I Can’t Marry You But I Love You?

Have you ever encountered this kind of love-life problem? You are in a love relationship with someone you are falling in love with or have fallen in love with and he or she says to you when you inquire about marriage, “I can’t marry you but I love you.” Nine times out of ten the reason he or she can’t marry has something to do with fear.

As long as you know he or she does not have another lover or spouse somewhere, his or her inability to marry is related to some past experience of hurt that interferes in the present. And in most cases of this love-life problem, the lover who can’t marry is not interested in ending the relationship, not in the least. In fact, the hope is that you will accept his or her ‘inability’ and continue on in the love relationship as usual.

Let’s assume that you and he or she have been in a relationship for a while now. Let’s say anywhere from one to three years or more. You can see yourself married to this individual and you feel that the relationship has grown over time. You made your inquiry about marriage to get some sense as to whether or not he or she has the same thing in mind. To find out if your plan to marry and perhaps have a family is realistic for both of you.

The “I can’t marry you but I love you” message jolts you into an awareness that your lover has unilaterally imposed a limit on the growth of your relationship. The problem now is deciding on whether or not to stay in the relationship as is, or to leave and find someone else you can ‘go all the way with.’ This is usually not an easy decision to make. You’ve grown feelings for your lover. You feel like you’re attached to him or her. What are the options? You can stay in the relationship or leave. What happens when you decide to stay?

First off, chances are you’re going to compromise your own emotional needs. Why? Because you’re deciding to stay with someone who can’t love you the way you need him or her to. Plus you could be wasting your time. What this means is, you could be hanging around with someone who has ‘limited love’ to give you. The proverbial ‘they’ used to call this love-life choice, ‘settling,’ which they no doubt probably still do. When you settle you are convincing yourself that what you’re getting is good enough, when deep down inside you know it’s not.

If you decide to leave, what happens? Well for starters you’ll grieve. You’ll grieve because when love ends you have to let it go in order for your heart to heal. This is a fact and the way it always goes. If you accept this about your all too human heart, you’ll let it happen and you won’t interfere with this natural process with cockamamie ideas like ‘crying is weakness.’ You’ll say to yourself, I want more than he or she wants, so I have to leave this relationship to get it. By the way, his or her efforts to convince you to stay will make you feel pity or anger. Your heart will be set on protecting yourself from avoidable future hurt.

Before I close this post I have to mention a special case, when leaving a limited love relationship compels your lover to make changes in him or herself. How does this work? Figure it this way, once you see someone you love start walking out the door, or you get a little taste of loneliness because the person you love is no longer around, you might re-evaluate how you really feel about him or her. This happens often enough to be a distinct possibility. Of course, you’ll still have a decision to make, whether or not you think the changes are real enough to come back to.

For the rest of you in this kind of love-life predicament, let me offer two things, don’t ever try to change someone you love, and if you want to be happy keep the one who comes closest to giving you want you want.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. T. Jordan

Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.


  1. thank you on July 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Normally I do not learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice post.

    • admin on October 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks for your comment. It feels good to be of help to people out there on the web. Dr.J.

  2. Kaviraj on October 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    The last lines are awesome. However I was also trying the same but need to reconsider.

    • admin on October 5, 2012 at 3:07 pm

      Hello Kaviraj, Thanks for the feedback. I am very glad you found the post useful. Dr. J.

  3. maya on May 17, 2016 at 6:40 am

    i’m in same situation,i know, should leave, how ever, i’m still in relationship.

  4. M on June 21, 2018 at 7:23 am

    So what should I do???!!

  5. Priya on January 21, 2019 at 2:11 am

    Im going through the stuff now. I walked away. But i still love him. The last two things which you’ve suggested might help me. Not sure though. After reading this, i understood how hard it is to b together forever. I luvd the post. Thanks Jordan!

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