I love my partner, but I am not in love with them, is a common statement that I hear during my work with couples. What exactly do we mean when we say this?
The first thing we need to understand is that the word love has multiple meanings and the way we determine what love means is from the context in which it is used. For example, I can use the word love three times in a sentence, and each time it means something different. I love my husband, I love my dog, and I love ice cream.
What does “love” mean when we use it in the sentence” I love my partner, but I’m not in love with them”? To understand this statement a little bit better I’m going to swap the word “love for other words and I think you’ll start to get the sense of what is being said.
I love (as in care about) my partner, but I am not in love with them (as in connected with them). So the statement becomes “I care about my partner, but I am not connected with them”. What’s gone wrong in this relationship is the connection has dropped. Initially, the connection would have been there, or the relationship would not have developed. Even with the most broken relationships that I work with, most clients can think back to a time when the relationship was good. At that point, there was a connection. Indeed the early stages of a relationship are the time where we’re most focused on each other. This period is known as the Honeymoon Stage and is the bonding stage.
As the relationship develops, it starts to go through changes which can occur through any number of things such as a focus on individual careers, children coming into the relationship or being so busy that we are time poor. The result is a slow eroding of the initial connection. Since we are in a relationship with somebody that is special for us in some way, we, of course, care about them. But if the connection has dropped then, we feel that we are not in love with them.
As a relationship develops focus naturally shifts from “it is all about us” to who am I as an individual in this relationship, what are my needs and how does that work in this relationship. This is a normal stage in the development of a relationship. At this point, the connection is under stress. The task in a relationship at this stage revolves around understanding our partner, understanding what is driving them and being OK with the changes occurring in the relationship. If we can do this then we feel we still have a connection. I believe that connection is based on understanding. Understanding is the glue that holds relationships together. If you’re not sure about this, let’s have a look at another statement that couples often make as connection erodes in their relationship and that statement is “we are two strangers living in the same house”. Strangers do not understand each other.
To understand somebody, particularly your partner, you need to have a curiosity about them and the ability to take the time to ask questions to find out all that you can about what drives them, what their view of the world looks like, how they see things, what their opinion of things is and how they react to things. This takes dedication on your part. This dedication is driven in a romantic relationship by a commitment to see the relationship strengthen and work long term.
Asking questions that are framed to understand the other is the answer to the connection problem. When I’m talking about questions, I’m talking about curiosity-driven questions which come from the point of view of “just so I can understand, please tell me the following…”, rather than using attacking questions/statements such as “I just cannot understand why you keep doing such stupid things” or “Why are you so stupid?”. Attacking questions divide while inquisitive questions connect.
If you want to connect with your partner more, questions are the answer.