The Difference Between Loving Your Partner & Being “In Love” With Them

The relationship experts weigh in.

Originally Published: 
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While they may seem identical, loving a partner and being in love with a partner are two totally different things. They often share a lot of the same qualities, like butterflies, excitement, and a desire to spend every waking moment together. But the latter often runs a bit deeper than the former — in subtle but important ways.

“Being truly in love with someone often feels like having a genuine friendship with the added bonus of ongoing attraction and sexual intimacy,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of the upcoming book Date Smart, tells Bustle. When they’re “in love,” you often hear people say they’ve found “their person” — someone they click with in every way and want to be with long-term. And that’s a really great way of to describe it.

So what should you do if it seems like you have the other kind of love? “We all deserve to get what we want and need out of a relationship and no one should sell themselves short,” therapist Erica Cramer, LCSW tells Bustle. “Defining your feelings helps to define your relationships and you can be realistic about whether you’re fulfilled or fulfilling someone else and when it may be time to close that chapter and end things when someone isn’t your match — even when you really want them to be.”

It can be a tough realization, but one that will open doors to finding someone who truly ticks all the right boxes. Here, 15 more ways to tell the difference between love and being in love, so you can make the best choice for you.


You’re In Love If: You Take Your Partner Into Consideration 24/7

You’re likely genuinely in love if you take your partner into consideration in everything you do, Dr. Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. You’ll find time to talk with them before making major decisions to ensure the outcome will work for their life as well as your own. (Think big things like moving, leaving a job, etc.) You’ll also view your partner’s goals and aspirations as your own and will do whatever you can to support them.


It’s Just Love If: You Only Want To Cheer Them On

On the flip side, “if you find yourself caring for your partner but not wanting to share with them, you may love your partner but not be in love with them," Klapow says. In other words, it's possible to love someone so much and want the best for them, but not to the point where you’re willing to make any sacrifices that would cut into your time or energy. And therein lies the difference.

Instead of having a “me and you versus the world” mentality, you’ll secretly hope that they find ways to tackle their problems and goals on their own. You’ll wish them well and cheer them on, but you won’t want to shoulder any of their burden or go out of your way to support them. This is a sign you care about them but aren’t “in love” with them as a romantic partner.


You’re In Love If: They Keep Surprising You

You very well may be in love if you keep finding new things to love about your partner, Cramer says, even after you’ve been for months and years.

“Someone in love is filled with a passion that may dwindle but reignites,” she tells Bustle. “You’re in love with a partner that you’re continuously renewing these feelings for: awe, gratitude, respect, and you’re learning new things every day as time goes on.”

It’ll feel like your love is always evolving in good ways. “People who love each other will grow, but may grow apart,” Cramer says. “People in love find ways to grow together.”


It’s Just Love If: You Aren’t Fully Attracted To Them

You may have love, but not be in love, if you enjoy spending time with your partner but aren’t attracted to them. “There has to be an element of passion, desire, physical attraction to go from love to being in love,” Cramer says. “No matter how much we want it to happen, it’s not something you can will.”

Compare the feeling to what it’s like hanging out with platonic friends who you cherish and value, Cramer says. These people may make you feel loved and special, but you aren’t in love with them. “You care about your partner the same way you care about other folks in your life, just not more.


You’re In Love If: You Want To Connect On A Deeper Level

It's possible to assess the "love levels” in your relationship by gauging how important physical intimacy is to you and your partner, psychologist Dr. Julie Gurner tells Bustle. If your entire relationship revolves around sex, you might be having a ton of fun but you might not be “in love” just yet.

Couples who are in love often make sex a priority while also making an effort outside the bedroom, she says. You’ll start looking for other ways to spend time together in new ways and your focus will start to shift towards creating a well-rounded relationship.

"As you grow with someone, your love and lust for them will come from a different place — one of an intimate bond and knowing them better than anyone else," Gurner says. "Your feelings grow deeper, you have a greater sense of who they are, and you want to connect deeply with that person."


It’s Just Love If: You “Love Them As A Person”

"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.

You have respect for them, you love hanging out with them, but when it comes to romance, it may feel like something is missing despite them being perfect “on paper.”

If you catch yourself feeling more like roommates, or complaining to friends that something major is missing in your relationship, Gurner says it may be a sign you're not really in love.


You’ve In Love If: You Have Each Other’s Backs 100%

When you aren’t genuinely in love with someone, it’s common to feel a little less committed whenever life gets rocky. Tough moments will make you want to bail or look for a relationship that might be a bit “easier.” But if you’re in love, those thoughts will never cross your mind.

