How To Know When To Say I Love You

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Shemya Vaughn , LPC, CRC

Love is a funny word. It’s a word that we throw around a lot. We don’t hesitate to say things like “I love pizza,” or “I love this movie,” but when it comes to saying “I love you” to another person, we tend to freeze up. The word has little meaning when we use it in general ways, but when we attach it to another human, we know it’s a big deal.

When one decides to declare their love, this can be scary. Romantic love is different for everyone, but more often than not, falling in love takes time. Unconditional love happens when you truly get to know someone, learn about them, and accept who they are, flaws and all. Hearing a partner say, “I love you” can also be very intense for the person on the receiving end.

So, how do you know when the time is right to tell your significant other you love them?

Why Is It So Hard to Determine When to Say It?

Mental Health Concerns Can Make Life More Complicated

When we tell someone that we love them, we are being vulnerable and essentially opening ourselves up to being hurt. What if they don’t feel the same way that we do? We don’t want to scare the other person away by saying it too early when they aren’t ready. And, we don’t want to look foolish if they just don’t feel the same way.

Even though it’s three simple words, they hold a lot of power when spoken to another person. Sometimes we believe that it’s better not to take the risk to say it because then we don’t have to find out if they don’t feel the same way. So, we take the ignorance-is-bliss road. But, eventually, if you love the person, you are going to want to tell them.

When it comes to romantic relationships, don’t be afraid to take your time. Falling in love can happen quickly, or it can be a slow burning love. Each relationship is different; don’t beat yourself up if you feel nervous or uncertain about when to tell your partner that you love them. Have faith that when the time is right, you’ll be more than comfortable with looking into the eyes of your significant other and saying, “I love you.”

The Timing Is Not the Same for Everyone

There is no magical formula that is going to tell you when it’s right to say “I love you” to your significant other. If you ask ten different people when they first said it in a relationship, you will most likely receive ten different responses. So, how do you know when the time is right for you?

First, it’s important to know when you shouldn’t say it. “I love you” is not something to say because you feel obligated to say it. They are powerful words that shouldn’t be said if you don’t mean them. That can put you in an awkward situation if someone says it to you and you just aren’t ready to say it back yet. As politely as you can, thank them for loving you and sharing it with you. Then, explain to them that while you have strong feelings for them, you just aren’t ready to say those words just yet—and you want to make sure that when you do say them, it is meaningful. You can’t do anything about their response, but if they stick with you, it will mean the world when you finally do say them.

How to Know When It’s Time to Say I Love You

Below are some common signs and changes that happen when you love someone. If you can identify with them as you read through them, it is a good indication that you love the other person.

Your Relationship Is Comfortable, Not Just Exciting

When relationships are brand new, they are often incredibly exciting. There is a feeling of newness around you. You want everything to be just right, and you work hard to make it happen. This includes how you look, what you say, and what you do when you are together. You might pretend to like things that you don’t so you can have something in common with the other person.

These are all normal things when the relationship is new. However, when you love someone, you can move past the initial exciting stage of a relationship with them. You can be yourself around the other person, and you want them to be comfortable being themselves around you.

Going from a need for everything to be perfect to feeling comfortable with being yourself around your significant other can take time. In long-term relationships, this transition generally happens as partners get to know one another and become more familiar. Don’t try to rush this, especially if you and your partner are in a fairly new relationship. As you two get to know one another and open up about different things, the need to always be, feel, or look perfect should subside.

Establishing Trust

You have established trust. It’s easy to have a “crush” or feelings of infatuation for anyone. But, love is different because it needs to be based on trust. You cannot trust someone that you do not know, and that means you can’t love someone that you don’t know.

As you and your significant other work to establish trust, it’s important to remember that this process takes time. Trusting someone is a gradual process, and it usually doesn’t all happen at once. As you and your partner progressively establish trust with one another, you may feel less nervous or apprehensive about openly declaring your love for them. Go at your own pace; only you can evaluate your relationship to determine how trustworthy you believe your significant other is.

However, the feelings of true love begin to show as you develop trust with your significant other. You believe that they have your best interest at heart and the same goes for them. When you trust the other person, it allows you to be vulnerable with your emotions, and communicate your feelings to them.

You Feel in Sync with Them

They are your best friend. One sign that you love someone is that they are not just the person you are dating; they have become your best friend. You can’t wait to tell them about things that happened to you throughout the day. When something funny happens, you think of that person because you want to share it with them. You enjoy spending all your time with them, and participating in activities and hobbies together.

This is a good foundation for a romantic relationship to be built on. Infatuation will quickly pass, but if your partner is also your best friend, you will be more likely to stick with the relationship even during the trying times that will come your way.

You just feel it. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what all the signs are, you just “know” inside of you that you love that person. If you are an overly impulsive person, you may want to take a second before you just blurt it out, though. Once you say the words, you can’t take them back. So, while sometimes you just know that you love the other person, if it’s only been a few dates, you might want to take some time to think before telling them.

It may feel right for you, but you also want to respect the other person and not make them feel uncomfortable. This is one reason you often hear people say that they knew from the first date that they were going to marry that person. They might have “known” it, but it doesn’t mean that they told the other person at that moment.

