Difference Between Loving and Being “In Love” With Someone

Reader’s Question

Please tell me the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone. My daughter’s 2 1/2 year relationship is in limbo because her boyfriend asked for a little space to find out his true feelings for her. He said he wants a future with her, but right now he doesn’t know if it is commitment problems or other issues he had growing up with an alcoholic father. He says before he can commit to a future with her, he has to fix himself before he can fix them. He says that he feels that he will not be a good husband or father and wants to seek counseling. As of yet, because of his work schedule, he has not begun counseling. It has been 1 1/2 months since the breakup.

Is that just a way of letting her down easy? I want to be able to comfort my daughter and help her through this hard time, but I don’t know how to handle this.

Psychologist’s Reply

We can love many people but being “in love” with someone typically suggests romantic, sexual, intimate feelings not found in those other loving relationships. For this reason, when someone says “I love you, but I’m not in love with you” it’s saying their romantic and intimate affections have cooled.

When your daughter’s situation occurs in a relationship, and it’s pretty common, the couple have reached a place in the relationship where the next step or level requires more committment. It’s like getting promotions in a job — the higher up the ladder you go, the more is required. Some folks can’t be promoted or can’t progress beyond a certain level and “lock up” for a variety of reasons.

The boyfriend may be totally honest, he may be trying to cool the relationship, or he may be trying to let her down easy. It’s all possible. If he questions his ability to be a good husband and father, while this breakup/cooling is emotionally painful, it may actually be a blessing in disguise. It’s best to find this out now, before they have children and it surfaces then.

I’d recommend that your daughter put the relationship on probation. Give him a number of months to find himself, but if that doesn’t occur, then recognize that the relationship is over, emotionally heal, and move on. If we’re not careful, individuals who are trying to fix themselves can keep others in limbo for months (and even years). It’s their way of not taking personal responsibility for the breakup, allowing the relationship to die on the vine as they say.

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