Is there anything more elating or reassuring in a relationship than hearing those three little words? Indeed, when someone says, “I love you,” they’re saying a whole lot. They don’t just like you. They don’t just happen to enjoy your company for a little Netflix and chilling. They care deeply about you, they feel a strong connection to you, and best of all, they want you to know it. But what if your girlfriend or boyfriend doesn’t say, “I love you”? Should you be worried? Or is it possible that your relationship is still OK, regardless of the fact that your SO hasn’t uttered those three little words?
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent Los Angeles-based relationship therapist, the answer may depend on the stage of your relationship, so it’s important to consider how long you’ve been together. If they haven’t said, “I love you,” after a month or two, then he says there’s no reason to worry about your relationship — even if you feel like you’re in love with them. However, Dr. Brown notes that if you’ve been dating exclusively for six months to a year or more and your partner never says, “I love you,” then that may point to a potential issue. Here’s what could be going on, according to experts.
Your Partner Could Be Waiting For You To Say It First
If you love your SO and you haven’t said it yet, either, then Dr. Brown suggests asking yourself why you’re hesitant to express your feelings. After all, it’s possible your partner isn’t sure how you feel and is waiting for you to take the plunge. “What’s your internal barrier?” he says. “Maybe it’s a matter of your ego, and that’s why you’re hoping they’ll say it first.” If you’re sure you’re in love with your boo, then Dr. Brown suggests you go ahead and say it. That could be the impetus your SO needs to say it back.
As online dating expert Julie Spira previously pointed out to Elite Daily, there’s a lot of pressure and expectations that come along with saying, “I love you,” especially when it’s for the first time. “When you're with someone you think you can fall in love with, it doesn't mean you’ll feel it and want to express it at the same time," Spira explained. "For one, when someone says 'I love you,' they are really hoping you’ll say, 'I love you, too.' If you don’t reply with the same sentiment, they'll feel rejected and might pull back.” No one wants to feel rejected, after all.
Your Partner Could Be Uncomfortable Expressing Love
On the other hand, if you have already told your boo you love them and they have yet to say it back, Dr. Brown says it’s worth digging for an explanation. “In the most gentle, nonjudgemental, and non-accusatory way, ask them what those three words might mean to them,” he suggests. “Find out whether they’re uncomfortable saying 'I love you' to people in general, including family and friends, or whether it’s specific to dating or your particular relationship.” It’s possible they were raised in a family where expressing love wasn’t taught or encouraged.
According to Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze Of Love, someone doesn’t necessarily have to say those three words in order to show you affection. "If you believe your partner loves you and you understand why they don't verbalize it, your relationship isn't likely going to be in trouble because you've balanced their lack of saying it with your knowledge and understanding of why they don't say it," he explains. As long as you understand and accept where you SO is coming from, then you can find other ways to express how you feel.
Your Partner Could Have Been Rejected In The Past
Dr. Brown also points out that someone may be afraid to say the L-word if they’ve had a negative experience saying it in the past. “Maybe it has nothing to do with you,” adds Dr. Brown. “Maybe the last time they said it, those feelings were rejected and unrequited. They may have understandable fear.” Facing that kind of rejection even once could keep someone from wanting to say it again, even if you’ve already made your own feelings known. If this is the case, then the best thing you can do is make sure your partner feels supported and loved.
However, according to Erika Ettin, founder and CEO of A Little Nudge, you shouldn’t let your partner’s hesitation hold you back from expressing yourself. "Of course, you can, and should, say 'I love you' first if you're feeling it," she previously told Elite Daily. "Beyond that, it's for your partner to work through his or her own hesitations around the phrase. And, depending on your love language, perhaps you're OK for a while with your partner expressing love in other ways." Even if it’s important for you to hear those words, try your best to be patient and let your partner get there in their own time.
Your Partner Could Be Keeping You At A Distance
If your partner doesn’t attempt to offer a reasonable explanation when you bring it up and instead tries to dodge the subject, experts agree this could be a red flag. According to Dr. Brown, the inability to say, “I love you,” after being in a committed relationship for an extended period of time (and with no reasonable explanation) may suggest that your SO has some walls up. “There might be some part of them that’s emotionally closed off,” he says. “And then you need to consider what the other implications are for your relationship.”
Armstrong agrees, adding, “If there has been no explanation and every other relationship action points to love, then worrying is understandable. We should not have to be in a relationship in which we communicate our love for someone and face crickets in return.” Make sure your boo knows your concern, and if still they aren’t willing to offer up those words (or an explanation for why they can’t), then it may be time for a serious convo about your future together.
Your Partner Could Simply Not Be Ready
The most obvious explanation may also be the hardest one to hear: Your partner isn’t saying, “I love you,” because they don’t love you — not yet, anyway. “Sometimes, one partner falls in love a lot quicker than the other, and the other isn't going to say, ‘I love you,’ if they don't mean it,” Armstrong says. “If this is the case and they have explained that, you should only worry if the gap between your feelings and their feelings bothers or saddens you.”
And while you may be eager to hear your SO tell you that they love you, you probably wouldn’t want them to say it simply out of feeling pressured. So consider it a positive thing if it’s somewhat early in the relationship and they haven’t said it — because if and when they do say it, you’ll know it’s honest, genuine, and from the heart.
If you’ve been dating someone for a substantial amount of time and they still haven’t said those three little words back, then don’t hesitate to ask them what’s holding them back. Breaking down that barrier may just make your boo more comfortable being just as open with you.
Dr. Gary Brown, Los Angeles-based relationship therapist
Julie Spira, online dating expert
Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and founder of Maze Of Love
Erika Ettin, founder and CEO of A Little Nudge
Editor's Note: This story has been updated by Elite Daily Staff.
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