Three little words really do mean a lot. Typically when people engage in a romantic relationship they reach a point where it feels natural to say I Love You. However, in my experience I hear from people again and again that they said I Love You and their partner did not or vice versa.
Why do some people say it and some people don’t?
First off, just because someone doesn’t say it doesn’t mean they are not feeling it. I know someone who said I Love You to her boyfriend and he responded, Thank you. While we all like to be thanked for our good deeds, this is simply not the response we are hoping for. Is it? About five years later I attended their wedding at he repeated I Love You about half a dozen times in the sweetest, most heartfelt ceremony I have been lucky to witness. He also wrote his own vows, selected poetry and cried. How did this man transform?
Past experiences of both partners matters.
What is the baggage? Every person alive has unresolved issues from the past. In this particular case, the person who received the very polite Thank You was very hurt and disappointed. She felt a lot of strong negative emotions like shame, anger and deep sadness. These are very valid feelings when we fear we have been rejected. Instead of sharing that with him, she noted her anxiety and she told him that she hoped he would say I Love You one day but today wasn’t going to be it. He agreed. She decided to shelve the conversation for a later date when they could discuss it more calmly. Inside she felt a lot of fear and worry about their future together. She talked to her therapist and did a lot of acts of self-care to nurture herself. She spent time with people who validated her emotions and encouraged her to let things settle. Her friends liked her boyfriend and saw potential. She was coming from a fairly secure attachment style that in past relationships had become more anxious. She did not want to veer into that anxious attachment style in this relationship. Relying on additional supports and continuing to live a full, rich life allowed her to stay secure. In other words, she didn’t crumble because she was disappointed. She was still hopeful about the future.
They had been a couple for about a year, which seems like enough time to exchange these words, but he had been in a tumultuous relationship for about a decade before. A few weeks later they had a dialogue about it and he expressed his fears. If he said that he loved her he was afraid things might turn sour. After all, that’s what happened in his last relationship. He just wasn’t ready. She decided not to take it personally. She could feel that he loved her. But if she misinterpreted the situation and focused on past rejections she had experienced or her own unlovable traits, she may have been so wounded that she could not continue the relationship. It took some time and a great deal of patience on her part but ultimately, he was able to say the words – in front of two hundred guests!
A couple I worked with recalled that after dating six months she said I Love You and he didn’t respond at all. She cried and became infuriated. She knew deep down that he did love her and she could feel that love, but he refused to say it. Instead of responding to her cries of sadness and despair, he shut down, stopped talking and told her he needed space. When she texted him to apologize for her reaction, he accepted the apology. When she asked him to come over, he refused, saying he still needed space. Though she had been experiencing a secure attachment style with him she was not scared that the bond would be severed and she was becoming anxious, needy and clingy. This is a normal reaction to the fear of a primary relationship ending. However, what you do with that emotion of fear is very important. She decided to step back and give him space and he did decide to return to the relationship. A big factor for him was that he felt he was already saying I Love You only without the words and he had been offended that she had doubted his sincerity. To him, spending quality time with her and her young daughter, taking time to get to know her friends and being curious about her inner life, were all ways that he felt for sure he was demonstrating his love for her. He had been offended that she had misread his cues.
Remember family of origin experiences directly impact adult relationships. Some people grew up in families who said I Love You all the time but their actions proved otherwise. Other families never said I Love You very much but they displayed behaviors that made it clear the love was there. I offer counseling in Portland that will help you learn what the patterns were in your family growing up and how they are shaping your current relationships. I also offer couples counseling in Portland so that both you and your partner can learn about your relationship and how you can best meet each other’s needs.