“I love you, but I’m not ‘in love’ with you.”
This sentence, although common, is one of the more bewildering and unsettling statements to both utter and to receive. It both speaks to both caring and to a pulling away. It professes concern while confessing a lack of desire. Those little words are an admission that the deliverer wants what is best for the other person, but no longer wants the other person.
For the speaker, this declaration may come from months or years of feeling that something is missing, even as the exact nature of what is lacking remains elusive. To the listener, the words can prompt a sense of helpless falling, tumbling upon the rocks into the deep and dark pool below.
Sometimes this feeling of loving without being “in love” comes at the crucial point where a relationship is transitioning from the early hormone and excitement fueled lust and attraction into a more mature and steady love. When the expectations that the early rush will persist forever come crashing against the reality of settling into the comfort of the known, the lack of intensity can be interpreted as a lack of desire.
Yet other times, this feeling comes on more slowly and after the relationship has successfully navigated the passage into a more stable and long-term relationship. Often it slides in unnoticed, until one day a realization is reached that the passion, the wanting, is gone. When you look at your spouse and you see a good parent, a good provider, a good friend. You feel safe with them. Perhaps too safe. The unknown is gone. The danger is gone. The hunger is gone.
We cannot have desire without uncertainty.
When we first begin seeing someone new, there is no doubt that they are “other.” They smell different, feel different and we cannot predict what they will say or do next. The unknown is a bit scary (after all, we don’t know where this will lead), but it is also exciting. A road trip without a map provides plenty of adventures.
That taste of fear is titillating. It feeds into our base desires and interrupts our more rationalized and carefully metered thoughts and reactions. But most of us struggle to stay in that space for long. After all, it’s not comfortable to stay with uncertainty and so we tend towards the reassurance of consistency and predictability.
But there’s a dark side with becoming too familiar. When we lose that sense of our spouse as “other” and instead fully assimilate them into a shared “we,” our aversion to feeling desire for those we perceive as family begins to kick in. We often believe that a lack of passion for a partner comes first and then we begin to see them more as a friend or even sibling. However, frequently the shift in perceived role comes first and the lack of desire follows naturally after.
Falling in love again requires letting go.
Love, but not “in love” is not necessarily a death sentence for a marriage. The passion and excitement can be cultivated and nurtured and desire can be brought back from its resting place, no matter if you’re the one saying those words or the one hearing them for the first time.
Remember Why You Care
Recount the origin story of your relationship. What drew you to your partner? Remember the shared history and revisit the times when you felt the greatest connection or the most overwhelming desire.
Go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to seek pleasure and enjoy it wholeheartedly when you find it. The confidence that you show when you know what you want and you go after is an aphrodisiac. Do what makes you feel desirable. Replace restraint with hunger.
Partake in Adventures
Try new things, both with your partner and by yourself. Break out of the mold that you have placed yourself within. Try something new. Change your mind. Allow this rush of adrenaline and dopamine to wash over your partner and your marriage.
See Your Spouse Through New Eyes
Try to view your partner as a new acquaintance would. Ask questions as though you don’t know the answers (perhaps you may be surprised). See their role as parent or caretaker or provider as part of them, but not all of them. Refrain from being critical and try being curious.
Embrace Uncertainty and Vulnerability
Speak up. Take risks. Be uncomfortable. Allow the thought that your partner may behave in ways you cannot predict. And accept that you may have thoughts and desires that you have shoved into submission. Replace “what now” with “what if” and throw out those tired and worn stories you’re telling yourself.
Let Go of Control (You Never Had it Anyway)
Take a step back. When you’re holding on too tightly, you don’t give the other person an opportunity to breathe. Accept that you cannot dictate the future and you cannot force attraction.
At the end of the day, we all want to be wanted. We want the feeling of being desired and accepted. We all want to be loved and we want to know that we are loved. And the first step to welcoming that love into your life is allowing that you cannot control it.
We push people away because we are afraid of letting them in and being hurt when they leave.
We grasp on to people that are not good for us because we are afraid of being alone and someone is better than no one.
Pushing and pulling are fear, not love.
Love is holding.
Loosely enough so that each person has the freedom to grow and change.
And firmly enough so that each person knows they are supported.
It is trusting the other person enough that they want to stay even if they have the ability to leave.
And trusting yourself that you will be okay if they do.