There are many times in the beginning of romantic relationships that are full of trepidation and anxiety. From the first kiss to meeting your new partner’s family. All are potentially fraught with the emotional paradox of anxiety and excitement. But perhaps the greatest trepidation comes when one partner declares the words, ‘I Love You.’ Art Markman, psychologist at the University of Texas, suggests that fear arises because it may be nonreciprocal, which is enough for many to hold back from uttering these words. If one person is feeling intense feelings for their new partner and the other is not, it can create a moment of truth in their relationship.
In opposite sex couples there is a commonly held belief that women are usually the first to say I love you first. But recent research suggests, it is normally men who are the first to feel love and respond accordingly. A womens timeline for confessing love is substantially longer than that of men. Women are predisposed to postpone the confession of love so they can accurately assess a new partner’s relationship suitability.
Research suggests, that men may also have adaptive impulses that drive them to be less than truthful when they declare their love. A man may declare his love before having sex to increase his reproductive chances. Because reproduction is an instinctive drive, in many cases a man may not be consciously aware that they are being less than truthful when declaring their love.
Unfortunately for men, a woman’s internal alarm goes off when they hear a declaration of love too early in a relationship. Women may interpret the words of love as an insincere ploy for sex without the commitment to back it up. Interesting research suggests, that women feel significantly happier when the declaration of love is postcoital. When women do declare their love early in a relationship, men reported feeling happier even if they didn’t share reciprocalfeelings. The suggested reason for this may be that when there was a declaration of love, sex may follow shortly.
There may also be cultural reasons why men may say I love you first. For instance men may believe they take the leadership role in the relationship. Men are the ones traditionally who initiate the first date, buy the ring and propose marriage so to some degree it would make sense that men would feel that they are initially in the leadership role. There may also be a cultural belief that women may need to be reassured of an emotional connection.
Interesting research also suggests that men may have more idealistic attitude to love than women. Men appear to have a more romanticised view of relationships than women. Men are more likely to believe in love at first sight and that love conquers all.
As relationships progress then it becomes more acceptable for either party to say ‘I love you.’ Saying, ‘I love you’ in Western societies is a very important step as we presume that love is the basis of relationships. But ultimately it is the demonstration of love and caring which is more important than just the declarations of love.
The words ‘I love you’ also change over time from their initial beginning of declaring intense feelings, to words that engage a couple to commit to behaviours that benefit and strengthen their relationship.
Christopher Swane - Relationship Counselling and Psychotherapy - Wellington New Zealand