You’ve been dating your partner for a while, and you’ve finally worked up the guts to say those three special words. Saying “I love you” for the first time is a big deal, even though it’s only three words and eight letters. Putting your thoughts out there can be scary, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll hear the same words back. So, what do you do when you tell someone you love them but they don’t say it back? Experts say you shouldn’t worry, even if it seems like the worst thing in the world at the time.
“It’s really scary for someone to take a chance and say ‘I love you,'” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author who talks to Bustle. “In fact, many people who are just getting to know each other play an unconscious game of “feeling it out” to see if they are falling in love at the same rate.
Dr. Manly suggests doing a few things if you feel ready to say “I love you” first. First, try to figure out how you really feel. Dr. Manly says that in the early stages of a relationship, it’s easy to mix up love with a crush, passion, or just the fun of dating. When you mistake lust for love, your “I love you” won’t really mean what you say it does. Instead, it probably comes from a place of fear, and your partner might not respond well to the situation.
But if you really love someone and want to show it, go for it. And here’s what experts say you can do if you say “I love you” but don’t hear it back from your partner.
1 Take a break from yourself
It’s easy to feel bad about yourself when you tell someone you love them and they don’t say it back. Victoria Elf Raymond, PhD, a licenced psychologist, tells Bustle that you’re only human. “Of course, it’s nicer for your partner to respond, but just because you didn’t get the answer you wanted doesn’t mean you were wrong to say what you wanted to say,” she says. Instead, be glad that you finally said it, because not everyone has as much courage as you do. Also, it’s better than having to think about all the “What ifs?”
2 Keep Calm
Ieshai Bailey, CMHC, a licenced therapist, tells Bustle that if they don’t say “I love you” back, you shouldn’t get angry. Even though it’s normal to keep talking about the same thing or question their answer, doing so can put your partner on the defensive. Bailey says that it is important to stay cool. Don’t move quickly or jump to conclusions. And remember that if they don’t respond right away, that’s not always a red flag.
Chloe Ballatore, an expert on relationships and how people talk to each other, says that your partner might not have an answer ready. “It’s normal for one person to say “I love you” first and not get a response. About half the time, that’s what I see in my work.”
3 Give the other person time to think about what you said.
When you tell someone you love them and they don’t say it back, it’s important to give them time to think about it.
Even though it’s nice to hear “I love you” back, you shouldn’t expect it the first time you say it to someone. “The way we show love and when we show love are so different for each of us,” says Dr. Raymond.
Your partner might be more careful about falling in love because of what happened in the past, or they might just feel more safe telling you how they feel. Courtney Boyer, a relationship coach, told Bustle that people who have been hurt in serious relationships may be less likely to let themselves feel love and recognise it verbally (by saying “I love you” out loud). “If you grew up in a home where “I love you” wasn’t said often or ever, you may be less likely to say it when your partner does.” No matter what the reason is, give them time to figure out what’s going on.
4 Keep Moving Forward
Sometimes you say things that you didn’t mean to say. Davida Rappaport, a relationship expert and spiritual counsellor, tells Bustle, “If you tell your partner, “I love you!” in the heat of the moment or for some other reason and they don’t say they love you back, just move on.” If it will make you feel better, you can even act like you didn’t say anything. “By ignoring it, you’re already letting them know how you feel,” says Rappaport. “The seed has already been planted.” And they will answer at the right time.
5 Don’t talk about it for a while.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different when you tell someone you love them and they don’t say it back. Boyer says, “People rarely feel the same strong emotions at the same time. One person is likely to fall in love faster than the other.” This doesn’t mean that your partner doesn’t care about you or that you’ll always care about the relationship more than they do. So, it’s important to just get a feel for things first.
April Maccario, a relationship expert and author in New York, tells Bustle, “Understand that you’ve overplayed your hand and decide what to do next.” Don’t try to force your partner to answer or make jokes that are passive-aggressive about the situation.
Don’t let this get you down. Don’t let the fact that you said “I love you” and didn’t hear it back stop you from saying it again. “Love can mean different things to different people,” says Ballatore. “Some people always have it on the tip of their tongue, while others save it for special times.” “What matters is how you feel about the other person and how willing they are to make and keep promises. Actions are more important than words.
6 Try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
If your partner didn’t tell you they loved you back, try to understand why. Even though it’s important to give your partner time to figure out how they feel, you don’t have to forget about the situation or hide your own feelings until your partner is ready. Manly says that some people need to hear the words “I love you” to feel safe and linked in their relationship. If you give up on the problem totally, it will only hurt you and make you angry. Instead, spend some time getting to know your partner and how they feel about those three words.
“Some people say “I love you” all the time in their relationships, while others say it less often,” says Manly. “Some partners who don’t say “I love you” often show their love in other ways that are important to them. But some partners may have unhealed love wounds, and saying “I love you” to these people can bring up unspoken fears of emotional pain. Everyone is different, so getting to know more about your partner can help you get over any worries you might have about how they feel about you.
7 Be thankful for your relationship.
Thinking about what you have and being grateful for it can help you move on from things that may be bothering you. In this situation, you should think about how close you are to your partner. What about them made you love them? What did they do to make you feel like they loved you? “If your partner has a good reason for not saying “I love you,” it might not matter,” says Manly. “For example, you might not mind not hearing “I love you” from a partner who shows a lot of love and respect through acts of kindness and physical displays. When two people have a deep relationship, the words “I love you” are written into everything they do together.
8 Respect your partner’s feelings as well as your own
Once you’ve talked to your partner about why they’re not saying “I love you,” and you know why, it’s important to respect their feelings. Don’t try to force or change someone who will have a hard time saying those words.
But you should also care about how you feel. If hearing “I love you” makes you feel safe in a relationship, you may need to think about whether or not this person is the right one for you after some time. “Trust that your ability to love is better used on someone who can appreciate your special kind of love,” says Dr. Manly.