Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Are You Afraid to Say "I Love You?"

How do you measure the love that you give and receive?

Evgeniy Zhukov/Shutterstock
Source: Evgeniy Zhukov/Shutterstock

When was the first time you said to someone out loud, “I love you?" When was the first time someone said it to you? The moment might be as memorable as your first kiss. Some of us, however, have tremendous difficulty voicing this sentiment aloud. What are some of the reasons we hesitate?

Fear of Commitment

Some people put a lot of power into the three words, “I love you” and are not ready to promise something they are afraid to give. The more weight that is put on these words by the partner of someone who is “commitment-phobic,” the less likely it is you will hear them tripping out of the commitment-phobe’s mouth. Love may be present, but fear of commitment keeps it from being voiced. Why do people fear commitment? By making a choice, any other options are then excluded, and that lack of options can be fear-inducing and too limiting, regardless of the love one might actually feel for their partner.

Fear of Appearing Needy

Admitting love, for some, is to admit that they need another person in their life. It is almost like giving away power if they admit that they are vulnerable to another.

Fear of Rejection

Of course, one of the strongest fears that keeps us from saying what is in our heart is the fear of our feelings not being returned. Love is like a seesaw: It’s easy to begin with one person caring more for another at the start, but a balance of give-and-take is what gives the relationship momentum.

Fear of the Potential of Being Hurt

Being in love with a person is almost like having an open space in your heart. The saying about “having a soft spot” for someone is wonderfully descriptive: When we let ourselves open up to another, we take away a layer of self-protection, and that allows us to be more easily hurt. Having your ego bruised by someone you have that “soft spot” for can be much more painful than when it’s someone less special to you.

Missing Role Models?

Maybe you haven’t seen tenderness expressed often between partners, families, and close friends. Maybe you haven’t been told often enough that you were loved. Or maybe you grew up in a family where the “currency of love” was actions, not just those three words.

What Is Your Currency of Love?

If successful relationships are built on relational economics, it makes sense that different systems might use different currencies. In fact, accepting that not everyone can put into words what they feel in their hearts is perhaps not as difficult as it might be once you figure out what a person uses as their currency of love.

Verbal Acknowledgement

Some people use a substitute phrase to fill in the awkward space after being told “I love you.” It may be “Me, too,” or “Back ‘atcha,” or “You know.” Some people might even initiate the exchange of sentiments by telling their beloved, “Me, too,” and their partner may know the drill and respond, “I love you, too.” Some might use a word like “bunches” or “forever” to carry the message. All of these words are various denominations of the currency of love.

Actions as Currency

Others might use actions to demonstrate their love. I know a couple who have a tacit agreement that is never broken, which exemplifies their mutual care. One partner always gases up the cars on Sundays, regardless of whether they’re on “empty” or “full,” while his partner changes the sheets and towels while he’s out on this errand. This is another denomination of the currency of love.

Being willing to go grocery shopping with your partner, if asked, is a way to show your heart. Being willing to go fishing with your partner might be another way to do the same. Throwing her clothes into the wash when she’s had a long week and has fallen asleep on the couch or ordering his favorite take-out when you want to let him know how much you care are others. Letting your partner leave the cap off the toothpaste and never saying a word is another way to add capital to the relationship. Biting your tongue when your partner tells the same story a second and third time expecting the same “initial reaction” from you again and again is a way to show you care.

Paper Currency

Some of us might still write love letters, but maybe “love Post-its” are all you can manage. Maybe intimate and affectionate texts are the currency you use? Whether it’s paper, plastic, sound waves, or radio signals, the most important thing to remember is that the value of a relationship cannot grow if couples are hesitant to take a risk and make an investment. Letting go of the fear and allowing yourself to take a risk can pay off in big ways.

Research Study: How are your adult sibling relationships working out? Be a part of a new research study exploring adult sibling relationships. Some of us learn about friendships through our early relationships with siblings. If you are still working through sibling drama or enjoying sibling harmony, please share your stories here.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today