Being the best partner — 03 December 2011
Why does saying “I Love You” feel so difficult?

Hearing the words “I Love You” is heartwarming, pleasing and reassuring. Yet, for some lovers uttering those words is very difficult. What may be some barriers to people’s ease in declaring their love for each other?

Friends often ask whether your steady date has already verbally declared his/her love, since these three simple words mark the depth and seriousness of the relationship. Many pairs await the declaration of love until they sense that this statement will be well received and that the couple is ready to proceed from a positive friendship to a committed bonded state.

We also know that decent people only vocalize their emotions when they truly feel them. This is true not only about loving a partner but about liking our jobs, enjoying events or any other experience. When people are equivocal about their thoughts or feelings they are hard pressed to voice a positive stance. In court, people are asked to state that they will tell the truth and for most this oath is compelling.

Why then would people who clearly feel love for their partner withhold voicing this fact? There are five common reasons for withholding verbal expression of love: Fear of commitment, Immaturity, Fear of vulnerability, Fear of unequal reciprocity and disempowerment.

Some fear that saying “I Love You” is akin to a declaration of a life commitment, which the speaker may not be ready to affirm. Being the first one to say these three lovely words may also be construed as undue pressure on the mate, who may not be ready for a reciprocal declaration.

Being able to speak or receive a declaration of love requires sensitivity and personal confidence. H. Michael Zal, in “The Sandwich Generation,” equates reluctance to profess love with one’s level of maturity. “A very simplistic way to judge a person’s level of emotional maturity is to see how they communicate and accept feelings of love and anger. Can they say, “I love you?” Can they accept it if someone gives them a compliment or says they care?”

The author adds, “People often feel that if they express feelings of love, they will be vulnerable and can be hurt. They therefore hold back on the three words that can open the door to happiness, intimacy, and positive feedback.”

Another reluctance to express one’s love is the fear that the partner may not reciprocate in kind and the speaker will feel hurt and rejected. Also, putting one’s cards on the table may render one less empowered and less well treated in the relationship.

Say “I Love You” to your beloved,

  • Accept that declaring your love is not a commitment, a base for rejection or disempowerment. It benefits you and your mate through your openness and love.
  • Professing love is mutually enriching.
  • Practice telling your partner how much you love him/her as frequently as possible. It is likely to be reciprocated and will cement your intimacy and bond.


October 2, 2011


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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