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Excerpts from I Love You, But I'm Not in Love with You
Five years ago, the occasional couple would present themselves at my therapy office after one partner had confessed, 'I love you, but I'm not in love with you.' To start off, I was surprised. The phrase seemed to belong to a character in a smart New York TV sitcom. Yet real people were using it to describe something profound that was happening to their relationship. But how could someone love but not be in love? These couples would describe each other as best friends or that their relationship was more like a brother and sister, except most were still having sex. In essence, the partnership had become defined by companionship rather than passionand that was no longer enough.
Nick is, a forty-two-year-old sales manager, and Anna, a thirty-nine-year-old teacher. They had been married for fifteen years and despite some difficult patches, like Nick's layoff, their relationship had flourished.
So when Nick dropped the, 'I love you, but' bombshell, Anna was devastated: 'I thought we had a happy relationship, I really did. Not perfect, of course, but then who can claim that? I've tried to get him to explain why he doesn't love me anymore, but he keeps saying he doesn't know. The best he has managed is that I don't listen. Except, he's never told me before he was unhappy.'
Nick explained that the feeling had been building for several years and that he needed to tell their two teenage children and have a trial separation. 'He has no honor, no loyalty,' Anna complained. 'He is completely selfish. I feel he's leaving me for someone he hasn't even met yet.'
Michael and Elizabeth are both in their late thirties and have been together since their late teens. 'I no longer feel I'm special to Elizabeth ,' complained Michael. 'I know we have responsibilities, but we used to be everything to each other. Now I seem to come way down on the list. I might joke that I come after the kids' guinea pigs, but it's not really very funny.'
Michael had been feeling like this for several years and had withdrawn into himself. At first, Elizabeth thought there might have been someone else, but finally, Michael confessed that he loved her but was no longer in love and was considering leaving. 'We're not a couple of kids sharing french fries in a bus shelter anymore,' she moaned. 'It can't be how it used to be. Just think of all the things I do for youcooking, cleaning, ironing. Do you think I feel special every day? Life isn't like that.' Michael and Elizabeth were both talking about love but had very different definitions.
With no agreement about what constitutes love, their conversations went around in circles. ILYB is especially frustrating when there is much to celebrate in the relationship.
Irene is sixty-one and has been with her husband for over thirty-five years. She lives in Toronto , Ontario , and is one of the respondents to a questionnaire I circulated throughout North America .
'We are good friends and have wonderful conversations about everything, but I can't pretend that I wouldn't be happier if the passionate and affectionate sides of myself could be expressed and received,' writes Irene. 'But I no longer know how to deal with that. I try to show my love in other ways, but the truth is, at times I still feel bereft.' With most problems, when someone has the courage to admit everything, he or she expects to be greeted with sympathy and understanding.
Sadly, people who have fallen out of love are often told just to try harder. Naomi is thirty-four and comes from New Jersey : 'My soul is lost, and I am almost emotionally dead. I confided in my mother, but she just reminded me that I have a wonderful husband who loves his children.
She's right. But I just cannot let love into my heart. I want it so badly but just don't know what to do.' Instead of feeling supported, Naomi feels more alone than ever before and is no further forward in finding a solution. Almost every popular song is about love, as are half of all novels and films; we read about it or see it on TV every day. Surely, we should understand love and, at the very least, be able to define it. But this is where the confusion starts. We can love our mothers, our children, and our friendseven chocolate.
When it comes to our partners, love can describe both the crazy, heady days at the beginning of a relationship and ten years later, taking his or her hand, squeezing it, and feeling sure of each other. Can one little word really cover so many different emotions? Dictionaries are not much help. They list almost two dozen synonymsincluding affection, fondness, caring, liking, concern, attraction, desire, and infatuation, and we all instinctively agree there is a huge gap between 'liking' and complete 'infatuation.' The problem is that we have one word for three very different emotions: the early days/honeymoon passion; the day-to-day intimacy with a long-term partner; and the protective instinct for a child or bond with a parent. To clarify the differences between these three types, we need a new vocabulary, partly to remove the confusion between two partners with different takeslike Elizabeth and Michaelbut mainly because by naming and explaining the differences, we will understand love better.
©2007. Andrew G. Marshall. All rights reserved. Reprinted from I Love You, but I'm Not IN Love with You. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.