Asking for a Friend//

Is There a Right Time to Say “I Love You” in a Relationship?

A therapist says there are a few other questions to ask yourself first.

By klublu/ Shutterstock
By klublu/ Shutterstock

Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationship — with romantic partners, family members, co-workers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!

Q: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a few months and I feel ready to tell him I love him, but I don’t want to scare him away. There’s also a part of me that fears he won’t say it back. Is there a “right time” to say the first “I love you”? Is there a downside to being the first one to say it? And Is there a reason why he hasn’t said it yet?

A: I think a lot of people struggle with this issue, so you’re not alone.

Let’s start with why he hasn’t said “I love you” yet. There’s a good chance he’s in the exact same position as you are right now — which is, wondering why you haven’t said it yet, or being nervous about saying it first.  

I don’t think there’s a given “right time” to say it. However, I would encourage anyone to make sure that they are not confusing love with lust. The early phase of a relationship can feel very intoxicating and there are a lot of powerful hormones and natural chemicals coursing through your veins.

You might think about that person often and want to be with them all the time. That can happen very quickly, especially if there is physical intimacy early on. Be aware that you have chemistry, which is lovely, but don’t allow it to overpower you so that you’re missing any potential red flags.

Some of these might be: The person doesn’t follow through on their commitments or promises to you. Perhaps they are not inviting you to meet their own friends and family. They might be lying to you or other people, or not showing proof of alliance. This term means that they have your back and will be there for you even if it means they have to make a sacrifice to be there for you. Some other red flags could be that the person doesn’t respect your boundaries or support your dreams and desires.

If you look at the timeframe you’ve been together with this person, you said it’s been a few months. Are things between you feeling pretty solid and like there’s a good connection? Are you spending a lot of time together and getting to know each other on a deeper level? Are you each following through with plans and promises that you’ve made to each other? Are you making future plans, such as vacations or weekend trips perhaps? Are you getting to know each other’s friends, family, and co-workers?

If so, then these are all good signs that the relationship is moving in a positive direction and that there’s a strong basis for love and a shared sense of trust.

By being vulnerable and taking the first step to share your feelings, that may allow him to open up and perhaps share that he is having the same feelings. The other way it could go is that you say “I love you” and he says, “I really care about you but I’m not ready to say ‘I love you,’ yet.”

And that’s okay, too! You have to be ready to accept that some people are at different stages and phases in a relationship or that it might take them longer and more time to fall in love.

Who knows, maybe by the time you read this, you both will have already said “I love you.”

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