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When to Say ‘I Love You’

When to Say I Love YouThe phrase “I love you” is comprised of three seemingly harmless little words. But the potential reactions to these words are endless—and emotionally loaded.

“I love you” is perhaps the most coveted word combination in the English language. People generally can’t get enough of the expression. But there’s a reason why communicating your love to someone for the first time is intimidating: While people rarely reject a present (especially one offered in good faith) the gift of “I love you” is occasionally cast aside. And sometimes the phrase is accepted but not fully reciprocated. Because expressing our love leaves us emotionally vulnerable, we crave the security of hearing it in return.

Being the recipient of the phrase “I love you” has its own challenges. Unlike most presents, who the giver is matters more to us than the actual gift. Timing also matters. Even if we long to hear those words from our partner, we may not be fully equipped at the time to give those words the honor they deserve.

Given these factors, how do you determine when it’s time to say “I love you”? Below are some suggestions on when—and if—to declare your love.

The Right Person

The phrase “I love you” isn’t reserved solely for a romantic partner. But when expressed to a romantic partner, the phrase takes on new dimensions. Some people use the words casually, with whomever they happen to be dating at the time. But this distorts the meaning; like, lust and love are three completely different things that just happen to overlap sometimes. To love truly someone requires a depth of knowledge about—and delight in—that person. So before you say the words, be sure you fully understand who your partner is and how you really feel about him/her.

The Right Motivation

The words “I love you” hold power. Like any other power, it can be used for good or for harm. Whether consciously or not, some people use the phrase to manipulate, to appease, or to get validation. Are you saying “I love you” because you need to hear it back? Are you trying to pressure your partner into a deeper commitment? Do you feel insecure about your partner’s affection? Rightly motivated declarations of love focus on the other person and affirming him/her. Wrongly motivated declarations fixate on what you can get in exchange for those precious words.

The Right Timing

The “I love you” sometimes comes too soon, before the other person is ready for it. It can also come too late; stinginess with the phrase can cost you the entire relationship. Sometimes, the expression just slips out, without conscious deliberation. (If so, hopefully you meant what you said and weren’t just caught up in the moment!) Once those words are out, they may be hard to take back without ending the relationship. So be mindful of if and when you say the phrase.

The Right Expectations

Saying “I love you” can strengthen a couple’s connection and take the relationship to the next level. Unfortunately, there’s always the chance that your significant other won’t fully reciprocate your feelings. Even if he/she does, some people are more cautious about using those words. But no risk, no reward. If saying “I love you” doesn’t achieve the effect you desire, use the opportunity to process with your partner about where he/she sees the relationship going. He or she may just need a little time to catch up emotionally, but there could be deeper reservations about the relationship. If there’s no future there, it’s probably just as well to find out now.

The Right Context

Expressing your love for the first time is a highly intimate act, one generally best communicated in private. Don’t spring it on your partner in front of a bunch of people, adding to the pressure. Some people like to make an occasion out of saying “I love you” for the first time, say with a nice candlelit dinner. That’s perfectly fine, but it’s not essential: the words are sufficiently impressive on their own.

The Right ‘Proof’

Merely saying “I love you” can seem like a Herculean feat. What is more heroic, though, is demonstrating love to your partner. Don’t just say the words: Reinforce your affection through considerate treatment of your significant other. If you haven’t seen love modeled well in your family, spend time around couples who seem to understand what love is all about. Watch how they treat each other and incorporate the most positive aspects of this interaction into your own relationship.

Few phrases are as emotionally charged as “I love you.” But saying the words doesn’t have to be traumatic, if you truly know and trust the person. Take the time you need to feel comfortable saying the words, but once you do, no regrets!


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