Expressing our feelings in the couple relationship is extremely important. Acts and expressions of affection not only strengthen the affective bond with the other person, but also lead to healthier and more stable relationships over time. However, as worthy children of a society that often represses emotional expression, it is not surprising that many people find it difficult to open up with their partner.
Despite the undoubted benefits of expressing what we feel, being the first to say “I love you” can be scary. In their beginnings, couple relationships are full of first times that become memorable memories. The first date, the first kiss and, of course, the first time you confess that you have fallen in love.
The problem is that many people believe that confessing their love will put them in a vulnerable situation in front of their partner. Others fear his or her reaction. The fear of the lack of reciprocity after making that confession can be paralyzing enough for many people to hold back and hide that feeling.
If we follow the common stereotypes that indicate that women tend to be more romantic, sensitive and express their feelings more easily, one might think that they are the first to recognize their love in a relationship, but a study carried out among researchers from different universities in the world, from the UK to Colombia, Australia and Poland, indicates that this is not the case.
The male confession bias
The researchers recruited 1,428 people from seven countries on three continents. They were asked to answer a series of demographic questions, in addition to evaluating their attachment styles and inquiring about love confessions. Specifically, they were asked to talk about their experiences saying “I love you” in a relationship, current or past.
The results showed that men said “I love you” first in relationships, a pattern that was repeated in six countries, except France, where the gender differences were not so significant. However, there were no gender differences in the time they thought about confessing their love to their partner – even if they didn’t – and in the level of happiness they experienced at that declaration of love.
This suggests that while men are often the first to say “I love you” to their partner, women are often on the same emotional level, even if they don’t always take the plunge. The research also suggested that men were more likely to say “I love you” first if they lived in a country where there were more women than men.
A previous study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that men tend to feel and confess their love after a few weeks of a relationship, while women wait much longer. These psychologists believe that women are predisposed to postpone their emotions, a kind of “defense mechanism” with which they buy time to accurately assess the value of the relationship.
When to say “I love you”?
In general, science reveals that most couples feel happy when the other declares his or her love for them. The only exception is people with an avoidant attachment style, as they often feel pressured. However, this does not depend on the partner, but on the previous experiences that person has had.
Despite misgivings, stereotypes and fears, if you feel an intense emotion, it is best to share it with your partner. At worst, if he or she doesn’t reciprocate, it may be a good time to talk about the future of the relationship and the source of that person’s reservations. That statement can become an opportunity to improve the relationship and get it on track.
After all, saying “I love you” not only implies expressing a feeling but also acquiring a new level of commitment in the couple. As a rule, as the relationship progresses, each partner should become more comfortable expressing their emotions. If it doesn’t, something is wrong.
Therefore, the best time to say “I love you” is when you really feel it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only been dating this person for three months or the relationship is already a year old. What is important is the authenticity of the feeling and the commitment that goes with it.
Watkins, C. D. et. Al. (2022) Men say “I love you” before women do: Robust across several countries. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships; 10.1177.
Harrison, M. A. & Shortall, J. C. (2011) Women and men in love: who really feels it and says it first? J Soc Psychol; 151(6): 727-736.