You Can Disagree With Them

In any relationship, disagreements and arguments are bound to come up. Being happy and comfortable with your partner is easy when all is well; however, the true test in knowing if you truly love your significant other can arrive when everything isn’t going smoothly.

Feeling comfortable enough to disagree or argue with your significant other is important in a relationship. When you truly love your partner (and vice versa), you two will still be able to stay bonded and connected with one another when everything isn’t always easy. Ironically, having a disagreement or argument with your significant other can sometimes highlight how much you do (or don’t yet) love them.

In relationships, being mindful of how you and your partner behave during disagreements and arguments is also very important. When you love your significant other, you will still be respectful of them and their feelings, even when you’re butting heads. The same rule applies in reverse if your significant other loves you, too.

They Know Your Loved Ones

You’ve introduced each other to the family. You don’t want to introduce every person that you date to your parents. That would be uncomfortable. You know that as soon as you bring someone home, the long list of questions is going to start. That’s why you wait and only bring home someone that you are serious about. If you have met their family, and they have met yours, the relationship is probably moving from being casual to something deeper.

When your partner knows your loved ones, you should also take into account how your family feels about them. As you’re falling in love, having your family also like your significant other is always helpful for the long term relationship. When your family gets on well with your partner, this can make the process of advancing the partnership much easier. For this reason, meeting the family is always a major milestone in any relationship.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel ready to introduce them to your family, then it could be a sign that you aren’t ready to tell them that you love them. And, if they are telling you that they love you but aren’t willing to bring you home, you might want to ask them what they are waiting for.

They Positively Contribute to Your Life

You are a better person when you’re with them. When you are with someone that you love, you want to be a better person. You genuinely feel happier than you did before you met them. You have a more positive outlook on life. Things seem to be going right for you, and even when you face trials, they are easier to face because you have someone that you are sharing it with.

This might be hard to see in yourself, but it’s easy for others that are close to you to spot. If you are wondering if the person you are with is impacting the kind of person you are, ask someone who knows you well.

Don’t overthink it. When it all boils down, love starts as a feeling and then continues as a choice. If you can identify with the feelings and signs above, then it’s probably safe to say that you do love the other person. If you decide to tell them, you don’t have to make a big scene out of it. You can even simply let it pop out the next time you’re with them. Sometimes, the struggle of trying to find the “right way” to say “I love you” is what holds people back from saying it. However, those words are always nice for someone to hear, especially for the first time, so saying them alone makes it special.

A Word to the Wise

Mental Health Concerns Can Make Life More Complicated

Love is complicated. Sometimes, we’d like to think that there’s a magic formula for when and how someone chooses to declare their love; however, this just isn’t how things work. Love is a process; it takes time to get to know someone and to then fall in love with that person. Some people immediately know when they are in love; other people take more time to fall in love, even in long-term relationships.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your relationship to someone else’s. There is no one period or timeframe for when you should say “I love you,” although being mindful of the pointers listed above can certainly be helpful if you’re unsure or looking for certain guidance and support. If you’re struggling with your emotions or feelings towards your significant other, don’t beat yourself up over it.

Options for Professional Support and Guidance

If you have been hurt in the past, it can make it harder to say those special words to another person. But, don’t let your fear hold you back from happiness. Or, maybe you said it too soon in the past and didn’t want to make that mistake again.

If you are struggling with figuring out how you feel and where your relationship stands, consider contacting a therapist. They can help you sort through your feelings, and determine if you really do love the other person—and what could be holding you back from saying “I love you.”

Studies have shown that online therapy can help people with trouble expressing themselves due to feelings associated with social anxiety or similar concerns. In a study performed by Cambridge University, researchers found that participants in online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) experienced a decrease in symptoms of social anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely accepted method of treating a range of different mental health issues. It works by reframing negative thought patterns that might otherwise produce feelings of nervousness or avoidance in triggering situations. By understanding the problematic behaviors and ways of thinking that lead to discomfort in social situations, individuals can confidently deal with nerve-inducing interactions, like saying “I love you” for the first time.

As discussed above, online therapy is a valuable resource if you’re having trouble finding the right time (or words) to express yourself. Online counseling through BetterHelp is private and discreet—you won’t have to worry about running into someone you know or discussing your treatment with anyone but your therapist. Also, you’ll have the option of participating in therapy completely anonymously. BetterHelp won’t ask for your name or contact info when you register, giving you the option of simply selecting a “nickname.” The mental health professionals at BetterHelp have assisted thousands of people with relationship and communication issues. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have experienced similar concerns.

Counselor Reviews

“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything that I disclose. He’s not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I’m on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”

“Dr. Kapil has a variety of worksheets for me to go through depending on my concerns. She provides a non-judgmental space for me to release my emotions, and I feel very safe talking to her. I really appreciate the way she challenges my perspective, and explains clearly that I can have a healthier thinking by changing my perspective. She is also currently helping me with being more assertive when communicating and expressing myself more freely. She always checks in with me, and is extremely responsive so I really appreciate her.”


You do not have to struggle with your emotions and feelings alone. Sometimes that outside perspective is what you need. However, if you know that you love the person you are with, don’t be afraid to share it with them. You never know…they just might say, “I love you” back.

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