Saying "I love you" for the first time is a huge deal. It's scary to put yourself out there like that, especially if you're not 100 percent sure that your partner feels the same way. The reality is, you're never guaranteed to hear an "I love you," back. So what do you do in the moment if you
tell your partner you love them and they don't say it in return? According to experts, there are a few things you can do if you're ever in this situation.
"It’s really scary for a person to
venture forward to say 'I love you,'" clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, tells Bustle. "In fact, many new couples play an unconscious game of 'feeling it out' when (and if) the other person is falling in love at the same pace."
Dr. Manly recommends a few things to try. First, it's important to slow down and get to know what you're really feeling. Especially in the early stages of a relationship, Dr. Manly says, it’s easy to
confuse love with infatuation, passion, or simply the joy of dating. When you mistake lust for love, your "I love you" won't be coming from a genuine place. Instead, sex and relationship expert, Kryss Shane, MS, tells Bustle, it's most likely coming from a place of insecurity and your partner may not react to the situation in a positive way.
But if you're genuinely
in love and you want to express that, definitely go for it. Your partner may not say it back, but that's OK. Here's what experts say you can do if you're in that situation.
It's so easy to beat yourself up over this. But as licensed psychotherapist,
Victoria Elf Raymond, PhD, tells Bustle, try not to. "You’re a human and you expressed a human emotion of love," she says. "Of course it feels much better for your partner to reciprocate, but just because you didn’t get the response you wanted, it doesn’t mean you were wrong for expressing yourself." Instead, be proud of yourself that you were finally able to say it.
Do not react to their lack of response with anger but with love, licensed therapist
Ieshai Bailey, CMHC tells Bustle. Although it's common to push the subject or question their response, that can put your partner on the defense. When that happens, the last thing you'll hear is a genuine "I love you, too." So according to Bailey, it's important to keep calm. Take a step back and don't immediately react or jump to conclusions. Try not to ruin a perfectly good moment by taking their inability to reciprocate as a red flag.
Watch Your Partner's Body Language
If you told your partner that you love them and they didn't say it back to you, check their expression and body language. As long as they're not backing away from you or are visibly upset, relationship expert and
spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport, tells Bustle, you should be fine. If it seems like they're in shock or processing what you said, just let it be. You said what you needed to say — now give them the space to absorb it.
Give Your Partner Time To Process What You Said
While it's nice to hear "I love you, too," it should never be expected. At least at first. As Dr. Raymond says, "We are all so different when it comes to how we show love, and when we show love." Maybe your partner is more cautious about falling in love due to negative experiences in the past. Maybe they struggle with being vulnerable, or they're just more comfortable showing you how they feel. Regardless of what the reason is, give them time to process the situation. As challenging as it can be to wait, they will respond when they're ready.
"If you find that in a moment of passion or under some other situation that you tell your partner, 'I love you!” and your partner does not tell you that they love you back, just move on," Rappaport says. If it makes you feel a little better, you can even pretend you never said anything at all. The last thing you want to do is say it again, ask them if they love you or question how they feel. "By ignoring it, you already let them know how you feel," Rappaport says. "The seed has been planted." And they will respond back in time.
Leave The Issue Alone For A While
"If you use the L word and your partner doesn’t say it back, take stock of the situation," New York–based
relationship expert and author, April Masini, tells Bustle. "Understand that you’ve overplayed your hand and decide what to do next." Whatever you do, don't press the situation. Don't try to force an answer out of your partner, and don't make any passive-aggressive jokes about the situation or talk about how awkward it was. Just let it be for a while. If they want to bring it up, they will. If you can, try not to overthink it. It may be easier said than done, but it's the best thing you can do to maintain your sense of well-being.
Don't Let This Discourage You
As awkward as the situation can be for you, don't let it put you off from expressing yourself in the future. "Love is a gift, so consider that telling someone you love them is just that," certified relationship coach,
Susan Golicic, PhD, tells Bustle. "It's courageous to share how you feel about someone with them. Be proud of the strength and compassion you have shown." Don't let this one moment scare you off from doing it ever again.
Sometimes, all your partner needs is a little bit of time to say it back. If they don't, Dr. Manly says, "Trust that your capacity to love is better turned to someone who is able to appreciate your special brand of love." Anyone should feel lucky to hear those three special words from you.