7 Things It Means For Your Relationship If You Weren't The First One To Say "I Love You"

Jari Hindstroem/Shutterstock

When it comes to saying those three little worlds, it's hard to pinpoint an exact, ideal timeframe. A 2011 study found that it takes people about 97 days, or three and a half months, on average to say “I love you" for the first time. But whether or not you fit into that window, it's safe to say that saying those words for the very first time can be a pretty big deal.

The first person to say 'I love you' is putting themselves in a highly vulnerable position," matchmaker Joann Cohen, tells Bustle. "Even if you think for sure someone feels the same way, there is always the potential that they don’t." But what does it mean for your relationship if you're not the first one to say "I love you"?

Some experts say that the one who expresses their feelings first is seen as courageous for being vulnerable. According to Cohen, saying it first can give the other partner who hasn't said "I love you" the "power" in the relationship.

"Even if their partner feels the same, there is a chance that they aren’t ready to give their heart back," she says. "Those three words open up your heart and give the other person a key. Once you've said it, you can’t un-say it."

So here's what it means for your relationship if you weren't the first one to say "I love you," according to experts.

1Words Of Affirmation May Not Be Your Love Language

Ashley Batz/Bustle

"Some people are not comfortable sharing their feelings verbally and not being big on words is totally fine as long as you use other ways to show affection," relationship therapist Irina Baechle, LCSW, tells Bustle. That's why it's important to be familiar with your love language. Maybe "I love you," is just a phrase to you that doesn't hold as much importance as spending quality time with your partner. Maybe you like to express love through physical touch and affectionate gestures. If that's the case, it's important to let your partner know and get clear on their love language as well. Because if your partner needs to hear those three words to feel loved, you may need to get more comfortable saying it.

2You're Unsure About Your Partner

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If you're always the one who says "I love you, too," Baechle says this can create a sense of "investment imbalance" in your relationship. Your partner shouldn't always be the first one to say those three words. If they are, it's important to ask yourself why you can't bring yourself to say it first. As Baechle say, "It could possibly mean that you simply don’t feel it."

3You Weren't Quite There Yet

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Timing is everything in relationships. As Dr. Caroline Madden, relationship therapist and author, tells Bustle, "People don't fall in love at the exact same time." It doesn't mean that you're not into your partner and it doesn't mean that you're unsure of where things are going. "It could be that your love is growing, but you aren’t there quite yet," she says. If that's the case, you probably enjoy your partner's company and you're seeing where things go.

4You Have Fears That Are Preventing You From Expressing Yourself

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Sometimes not being the first to say "I love you" has nothing to do with your feelings about your partner. As Florrie Barron, LSMW, staff therapist at New York institute, Blanton-Peale, tells Bustle, it may have to do with your fear of rejection. Being the first to say "I love you" can be scary for some, even if you have a pretty good idea of how your partner feels. "If you are not honest in your relationship, you can set yourself up for communication issues later down the line," Barron says. If you didn't say "I love you" first because of fear and insecurities, this can prevent you from having the type of relationship you actually want. If you're having difficulty opening up, it may be worth it to speak with a professional who can help you uncover where this insecurity comes from.

5Your Partner Was A Little More Into You Than You Thought

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Sometimes hearing those three small words for the first time can come as a complete surprise. "It's possible that if your partner expresses love first, they felt love more intensely," David Bennett, counselor and relationship expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. At the time, your partner may have been much more into you than you probably thought. If your interest in them doesn't quite match up to their interest in you, Bennett says it could potentially mean that your partner will become more "emotionally needy" than you would prefer. This won't necessarily apply to everyone, but it's important to talk with your partner if feelings and expectations seem mismatched.

6Your Partner Is More Extroverted And Assertive

Ashley Batz/Bustle

"Some people are more likely to hold back their thoughts and take their cue from how others engage them," Bennett says. But if your partner says "I love you" first, it could mean that they're more expressive and outgoing. They're likely the type who doesn't hold back during conversations — when they're in the moment, they will say what they're thinking and how they feel. You may even notice this in the way they express themselves in other conversations. It's a good quality to have because you never have to be a mind reader, and you'll likely always know what your partner is really thinking because they're not afraid to verbalize it.

7There's Nothing To Worry About

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

In the moment, saying those three words for the very first time can be a big deal. But according to Bennett, it doesn't really matter who says it first in the long run. "The important thing is that both partners love each other and express it regularly," he says. "Most strong couples may not even remember who 'broke the seal' anyway."

So don't worry, every couple is different. There's not always going to be a deeper meaning behind everything that happens in your relationship. Sometimes, you just have to take it for what it is. If your partner expressed their love for you first, it may just mean that they were feeling it in the moment and decided to say it. As Bennett says, the important thing is that you keep on saying it.