Love: Just Three Little Words?

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I love you… Just words, often misused, often overstated, often said without conviction but when these three little words are missing, it can have a devastating effect on a couple and their relationship. How easy it is to take for granted that your partner somehow knows that you love them without you actually saying it, or even worse it is said to gain advantage or sympathy, as is often the case. Are we truly aware of what these three small words mean?

One of my clients who attended couples therapy with his girlfriend, was shocked to hear her say that he never actively says “I love you” but only responds when she says it, a small oversight maybe. He was under the false impression that telling her how beautiful she is meant the same thing. This left her feeling that he was only interested in her physical attributes leading to hidden resentment that only came out in therapy. Even after being together for such a long time, she doubted his true feelings. A thought that ran into other parts of their relationship too.

I wonder how many other couples are the same. Worse is when the phrase is used repeatedly and not backed up with the action that confirms it. For example being honest, loving and helping to create an open, honest, trustful relationship where both partners have their needs met in a spirit of mutual benefit.

I often wonder if there is an absolute meaning to the words “I Love You?”. Or is it purely subjective? Are these words the tip of a much bigger iceberg or the icing on the cake? Paradoxically to the afore mentioned example, a report in the June 2009 issue of “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” states that men are more likely to utter these words first, usually early in a relationship as a pre-cursor to sexual activity. I quote:

”That doesn’t mean men are bigger saps. Taking an “evolutionary-economics” perspective, the article concludes that gender differences in the timing and function of saying “I love you” are related to whether a couple has had sex. Men may be more impulsive in the way they express love, but what love means to men and what love means to women may be very different”, said co-author Josh Ackerman, assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management. In a series of surveys, researchers found that two-thirds of couples report that the man was first in confessing love. Men also reported being significantly happier than women to hear “I love you” one month into the relationship if they had not yet had sex, while women felt happier than men when they heard “I love you” after the onset of sex in the relationship.”

The researchers theorized that a pre-sex love confession may signal interest in advancing the relationship to include sexual activity — which is usually what men want, evolutionarily speaking, so as not to lose an opportunity to spread their genes. They want to “buy low”, as the article put it. Women, who have more to lose if they get pregnant, prefer a post-sex confession as a signal of long-term commitment. They prefer to “sell high”. This begs the question…. What is love and how do we know when we do or do not have it? The concept of true love is what we generally feel we all need to have. Yet love is one of the most misunderstood concepts of all.

What people really want more than anything else is to be loved unconditionally; to be accepted for who they are, show all their imperfections, and still be loved. Love is actually the choice one makes to put someone’s wishes, desires and needs above our own and to love someone who is doing the same, or is it? The question as to “what is love?” has been asked many times in my practice by clients confused as to how they can describe love. This is maybe because nobody showed them what love is as they were growing up. Whether this is true or not, they often confuse the euphoric feeling of ”falling in love” at the beginning of a new relationship (where everyone is on their best behavior) with “being in love” which one can compare with money in the bank. You have to deposit as much as you take out or nothing works! I believe the difference between “being” and “falling” can give us a definition for love. We have all had that feeling when we meet someone new, butterflies in the stomach, walking on air, however you like to describe it.

At this time, we would generally do anything for our love “object” and often, we behave completely out of character, swept away by this new, exciting feeling. However, when this feeling inevitably ends, as it always does, we are sometimes left with the feeling of what now? especially if sexual activity has already taken place. This is where the hard work begins and will often define if “love” can truly exist in the relationship as it changes. Now it is a case of finding common ground without the “sugary coating” of the first few months together. What materialises is an individual union based on the needs of both, coming together to form a partnership. As the relationship grows, things like common interests and friends, spending time together (and apart), sharing, being “yourself” around each other and the ability to communicate effectively define love.

This is the part that takes daily hard work to make it prosper. Get it right and it is one of the greatest things known to mankind, get it wrong and it can lead to “hell on earth”. There are many ways that we describe our attachment to another person and we generally over-exaggerate these feelings. One of the most used terms is that of a “Soulmate”. What this really means is open to question but we use it anyways. Maybe this comes into play when we start to feel a deeper connection to someone. Maybe the feeling is more important than the words but for those who use it, they truly feel they have found “The One”.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Tigris

    Just my two cents here….

    My husband tells me lots that he loves me, in fact sometimes too much. But then he has come from a background of it being said plenty.

    I am grateful of course, but I can’t just say it unless I feel it within me. If I don’t feel it, I can’t say it. Because otherwise it feels meaningless and empty.
    I also told my fiance (now my hubby), please do not tell me you love me until you actually do.

    I was brought up with this never being said by either parents, so it feels almost too mushy for me. I am not the romantic type either. Love feels very confusing and even scary at times.

    However, there are lots of ways and things that might aswell say to someone you love them, without even having to say: “I love you.”

    To me a soulmate means like your best friend/mate. I married my best friend.

    Relationships have to be based on more than just sex. Sex should be like the bonus, and icing on the cake, not the actual cake….

    What annoys me is how the media portray this fake kind of “everything is perfect” type of love, like a fairytale. It isn’t perfect, and with love comes commitment and work.

    Love is not found, it is built.

    What I’ve often wondered is: can you love more than one person in your life?!

    1. Very sensible comment and I agree. I am sure that love can be found with more than one person in life though in the case of romantic love, maybe not at the same time.

  2. Marty

    Love became a stuck part for me. How do you know live when your raised by a violent narcissist

    I sure did not see love or did I feel it from either caregiver

    Hard for us to trust and be vulnerable

    I love my kids and grandkids unconditionally