Though some people swear by a certain amount of months passing by before it’s acceptable to say “I love you,” the truth is every relationship is unique, and it’s all about when you feel most comfortable saying it. And regardless of when you want to say those three words (or whether you want to say them at all), the most important thing is that you express love in a relationship. In reality, knowing what to say to make someone feel special and loved doesn’t always require that you say those exact words.
Saying the L-word isn’t always easy, and it’s a bigger deal for some people than for others. According to a study of 12,654 people conducted by the UK-based global dating site EliteSingles, on average, some cultures say it more frequently (France), whereas other cultures simply don’t express it as much (Netherlands). And there’s nothing to say that one way is better than the other.
In fact, as relationship coach Cherlyn Chong tells Bustle, it’s important to say things other than or in addition to the L-word in order to make a partner feel appreciated and supported. “‘I love you’ is generic and can feel like a repeated phrase,” Chong says. “Adding new phrases and words keeps things interesting, and the more specific the phrase, the more heartfelt.”
Whether you have or haven’t said “I love you” before or you say it every day, there are plenty of other ways to make your partner feel loved with your words. Phrases that include support, appreciation, and honesty can make your partner feel loved equally as much as telling them outright that you love them. If you’re looking for spoken ways to make your partner feel adored outside of using the L-word, here are 14 expert-backed ways to express your love.
1. "I’m Proud Of You"
No matter what’s going on in your partner’s life, telling them that you’re proud of them can really make them feel loved. “This tells your partner that you appreciate their actions towards a difficult decision or situation, and that you acknowledge their achievements,” Chong says. This phrase is especially impactful and meaningful when your partner is having a difficult time of things. It shows ultimate support.
2. "You Make Me Want To Be A Better Person"
People you know who make you want to be a better person are keepers, and letting them know that is extremely sentimental and heartfelt. According to Dr. Julie Gurner, doctor of clinical psychology, expressing this kind of gratitude that comes from a very genuine place of love is incredibly meaningful and impactful to hear in a relationship. “People who feel bolstered by their partner feel attractive, appreciated, and happier in their relationship,” Dr. Gurner previously told Bustle.
3. "I Love The Person I Am When I’m With You"
This is a wonderful way to tell the person you love that you love who you are when you’re around them. It’s one of the most flattering compliments you can give, because you’re telling your SO that they’re simply making you happy — and that’s the goal of every relationship, right? “This tells your partner that they are so special that they make you special, too,” Chong says.
4. "You Inspire Me"
While not everyone wants to be a muse, people do like to know that they inspire others, especially if that other is their partner. It’s evidence of how important they are to you. As Chong explains, “This tells your partner that they are someone you look up to, and that's always a compliment.” Inspiration goes hand in hand with a sense of respect, and relaying respect is always important in a strong relationship.
5. "I Genuinely Appreciate You"
You simply can’t go wrong by thanking your partner for all the good they do for you and bring to your life. Telling them that you truly, genuinely appreciate them brings that gratefulness to another level. People love to be appreciated, as David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, previously told Bustle.
"Not only does research show that expressing gratitude makes people feel happier in general (which itself can have a positive relationship impact), but it has been shown to lead to longer-lasting and more committed relationships,” Bennet said. “It just makes sense that being appreciative of your partner, and expressing it, is important in the strongest relationships."
6. "I’m Sorry"
One of the most sincere ways to show someone you really love and care for them is to admit when you’re wrong and say you’re deeply sorry. Fights are bound to happen even in the best of relationships, and what’s more important is the way in which you move on from a disagreement and work to get back on the same page, according to bestselling author and relationship expert Susan Winter.
"State that your intention was never to create harm," Winter previously told Bustle. "Admit your error in judgment. Be specific, but concise. Brief, heartfelt, and to the point is the best way to heal the wound without reopening a discussion that creates greater distress."
