The right time: How to know when to say "I love you"

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated March 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you've been dating someone for a while, you may be wondering whether it’s the right time to say “I love you.” There are many different opinions on the best time to say these meaningful words in a relationship. Below, we’re going to discuss how you’ll know whether it’s love that you’re feeling for your partner and, if so, when it’s the right time to say those three profound words.

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Is it too soon to say “I love you”?

There are a lot of conflicting opinions about the right time to express your feelings of love. Are you supposed to wait until you've experienced a specific relationship milestone, like meeting the family? Should you wait a certain number of months? Of dates?

The timing of an expression of love can be important, but it doesn’t necessarily depend on outside factors or specific milestones. Instead, the right time to let your partner know you love them will typically depend on your relationship. 

If the relationship has been casual for several months, without a serious commitment, you may not be ready to tell your partner “I love you” just yet. On the other hand, if you’ve developed an immediate connection and become exclusive after only a few weeks, it might be time already.

It can help to answer a few questions to get an idea of how your relationship has taken shape, including:

  • How long have you been with together?
  • How frequently do you see one another?
  • Have you discussed the future?
  • Is the relationship exclusive?
  • Have you opened up about your feelings toward one another before?
  • Are you sure what you’re feeling is love?

Answering these questions can help clarify whether your specific relationship is ready for this next step. The last question, which we’ll address below, can be the most important when deciding whether it’s time to tell them “I love you.”

How to know whether it's love

Love may be difficult to identify, and it can look different depending on the relationship. Knowing how you truly feel may take some time. Consider whether what you're feeling is love or something else, like strong attraction. It can also mean seeing and accepting one another, flaws and all.

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It may help to have a conversation to see where you stand in the relationship. Ask your partner whether they feel like the relationship is headed into more serious territory. They might be ready for the next step but haven’t known how to approach the subject either. 

Talk to friends and family members

Consider talking to friends and family about your feelings as well. They may be able to provide insights you hadn’t considered. For example, if they know that you’re still getting over a prior relationship, they might point out that your vulnerability could be affecting your feelings. Or, they may feel that your partner is a great fit and that it’s the right time to tell them “I love you.”  

Take time for reflection

It may help to sit with this feeling for a while before speaking it out loud. If it's love, it will likely get stronger, so there's usually no rush to tell them immediately. Consider waiting until you’re ready. If you're clear about your feelings, and you believe you’re on the same page, it may be time to tell them “I love you.”

Knowing when your partner is in love

Have you had an open discussion about where each person sees the partnership going? Do you know their expectations? Do you know whether they feel a strong emotional connection? 

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When it comes to knowing whether your partner is also in love, actions can speak louder than words. With real love, actions sometimes matter more than what you say. Do they show you that they care in little ways, like bringing you lunch out of the blue or messaging you because they miss you? Is the time you spend together quality time? These actions can add up and give you an idea of whether your partner’s feelings match yours. 

Saying the words for the first time

There's no hard-and-fast rule for saying “I love you” for the first time once you’ve decided to express yourself to your partner. It may come down to a gut feeling that it’s the right time; for example, it could happen during a date at your favorite restaurant, or during your first trip together. 

It may be best to say it for the first time in person. Talking in person is not only more intimate, but it also allows you to gauge your partner’s reaction. It's important to ensure that your partner isn’t preoccupied or otherwise not in the right frame of mind to discuss their feelings. 

Additionally, let your partner know that it isn’t necessary for them to say “I love you” back yet. This can make them feel less pressured and more comfortable in the situation.  

If you don't hear it back

If all goes well, the person to whom you declare your feelings will reciprocate at that moment. However, if they don’t say it back, it does not have to be an uncomfortable situation. 

This could help set up a discussion about where the relationship stands. Maybe they do have strong feelings, but they're just not ready to speak those words or fall in love. That's okay. If you’re both alright with having slightly different feelings at the moment, just continue to develop the bond without saying “I love you.” 

If, however, either partner is having trouble with the fact that you aren’t in sync, it might be time to discuss the future of your relationship. While you might not want to part ways because of your partner’s hesitance to say “I love you,” this could be a part of a larger issue. If you feel like you're on different pages in terms of your feelings for one another, moving on could be best for both parties. 

Navigating intimate conversations with BetterHelp

Studies have shown that online therapy can be effective in helping couples have open and honest conversations. For example, in a study of over 700 couples, researchers found that online therapy could improve communication between partners while also enhancing relationship support and overall satisfaction. 

If you’re having trouble expressing yourself the way you’d like in your relationship, online therapy can help. Unlike traditional in-person therapy, with an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist from home, through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging. You can also contact your therapist outside of sessions; so, if you’re having trouble expressing yourself to your partner, have a question about therapy, or just want to check in, you can send a message, and your therapist will get back to you as soon as they are able. Read below for reviews of licensed mental health professionals, from those who’ve learned to express their emotions more thoroughly.

Therapy reviews

“Yolanda has a soothing presence and voice. Her insights are reflected objectively and kindly. I appreciate all of the practical communication skills and life organization she has helped me with, and I thought I was pretty good with this, to begin with! Excellent counselor, excellent human being.” 

“Mark has been extremely attentive to everything. He’s not only supported me 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 into my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship.”

Takeaway

Communicating our feelings can be hard at times, especially when it comes to saying “I love you.” Speaking with a mental health professional online can help you get clarity when it comes to your relationship and provide you with effective communication skills that will serve you in your current and future relationships. If you need someone to talk to, consider reaching out to a therapist and continuing the path to improved mental health.
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