9 Differences Between Loving Your Partner And Being In Love With Them, According To Experts
There are many excuses people will use when they want to call things off. Lines like "it's not you, it's me" or "I see us more as friends" are all classics that have been thrown out there time and time again. And we've all heard the 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 sounds cheesy, and completely overused. It can also be an extremely confusing excuse, especially if someone's using it as a reason to break up. But when you really think about what the saying means, it can start to make more 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 in a deep and intimate way.
That doesn't mean that you need to be head-over-heels for your partner every single day, in order to be truly in love. It's even natural to lose some of the early romantic spark as a relationship progresses, Bennett says. But, with a little effort, these sparks can certainly be brought back. Here, are a few ways to tell the difference between loving someone and being in love, according to experts, as well as how to ensure it lasts in your relationship.
1. You Don't Spend As Much Time With Them Vs. You Go Out Of Your Way 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. One way to do so is by purposefully spending more time together, especially if busy schedules have pulled you apart. Go on a night, plan a vacation, or simply have breakfast together more often.
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. 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, 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, however, if you don't have that spark during sex, or if you don't 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 can be a major part of your relationship, and it may be a sign that spark is gone if you've lost your desire to be intimate. But since so many other factors can be involved, it's important not to jump to conclusions, or assume the worst.
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 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, that's great. Plenty of couples make sex a top priority, and it's 100 percent OK.
But couples who are in love usually 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, in many ways.
"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," Dr. 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," Dr. Klapow says.
In the early days of the relationship, you might even 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.
This can be different for the more friendly, platonic love you feel for others. You can be down to help others and make their lives better. But you know you're truly in love when someone else's emotions have the ability to impact your entire 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 what it all means. But through it all, remember that if your love has cooled down, and you want to pick things up, there are ways to reignite that feeling in your relationship.
This post was originally published on 5/30/2018. It was updated on 6/4/2019.