I received the below question from someone recently, and it reminded me how difficult it can be to distinguish the things that truly matter in a relationship from the things that we have been told "should" matter.
Question: I've been dating Josh for about three months. He's a great guy, good-looking, smart, and most importantly, he treats me with respect. However, I've had a tough dating and relationship history. I was engaged to a guy who never followed through with his promises and broke off the engagement. I was married to a man who cheated. As you can imagine, trust has been difficult for me.
I've been working on myself, and I now love and respect myself so much more. Because of that, I've been able to slowly develop this wonderful relationship. I don't want things to go wrong.
Here's the problem: Josh has never said, "I love you." I feel that he really cares, but I'd feel so much better if I heard those words. Am I being silly or insecure? Or should I be concerned if he doesn't say those three magic words?
Here's what I told her. I hope it helps you, too.
Josh sounds like he's a good partner for you. He respects and cherishes you, which is fundamental to a lasting relationship. He honors and values you because you've learned to love yourself and to stop tolerating liars and cheaters.
It sounds like this is a much healthier relationship than you've ever experienced. Let's celebrate that!
You ask about those three little words; when is the right time to say, "I love you"? It sounds like you're ready to profess your love, and he might not be there yet. Here's how to know where you stand.
Watch his actions, not his words.
If he's showing you that he cares for you, that's what matters most. As you probably know, words are not as important as follow-through and consistency.
I would be more concerned if he said "I love you" after only four dates, and his actions didn't match up. How do you know if his actions mean that he loves you? I have created an assessment to help you figure out if someone loves you, whether they've said it or not:
- Is this person calling and texting consistently?
- Do you get together on a regular basis?
- Is the relationship escalating and growing?
- Do you feel valued and cherished by this person?
- Do you feel safe with them (emotionally and physically)?
- Are they considerate, kind, and thoughtful?
- Do you feel good about the relationship when you're with them AND when you're not?
- Is this person open to talking things out when you disagree?
If you can answer "yes" to all of the questions above, that person cares deeply about you and prioritizes you in their life.
It's helpful to know that people express their love in many different ways, and it's not always in the way that we expect. In the wonderful book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman lists the five ways of expressing love as follows:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Giving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
I suggest you take the love languages assessment to find out what your preferred language of expression is. I highly recommend that you ask Josh to do the same so you can learn his love language too.
Understanding the way you each express love is one of the keys to accepting and embracing your partner. It can lessen the anxiety you feel when you aren't getting what you need in a relationship.
So, is it really important to hear the words "I love you"?
I believe those three words are highly overrated. They can be meaningful if they're said in the right context and with sincerity. But they can mean different things to different people. To one partner, "I love you" means "I think you might be the ONE I've been searching for my whole life." To the other, "I love you" means "I like you a lot, and I want to sleep with you."
There are many other ways to express your love. So, remember to watch what he does more than what he says. Understand each other's love languages. And once you've done that, you'll be able to take a deep breath and stop worrying so much about whether or not someone says I love you. Do you feel loved? That's all that matters.