that relationships require this special feeling—this “in love” feeling. And if he hasn’t felt it for some time, then the relationship must be over.
Which is complete nonsense.
You can’t maintain a relationship based on feelings.
Feelings come and go. They’re not reliable.
The only thing that can maintain a relationship is a decision to keep practicing acts of love regardless of how you feel.
All parents know this. We get annoyed with our kids. Talk about a rocky relationship! If our romantic partners treated us like our teenagers did, we’d be out the door.
But we made a commitment the day we had that child. No matter what they do, we will love, accept, and look after them. That commitment is fixed regardless of whether we feel like doing it. We made that decision, and we stick to it no matter how hard and sometimes impossible it feels.
Marriage is like that.
Marriage is a commitment to stick with it and act with love, regardless of whether you’re feeling good or mad or happy or sad.
That decision—to act with love, even if you don’t feel love at the moment—is the only thing that can hold a marriage together.
The Work of Love Keeps You Together
Feelings can’t hold a marriage together.
Because you will lose that special “in love” feeling.
You’ll fight, you’ll get annoyed, you won’t want to touch each other.
But if you made the commitment to love, you can’t leave it there. You have to repair the rupture. You have to reconnect. You have to fix things as best you can so that you feel safe and connected again.
It can be humiliating work.
You’ve got to listen to this person tell you how you hurt them, even though you try so hard all the time. You’ve got to swallow your defensiveness and listen to this stuff you don’t want to hear.
You’ve got to face up to the fact that you’re not always the hero who saves the day. In fact, sometimes you’re not even very nice.
No wonder so many people can’t do it.
They’d rather walk out, mouthing some platitude like, “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” as if it excuses the fact that they haven’t behaved like someone who loves you for a very long time.
They’re hoping that phrase will let them off the hook. If they say it, it means they’re not the bad guy.
And you’re left wondering two things.
- You’re left wondering how you managed to fail so badly. Wasn’t it your job to be so wonderful that he would thank his lucky stars he’s with you? Wasn’t it your job to give him everything he ever needed or desired, so that he’d love you forever?
- You’re left wondering if there’s still hope for your relationship. Because clearly your partner still has feelings for you. He just said so. So does he mean he just wants to take a break? Does he mean that there’s enough love there to work things out?
It can really mess with your head.
What It Means When He Says He’s Not “In Love”
When you hear that phrase—“I love you but I’m not in love with you”—this is what you should take it to mean.
What your partner is actually saying is:
It’s too hard and I don’t know how to fix it and I don’t want to try anymore.”
I hope you don’t respond by thinking:
What did I do wrong to make you feel like that? What can I do to make you stay?”
Instead, I hope you think to yourself:
Okay, then. Maybe you don’t have what it takes to be my life partner.”
Because if your partner thinks he needs to feel “in love” with you to be able to love you, then he cannot sustain a lifelong relationship. He doesn’t have the skills and understanding yet.
And that’s okay. We’re all in different places in our life.
Love is the toughest thing you’ll ever do.
It takes an incredible person to embrace the humility, confusion, vulnerability, and messiness that is lifelong love.
No matter how much YOU are up to the challenge, it isn’t a marriage unless BOTH of you take the challenge.
And you can’t make that decision for another person.
You can’t make him ready when he’s not ready.
So if he says he’s not in love with you, and he thinks he needs to separate, then let him have what he thinks he needs.
If he won’t step up and do the work, you can’t carry the relationship for both of you.
I hope you’re taking really good care of yourself. If you feel comfortable, let me know how you’re doing in the comments.