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How To Say I Love You: Tips by the Experts

Knowing how and when to say I love you can be difficult. Learn how to say I love you with our blog.


Saying “I love you” for the first time is an important step in a committed, long-term relationship. However, knowing when, where, and how to say those three little words can be a stressful experience. Before you confess your love, it’s important to understand the differences between infatuation and love, have the same relationship goals as your partner, and be willing to back your words up with action.

Love is a universal experience. It’s not just a romantic experience either; humans feel love for people through all types of social bonds. The love you feel for your brother or best friend is different from that of a parent or significant other, yet it’s all love. It influences and even changes our brain structure, taking hold of our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. In this article, we will focus on romantic love and the bonds we form in pursuit of a strong romantic connection. We’ll learn about how love influences the brain, what love is according to science, when to say I love you for the first time, and how to confess love.

What Is Love, According to Science?

You may already have a good idea of what love is in your head, but what does science have to say about it? 

When you think of love, you may think of that butterfly feeling and nervous energy, or you may think of feeling safe and secure with someone and always wanting to be around them.

Although all of these feelings can be a side effect of love, research has shown that love in of itself is not a feeling—it’s a motivational system. 

What does this mean? 

It means that love functions differently than emotions like happiness, sadness, or anger. Many researchers believe that romantic love originated as an evolutionary survival tactic to encourage people to form strong social bonds, stick together, help each other, and procreate. Brain chemicals were released when close, romantic bonds were formed, encouraging people to maintain those bonds. 

As humanity moved away from pure survival, the motivational system of love remained intact in our brains. What is this motivational system? Researchers believe love is formed out of three main biological conditions that have separate yet intertwined processes in the brain: Lust, attraction, and attachment. 

Together, lust, attraction, and attachment work together to form the feeling we know as love. They work in tangent activating the brain’s reward system in a way similar to how drugs work in the brain. (But without the negative side effects.) The result is a tight social connection that feels good and is mutually beneficial.

Stages of Falling in Love

People generally experience lust first, then attraction, and then finally an attachment that outlasts both lust and attraction. While lust and attraction are known to ebb, wane, and become satiated, attraction is a steady, consistent function. 

While you’re falling in love, your brain is experiencing surges of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These include: 

  1. Norepinephrine: Associated with the early stages of falling in love and results in increased stress levels, sleeplessness, increased attention, alertness, energy, loss of appetite, increased attention, increased heart rate, sweating, and trembling. The “butterfly” feeling you might experience when talking with a crush is a result of this Norepinephrine. Moderate stress is known to increase social interaction and encourage attraction and eventual attachment to form.   
  2. Oxytocin- This is the attachment neurotransmitter that comes in to dampen the stress caused by Norepinephrine. In addition to decreasing stress levels, it increases feelings of  security and support. 
  3. Dopamine—The classic feel-good emotion, dopamine is linked with the reward section of your brain. When your brain’s reward system is activated while you fall in love, you’ll experience a reduction in social fear, emotional judgment, and depression along with increased mood. You may become less critical of the person you’re attracted to and instead accept them into your social circle.

What About Dating?

Dating is actually not a uniquely human experience. In fact, humans display many of the same courting behaviors as other mammals, including: increased energy, focused attention, obsessive following, affiliative gestures, possessive mate guarding, goal-oriented behavior, and motivation to win a preferred partner. 

Pair bonding, or forming an attachment to one sustained partner throughout your lifetime, is rare. Pair bonding is only seen in less than 5% of mammals.

Benefits of Love

You’ve likely heard about the benefits of falling in love. In addition to the increased mood and decreased negative emotions, benefits of love include: 

How to Tell Someone You Love Them for the First Time?

Telling someone you love them is an exciting step in your relationship! It marks a turn towards more serious attachment and commitment. In the brain, it means you have shifted away from lust and attraction and towards those long-lasting attachment bonds.  

Understanding the science doesn’t make the act of telling them any less terrifying. When is the right time to tell someone you love them? Where should you say it? What if you mess up? What if they don’t say it back? 

First of all, remember that as much as it can feel like it, these three little words won’t end the world. Also, people have been saying “I love you” for thousands of years, and most of the time it goes well! 

Before you say “I love you” for the first time, make sure you’re showing it. Saying “I love you” will be better received if it is preceded by loving actions. So instead of jumping into verbal confessions, this study about love suggests telling them through your actions first. 

Precede your love confession with loving actions such as:

  • Small acts of kindness 
  • Hand holding
  • Hugging
  • Cuddling
  • compassion 

And above all, avoid controlling behaviors like: 

  • Possessiveness
  • Monitoring activities
  • Criticism 

These controlling behaviors can make your love confession seem insecure or false.

When to Say “I Love You” for the First Time

Knowing when to say I love you for the first time is half of the battle of a good love confession. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect formula to tell you when the best time to say I love you is. It’s going to be different for every relationship. 

In general, men want to say I love you first and are more likely to. Women will often wait out of fear of pressuring their partner into a commitment they don’t want. But this doesn’t mean you should wait for your partner to say it. 

If you truly feel love for your partner, it’s never a bad idea to say I love you. 

How do you know if it’s infatuation or true love? 