7. "I’ll Always Have Your Back"
Not only are you saying that your partner will forever have your support, but if push comes to shove, they can count on you being in their corner. You’re a team; it’s you two against the world. “This assures your partner and enforces the trust they have in you,” Chong says. And trust is one of the most sturdy foundations any successful relationship has.
8. "Thank You For Challenging Me"
Similar to being an inspiration, people also want to know that they challenge their partner. No one wants to be in a relationship with someone where there’s no stimulation of the mind or no room to grow, as Chong explains. “This shows that you appreciate your partner for their efforts in growing you,” she says. Although it may not sound very romantic from the onset, telling your partner that they give you a run for your money is telling them you love and appreciate them and their mind.
9. "You Bring Out The Best In Me"
This phrase tells your partner exactly how important they are to your happiness and indicates to them that they bring something uniquely important to your life, according to Nancy Ruth Deen, relationship expert and owner of HELLOBreakup. “One of the signs that your relationship is headed in the right direction is when your partner acknowledges how you brighten up their day,” Deen previously told Bustle.
10. "I Support You"
Knowing how to reassure someone, especially when they have moments of self-doubt, is a very important way of showing support and love, according to clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly. "A partner should always support you in following your dreams — in reaching for whatever goals in life feel important to you," Manly previously told Bustle. "This is so important because we often look to our partners to have a little bit of faith in us, particularly when our own faith has hit a low spot."
Even if your partner isn’t feeling down, telling them that you support them is always a good idea. The best romantic partners are each other’s biggest fans.
11. "I Can’t Imagine Being With Anyone Else"
Sometimes it’s good to get a little sappy and romantic with your partner. Love means wanting to stick it out for the long run. Telling someone you want to grow old with them is telling them that your feelings are legit, strong, and will last a lifetime. “This tells your partner that they are just that special,” Chong explains. “Mr. or Mrs. Right, maybe?”
12. "Thank You For Doing That”
Expressing love and gratitude toward your partner doesn’t have to come from big, lofty statements. In fact, acknowledging the little things your partner does is just as important for them to feel fully appreciated and loved.
"[Gratitude often means] acknowledging the little things that often stop getting recognized," Lauren Consul, licensed marriage and family therapist, previously told Bustle. "It's not just taking out the trash or making the bed (those are great too to recognize!) but when you notice your partner making an effort when they're tired, or recognizing the role they play in your family or your life.”
13. “I Hear You”
Letting your partner know that they are being heard by you is another impactful way to express love. Showing that you're fully present and actively listening to them is perhaps the ultimate way to show you care, as Rachel Astarte, individuals and couples coach at Healing Arts New York, previously told Bustle.
"Hold space," Astarte said. “Create a safe place for your beloved to vent… and sometimes just by virtue of being heard, your partner will feel better."
14. “You’re My Best Friend”
Love is just one aspect of a lasting relationship. In addition to telling your partner that you love them, reminding them that you value them for their friendship can feel incredibly wholesome — after all, they are your partner. As Chong explains, “This shows that your bond is not just one of lovers, but someone you can share everything with.”
Regardless of if “I love you” does or doesn’t already fit into your relationship vocabulary, adding in different expressions of love, gratitude, support, appreciation, and respect to say to your partner is always worthwhile. You want your SO to know how much they mean to you, and no matter how cheesy, the best compliments come directly from the heart.
Team, T. E. S. P. (n.d.). Global Study confirms Brits are reserved in love. EliteSingles. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.elitesingles.co.uk/press/releases/i-love-you.
Gordon, A. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Oveis, C., & Keltner, D. (2012). To have and to hold: Gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bonds. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(2), 257–274. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028723
Cherlyn Chong, relationship and breakup coach
Dr. Julie Gurner, clinical psychologist
David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert at Double Trust Dating
Susan Winter, bestselling author and relationship expert
Nancy Ruth Deen, relationship expert and owner of HELLOBreakup
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist
Lauren Consul, licensed marriage and family therapist and co-founder of GreatFullDays
Rachel Astarte, individuals and couples coach at Healing Arts New York
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