9 Differences Between Loving Your Partner And Being In Love With Them, According To Experts
We've all heard the classic line — either in real life or in movies — that goes a little something like "I love you, but I'm not in love with you." It may sound like an excuse to break up, but when you break it down, it can actually make some sense.
"It’s possible to 'love' family, friends, pets, and even inanimate objects. But, a passionate attraction, combined with a deep emotional connection, allows people to be 'in love' with each other," certified counselor Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle. "People who are 'in love' feel genuine attraction and passion towards each other." And also care about each other on a deep, intimate level.
That doesn't mean, however, that you need to be head-over-heels for each other, every single day, in order to be in love. "It’s natural to lose some of the early romantic spark as a relationship progresses," Bennett says. "It’s possible to be 'in love' with your long-term partner without having the intense feelings and passions of the early relationship. On the other hand, if there is no spark, attraction, or passion at all, then the relationship usually becomes unfulfilling for both partners."
With a little effort, these sparks can certainly be brought back. And it'll be all the more possible to do so when you're with someone you truly love. Here, are a few ways to tell the difference between loving someone, and being in love, according to experts.
1. You Don't Spend As Much Time With Them Vs. You Go Out Of Your Way With For Them
When you're in love with someone, you're more likely to do whatever it takes to see them and spend time with them. So if you can't be bothered to muster the energy to see your partner, you may not be in love.
"We pay attention to what we value," Bennett says. "People who are 'in love' give their partner their best time and attention. This means seeking out quality time and regular, mutual intimacy. Couples who practically live separate lives might love each other, but the 'in love' feeling has most likely faded."
If this is happening in your relationship, it's certainly possible to rekindle those early flames, and get back to feeling devoted and in love. But don't be afraid to admit that you love your partner, you respect them, but you're not in love with them, if that feels more like the case.
2. You See Your Partner More As A Friend Vs. You Make An Effort To Rekindle The Spark
It's 100 percent possible to love your partner, and commit to them, but still have days (or even weeks) where you feel more like roommates if you live together. This happens when busy schedules collide, and you don't make time for date nights, or affection.
It's also possible that this feeling may indicate you're with someone who's more of a friend; someone you love, but don't view as a long-term partner. "If you and your partner act more like friends or roommates than lovers, it’s possible you’ve lost the spark of being 'in love,'" Bennett says. "People who are 'in love' don’t merely share the same space or hang out together, but have a deep connection and attraction."
When you truly love someone, the drudgeries of everyday life won't get in the way, and you won't stay in "roommate phase" for long. You'll find ways to get the spark back, if it's missing, because you care a lot about the future, and want to make it work. And it's this desire to put in effort that can help you see the difference.
3. You Rather Spend Time Apart Vs. You Actually Want To Be Around Each Other
Taking time away from each other is super important, as it gives you something to talk about when you come back together again. It's also important to be able to do your own thing, have your own friends and your own hobbies, as a way of maintaining your individualism in a relationship.
That said, take it as a sign if you'd rather spend time apart, and don't really miss each other when doing so. "While no healthy couples are together all of the time, if you only spend time with your partner out of obligation or habit and prefer being elsewhere, it’s a clear sign the relationship has changed," Bennett says. "People who are 'in love' have no issues spending quality time together."
4. You're Not Feelin' It Sexually Vs. The Passion Is Still There
If your sex life waxes and wanes, never fear. It's common for couples to have sex less frequently once the honeymoon stage of a relationship ends. You might, for example, find yourselves having sex once a week, when you used to have it several times a day. And that's perfectly fine.
Do reconsider things, however, if you don't have that spark during sex, and don't really feel like making an effort to get it back. "While not all relationships involve a lot of sex, if you and your partner used to be intimate frequently, but now rarely engage in sexual activity, it’s a sign your relationship has lost some of its spark," Bennett says. "This is especially evident if you have no desire for sex with your partner at all."
Sex is a major part of a relationship, but it's not the only thing, and sometimes it just doesn't happen. But if you're both feeling the need for sex — and just don't want to have it with each other — it may be sign that you're not actually in love.
5. You Only Want To Have Sex, And Nothing More Vs. You Still Connect In Other Ways
Speaking of sex, it's possible to assess the "love levels' in your relationship by gauging how important physical intimacy is to you and your partner.
If all you do is have sex, that could be another sign that you're into each other, that you enjoy spending time together, but you may not be in love, per se. And if that's the type of relationship you want, cool. Plenty of couples thrive in this type of relationship.
But couples who are in love have that passion, while also appreciating other things about their partner, and making an effort outside the bedroom to build a relationship that's even more intimate.
"As you grow with someone, your love and lust for them comes from a different place, one of an intimate bond and knowing them better than anyone else," psychologist Dr. Julie Gurner tells Bustle. "Your feelings grow deeper, you have a greater sense of who they are, and you want to connect deeply with that person."
6. You "Love Them As A Person" Vs. You Love Them Romantically
Ever catch yourself saying that you love your partner "as a person"? This is a roundabout way of saying you love them, but aren't really in love with them. And that's OK.
"There are many ways to love someone, but saying you love them 'as a person,' and are not 'in love' with them often indicates that you see them more as a genuinely close friend you care deeply about, than a lover you also care deeply about," Gurner says. "Do you see them as sexy? Desirable? Do they still turn you on? Or, are you going through the motions with someone who has become more of a roommate than a romantic partner?" Talking with your partner in moments like this will be key, since you'll want to see if they're feeling the same way.
Of course, sparks can come back, if you're just going through a phase. But friendly feelings like these may mean you're not really, truly, and deeply in love.
7. You Respect And Care About Them Vs. You Can't Live Without Them
It's possible to love someone and care about what happens to them, and yet not love them in a romantic, long lasting kind of way. And therein lies a major difference.
"If you find yourself caring for your partner but not desiring them, caring for your partner but not needing to be close to them, caring for your partner but not wanting to share with them, you may love your partner but not be in love with them," clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow, host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle.
This feeling is often similar to the way you'd feel about a best friend; you love them dearly, and want them to be happy, but that doesn't necessarily mean you want to be their partner, or spend your life by their side.
8. You Think About Them Occasionally Vs. They're Always On Your Mind
It's possible to care deeply about someone you love, and to think about them often. But the person you truly love will be in your thoughts to a whole different degree.
"You think about them, you worry about them, you have a physical need to be close to them, you may feel confident with them but you may worry about the status of your relationship tremendously, because it means so much to you," Klapow says.
In the early days of the relationship, you might feel a bit obsessed. But as the relationship settles into a healthy rhythm, you still feel that your partner occupies a large portion of your brain. And that's when you know you're in love.
9. You Care About Their Feelings Vs. You Feel What They Feel
When you're truly in love, you "become more sensitive and empathetic to this person," relationship expert Dr. Carolina Castaños, founder of MovingOn, tells Bustle. When they're happy, you're happy. And when they're sad, so are you.
And this can be different for the more friendly, platonic love you feel for others. Sure, you're down to help out, and support the people you care about. But you know you're truly in love when someone else's emotions have the ability to affect your day.
There may be a fine line when it comes to the difference between loving someone and being in love. And ultimately, it's up to you to define it. But if you find that love has cooled down, and you want to pick things up, there's still hope to reignite that feeling in the both of you.