The big difference is in how you feel around them. Do you still get the sweats and nervousness around them? Or do they make you feel secure and safe? You can feel both, of course, but the key trait of love is that strong, secure attachment. You should feel safe around them, want them in your future, and be comforted by their presence.  

Other signs it’s the right time to say I love you for the first time include: 

  • You care about their happiness just as much as your own.
  • You like doing boring things with them.
  • You can’t imagine your future without them (or prefer the future with them in it).
  • You can see your partner's flaws… and you accept them.
  • You feel secure with them. 
  • You never feel judged when you’re around them. 
  • You know they want a serious relationship too.

If you know your partner is here for a good time and not a long time. . . dropping those three words may come as a bit of a shock to them as they signify the relationship taking a more serious turn. You can still tell them, if that’s really how you feel, but keep in mind that they may not feel the same way.

Where Should You Say "I Love You" for the First Time

Although there aren’t any fool-proof places to say I love you for the first time, there are some general places you should avoid dropping the news. 

Don’t say I love you: 

  • When you’re under the influence—Saying “I love you” after a few drinks can make it seem insincere, or like you’re only saying it because of the alcohol. 
  • While you’re having sex—Women in particular feel less sure about love confessions dropped while in the heat of the moment. It can be easily brushed off as being lust instead of true attraction. 
  • When you’re in a big public space—This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes public confessions work great. But other times it can put social pressure on them to respond positively. Especially if you confess while in a group of your peers, you’re robbing each other of the chance to talk about what this confession truly means for the future of your relationship and how you each feel about it. 

Remember that you don’t have to rush it. If it’s truly love you’re feeling, then that feeling will be around for a long time.

What if You Don't Love Them Back?

So you were on the receiving end of those three little words and it feels great but. . . you aren’t sure you feel the same way. 

People will fall in love at different times, that’s perfectly normal! There’s nothing wrong with needing a little more time before you return the L-bomb. Having been told it should not pressure you to say it. 

How do you respond when someone says “I love you”, and you don’t feel the same way? Here are some ideas: 

  • “I love hanging out with you.”
  • “I would love the chance to get to know you better.”
  • “You make me so happy.”
  • “I’m excited to see where our relationship goes.”
  • “I don’t know if I feel the same way right now, but I really care about you.” 

Be sure to emphasize the point that although you can’t say those three words back yet, you are interested in pursuing a relationship further with them. Try to elaborate on what you are feeling and why you can’t call it love yet. If you feel safe enough, it might be a good time to be vulnerable. 

Everyone falls in love at different paces. There’s nothing wrong with you for not feeling this way yet. 

If you’ve just told someone you love them and they didn’t say it back, it’s okay. Just because they didn’t say it back right away doesn’t mean they don’t feel similarly, they just might not be ready. Be empathetic towards their hesitancy and give them the space and time they need. Keep communication lines open though, and don’t be afraid to ask them about what they do feel. Remember to accept what they say with love.

After a Love Confession

Have a conversation about what it means - what does commitment mean to you? How do you define your relationship? What do these three little words mean to our relationship now that they’ve been said? You might be feeling ecstatic, or nervous, or a flurry of all sorts of emotions. Enjoy this time together and celebrate however you’d like. But remember to circle back to it in a later conversation. Saying “I love you” can be a big step towards a committed, long-term relationship. Make sure you both know where you’re headed.

How to Keep the Spark Alive

Studies show that you can at least partially control how much you feel love. So if you feel like that spark is fading, don’t panic. It is possible to reignite the passion and remember your life with love. 

Here are six ways to keep your romance alive: 

  1. Do new things together. 
  2. Reflect on happy memories. 
  3. Keep being romantic. 
  4. Don’t forget date night. 
  5. Practice self-care, too. 
  6. Talk about your emotions, consistently. 

From the first butterflies of a new crush to the long-term consistency of a secure attachment, love is a beautiful thing. If you and your partner need help navigating a relationship change or working through conflict, relationship counseling can help. Call Lifebulb Therapy & Counseling to learn about how couples counseling can help you today.

Frequently Asked Questions

 Deciding when to say "I love you" can vary from person to person and relationship to relationship. It's important to trust your instincts and choose a time when you genuinely feel ready and comfortable expressing your emotions. It's also helpful to ensure that you and your partner have spent enough time together to truly understand each other and have built a strong foundation of trust and mutual respect.

 The location where you say "I love you" is a personal choice that should reflect your unique relationship. Many people choose a meaningful and intimate setting, such as a favorite spot or during a special moment together. It's important to choose a location where you and your partner can have privacy and feel comfortable expressing your emotions.

 The best way to say "I love you" is from the heart, with sincerity and authenticity. Be genuine and choose words that truly capture your feelings. You might consider expressing your love through a heartfelt conversation, a handwritten note, or a thoughtful gesture that represents your love and care for your partner.

Discovering that your partner loves you when you don't feel the same way can be challenging. It's important to be honest and communicate your feelings openly and respectfully. While it may be difficult, it's crucial to have an open and honest conversation with your partner about your emotions. Expressing your feelings honestly can help both of you understand the situation and explore the best path forward for your relationship. Remember, it's okay to have different feelings, and it's important to prioritize your own emotional well-being while also considering the feelings of your partner.

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