I love you but I’m not in love with you
“I love you but I’m not in love with you” is the acclaimed marital advice book by Andrew G Marshall.
About the book
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 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 passion – and that was no longer enough. Over time, more and more couples complained of the same problem – until the number was something approaching one in four. Not everyone spontaneously used the phrase ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you’ but all recognised the sentiments. For these couples the dilemma was especially painful: the person who had fallen out of love still cared deeply about his or her partner, and certainly did not want to hurt them, but they wanted to end the relationship.
Falling out of love does not mean the end of the relationship.
A typical couple would be Nick, 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 redundancy, 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 any more but he keeps saying: I don’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 honour, no loyalty,’ Anna complained. ‘He is completely selfish. I feel he’s leaving me for someone he hasn’t even met yet.’
Faced with couples like Nick and Anna, I turned to the professional literature but found it dominated by couples that dislike, or even hate, each other – whereas I needed to know about couples that did not love enough. Worse still, I could find no research into how prevalent the problem had become, no theories about why it should be happening now or any suggested treatment programme. There was only one solution; I would have to fill the gap myself.
Couples can not only recover their love but emerge with a better understanding of themselves, each other and a stronger bond.
I initiated a research project where all couples seeking help were asked to fill in a questionnaire after their first session. They were given a list of common problems that could have brought them into counselling. The results were startling 47% complained that the ‘passion had gone’ and 43% ‘I love my partner but I’m no longer in love/ My partner no longer loves me’. Many of the traditional reasons for seeking help polled much lower: Money Issues 24%; an Affair 21%; Differing opinions on how to bring up children 19%; Fights out of control 15%. When couples were asked to chose the problem causing the most distress, ‘I love my partner but I’m no longer in love/ My partner no longer loves me’ came third on 24%, narrowly behind ‘Difficulty understanding each other’s viewpoint’ on 26% and ‘Argue too much’ on 25%.
The research also backed up something that I had observed in my therapy office. People who ticked the ‘I love you but’ option were also less likely to also tick ‘we argue too much’ and more likely to pick the neutral: ‘we find it difficult to understand each other’s viewpoints’. Anna certainly did not like arguments: ‘My parents would scream at each other the whole day long, and I swore I’d never put my kids through the same thing.’ If the worst came to the worst, she would simply walk away. Meanwhile Nick was so considerate, and good at seeing her side, that he talked himself out of any disagreement: ‘I wish that Anna didn’t go up to bed so early. I don’t get in till late and I’m left tip toeing round the house alone, but it’s not her fault really because after ten she can hardly stay awake.’ In fact they were both so thoughtful that the only open source of friction was that both enjoyed and therefore wanted to do the ironing. This might sound like heaven, but when someone cannot truly voice their feelings – even if only about minor issues – the relationship cools. Slowly over the years, degree-by-degree, all the emotions are dulled. Ultimately, it is as harmful to seldom row, as it is to row all the time.
My second observation from my ‘I love you but’ (ILYB) clients was that this lack of arguments exacerbates the tendency for two partners, over time, to grow more like each other. The modern trend to be friends as well as lovers is another pressure – as we normally choose friends who are like us. Once again, this might seem wonderful but relationships need friction too. It is the grit in the oyster that makes the pearl and the difference that provides the love interest. More importantly, when there is so much pressure to be everything to each other, to share friends and even tastes – there is little room to be an individual as well as one half of a couple. ‘I started to feel that I couldn’t be myself,’ explained Nick, ‘I was trapped by what people expected of me.’
The third key observation was that most partners, who had fallen out of love, had recently had a life changing experience. In Nick’s case, it was the death of his father: ‘I remember standing at the foot of his bed and thinking: “shouldn’t I be doing something with my life?” Worse still, I could see how little time I had.’ While Nick was struggling with abstract questions about the meaning of life, Anna retreated into herself too: ‘I was close to Nick’s Dad, he’d almost been a second father, but I thought I’d be most help offering support. So I held back my tears and didn’t burden him with my grief too.’ While she thought she was being strong for Nick, he read her response to his father’s death as unfeeling and felt very alone. Instead of sharing their different reactions, neither said anything for fear of upsetting the other. It was not until later in counselling that all Nick’s resentment came tumbling out. Other events like reaching a milestone birthday, the birth of a child or a parent’s divorce can also trigger a crisis of self-examination, which in turn tips over into questioning the relationship.
This seven-step programme can be followed either on your own or with your partner.
Over an initial twelve-month period, I tried out some tentative treatment programmes with these early ILYB clients and started to read a wider cross section of literature. I researched business books, philosophers, social biologists, marketing gurus, looked into alternative relationships and found a small amount of research into successful couples. Some of these ideas could be taken directly into my counselling room and others had to be adapted. Slowly I found something that not only saved relationships, but helped ILYB couples achieve a much deeper intimacy and a truly satisfying bond.
I decided to write this book for three reasons. Firstly, I wanted to share a programme that works with both people in crisis and other therapists. Secondly, a lot of information, which can significantly improve a relationship, is difficult to pass on in a therapy session. Counselling is about listening to people’s problems – not teaching. With this book, couples and individuals can digest the ideas at their own rate. Thirdly, and most important, to spread the word that falling out of love does not mean the end of a relationship.
How does the programme work?
This book is not a lecture about trying harder or not expecting too much from love – there are plenty of those already. My mission is to help people understand love and to point out the everyday habits that we think protect relationships but in fact undermine them. The most common question, when people hear about my work, is to sidle up and ask: is it really possible to fall back in love? My answer is always the same: an emphatic yes. What’s more, couples can emerge with a better understanding of themselves, each other and a stronger bond. This book will explain why and how.
The first part introduces the Seven Steps to Putting the Passion Back into your Relationship. These will help you to: communicate better; have more productive arguments; take your sex life to a deeper level of intimacy; and finally to find a balance between being fulfilled as an individual and being one half of a couple. If your relationship has already reached crisis point, part two will provide a strategy for talking through the issues and dealing with the immediate fall out. Part three shows how to bond again and rediscover love. Alternatively, if you have already separated, this section will help you understand what happened; your options and how to move onto a more fulfilling future. At the end of each chapter are a series of exercises. These can be done alone or, if you are working through this book with your partner, together.