Communication — 25 November 2007
Not being ‘in love’- is it an end or a beginning?

Some disenchanted partners confront their mate during marital counseling by saying: “I love you – but I am not in love with you”. They often use this declaration when they feel that their union is in jeopardy. Actually, the shift from ‘in love’ to ‘loving’ should be viewed as a normal transition from illusion to reality.

The ‘in love’ state is now known to be biochemical. Theresa Crenshaw, M.D., author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, explains that the euphoria felt by infatuation is created by the release of phenylthylamine (PEA), a neurotransmitter in our brain that she calls “the molecule of love”. “PEA is high when love is blind,” explains Robert Friar of Ferris State University in Michigan. However, it is time limited. Friar believes that it may last up to three years while other researchers place it at about 18 months. As PEA declines, at least two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin create a new biochemical pathway that enables attachment and long term bonding.

Though the hormonal impact on feeling ‘in love’ may be disappointing to romantics, we can all delight in the fact that the hormones impacting attachment and long-term commitment are not time limited.

Psychologically, the end of the infatuation stage awakens the lover from viewing the love object as an idealized person to seeing him/her as a person with both assets and liabilities. This realistic perception is needed for healthy attachment and committed love. The response to “I love you, but I am not in love with you” should be: “Thank you for loving me, now we can begin a real and effective relationship”.

Unfortunately, what is really meant by this declaration is that as I see your imperfections, my attraction to you is reduced. Seeing the ‘real’ partner, not the glorified one, should be accompanied not by disappointment but by curiosity and compassion. Curiosity about the causes for your mate’s displeasing conduct such as: being angry, selfish, unkind, critical, accusatory, non-cooperative, or even mean. Compassion is felt through understanding that these and other disturbing reactions are not character flaws, or about you, but responses to personal pain and hurt.

The critical person often feels inadequate, the angry one may feel misunderstood, hurt or discounted, the selfish conduct may stem from self-protectiveness due to failure of the team unity, the uncooperative mate may either disagree, be overwhelmed or unable to negotiate and compromise and mean behavior is often a reaction to being treated badly and acting out vengeful emotions.

If you look at any of your partner’s disagreeable behavior from your partner’s perspective and try to understand what may have caused him/her to respond this way, you will utilize your empathy and strengthen your love. This approach can easily replace the judgmental stance of viewing your loved one as a permanently flawed being that must be avoided. You may lovingly ask: “I wonder what goes on for you when you act selfishly, angrily, or hatefully?” You label the behavior as troublesome – not the person. Altering another person’s faulty nature is unachievable, helping a mate change his/her behavior through understanding and compassion – is accomplishable.
Replace: “You are always yelling at the kids” with: ”I observe your irritability with the children right now, how can I help?” This respectful question will reduce your helplessness, ease your mate’s distress and improve the children’s situation.

Some use the phrase ‘I love you but am not in love with you’ as a reason or excuse for terminating a committed relationship. It often means: “I remember the good times and your attributes, but I lost interest in you as a partner” Some hope that the listener will then terminate the union.

If you really love your partner you would not use this phrase. Loving another means seeing the distasteful behavior as a reaction to stress not a cause for departure. You would never consider using this sentence with your children even when their behavior is maddening. As with children, loving another requires the ability to distinguish between a mate’s being and his/her doing.

• Hold your mate in reverence even when you do not appreciate his/her behavior.
• Assume that all of your partner’s displeasing conduct comes from pain- not dysfunction.
• “I love you but I am not in love with you” is an ideal stance with which to begin, not end, a healthy life-long relationship.
• Will yourself to be as compassionate as you can and your relationship will thrive.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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