“Authentic romantic love means you absolutely enjoy the good times in life — laughing together, traveling, and playing — yet there is also a deep willingness to go through the tough times in life together,” Manly says.

Another way to look at it? Whenever something goes wrong, you turn towards each other instead of away. “This element — this true desire and ability to be with someone through thick and thin — is one of the key signs of genuine romantic love,” Manly says. “Anyone can say the words ‘I love you’ but someone who truly loves you will consistently act in loving ways.”


It’s Just Love If: You Start To Lose Interest After The Honeymoon Stage

Another way to tell the difference between having a ton of chemistry and being in love is if you start to lose interest after the infatuation or honeymoon stage of the relationship comes to an end.

In this initial stage, sexual energy runs high, Manly says. You’ll have butterflies and won’t be able to get enough of each other. It’s in this stage that you’ll start to feel close — and you might even feel some type of love.

Infatuation can turn into romantic, genuine love as time goes on and you get to know one another better. But if your love isn’t meant to last long-term, you’ll notice that the sparks start to fade into a general sense of boredom. What’s more, you won’t feel the need to try to fix it, either.


You’re In Love If: You Want To Be Transparent With Your Partner

“Genuine, romantic love is honest and transparent,” Manly says. “When genuine romantic love is at work, partners are honest about everything — the good and the bad — even when being honest feels tough.”

It’s because you know you can trust each other and because you know that honesty is a vital part of sticking together in the future. “It creates the trust necessary to feel truly safe in a love relationship,” Manly says.

If you aren’t in this stage of love just yet, you may feel like it’s OK to keep certain things from your partner, either because you aren’t close enough to share everything on your mind, or because you don’t view them as someone who needs to know.


It’s Just Love If: You Use The Word “But” When Describing Them

Take note of your word choice when talking about your partner. “If you use the word ‘but’ when describing them, then it’s more conditional love,” Laurel House, one of eharmony’s relationship experts, tells Bustle. “There isn’t anything wrong with that — it is simply a sign that you aren’t in love with them.”

True love means you’re willing and able to look past a partner’s quirks or flaws. You see them as a whole person and love them unconditionally, even when they aren’t perfect.

“If you find yourself loving an element of who they are, if you’re attracted to only aspects of their personality, and/or are unaccepting of certain characteristics of who they are, then you are loving them but not fully ‘in love’ with them,” House says.


You’re In Love If: You Have A Deep Sense Of Empathy

When you're truly in love, you "become more sensitive and empathetic to this person," relationship expert Dr. Carolina Castaños tells Bustle. When they're happy, you're happy. And when they're sad, so are you.

The same can be true for friends and family and other types of platonic love. Since you care about these people, their emotions will impact how you feel. You’ll want to reach out and help, comfort them, and cheer them up.

But when it comes to being in love with a partner, that empathy will be next-level. Your partner’s emotions will feel like your own and you’ll want to take on the emotional burden of sharing them.


It’s Just Love If: You Can’t Envision A Future

While it’ll be fun to hang out with someone you like and care about, take note if you don’t ever think or talk about the future.

“When romantic love is at work, we often get naturally excited by creating future plans based on our hopes and dreams,” Manly says. “From exploring romantic travel destinations to the idea of starting a family, one sign of romantic love is the deep desire to create some sort of loving, romantic future together.”

If that isn’t there, you might not be “in love” just yet.


You’re In Love If: You Can’t Imagine Your Life Without Them

This one is tricky because in the early stages of infatuation, it really can feel like you need your partner in your life. As genuine love develops, however, it’ll feel like a future together makes sense and seems inevitable — in a totally good way.

“As we get older we usually keep a smaller, core group in our lives,” House says. “If you cannot imagine your life without this person, then you are probably in love.” You’ll have discussed future goals, you’ll be working towards them, and you’ll feel genuinely comfortable around each other.


It’s Just Love If: Your Partner Isn’t A Top Priority

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," certified counselor and dating expert Jonathan Bennett tells Bustle. "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 date, plan a vacation, or simply have breakfast together more often. If it’s meant to be, this effort will do the trick.


You’re In Love If: You Find Ways To Overcome Problems

From rekindling a dwindling spark, to practicing better communication, to compromising after an argument, these are all things you’ll be fully willing to do when you truly love someone, Bennett says. All couples go through ups and downs, but it’s this type of ongoing commitment to each other and the relationship that often points to genuine love.


Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist

Dr. Josh Klapow, clinical psychologist

Dr. Julie Gurner, psychologist

Erica Cramer, LCSW, therapist

Laurel House, relationship expert

Dr. Carolina Castaños, relationship expert

Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor

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