I Can’t Say “I Love You”

If you’re in love with someone and you can’t get yourself to say those three little words, “I love you,” you don’t know what you’re missing. The experience of love is always better when you can say what you feel.

Here’s the situation, you’re in love with someone but you can’t tell him or her, “I love you.” Why not? Now I am assuming that you’re ‘in love.’ In love meaning, you are really feeling it. Your love is active and it wants to flow out of your heart in the form of words.

So you are in love and for some reason(s) you just can’t bring yourself to admit it and say the words, “I love you.” Let’s explore a few of the more common reasons for this difficulty.

Now let’s get the ‘dangerous’ reason out of the way first. In some situations it is probably better that you don’t tell someone you love him or her. Like someone else’s wife or husband, or your own husband’s brother, or your wife’s sister.

You get the picture. Because you’d be risking some kind of destructive consequence it would be better to think it through first and make a good decision about what to do with your feelings. For safety’s sake, if nothing else.

Other than that, the most general reason for keeping a feeling like this to yourself is, you never learned how to say, “I love you.” You could have grown up in a home where people never said this kind of thing to each other. So you don’t either. You never learned to, and you don’t have any practice doing it. Until now, because you realize there’s a problem.

People have told me what it is like to say “I love you” in adulthood to a parent or other family member who has never said it him or her as a child or adult. Those three little words can leave an unsuspecting non-expressing parent speechless.

More specifically, “I love you” can feel like selling your soul to the devil. Some fearful believers think that “I love you” gives the recipient special powers over the speaker. Once you say it, you are under his or her control until the day you fall out of love, die, whichever comes first. I’m assuming that the root of this particular fear and subsequent superstition is the difficulty tolerating the vulnerability that naturally comes with love.

It’s true, if you tell someone “I love you,” you have exposed yourself by making your feelings known to the one you love. Yes, that person matters, and yes, he or she could conceivably hurt you because your heart is open to him or her. Now most people like our superstitious avoiding lover think the trouble is in what the recipient of “I love you” will do to him or her. Maybe, but it’s not the whole story.

I think the real worry is what the speaker of this emotion will do next. Once you open that heart door, who knows what comes out after that. Some people imagine the absolute worst case (embarrassment, rejection). They successfully scare the hell out of themselves and refuse to trust the experience of acknowledged love to take them where it might, unpredictably and beyond their control.

For some, tolerating this is precisely what it takes to say “I love you.” It’s certainly one of those risks that even the strongest of men might say with a quiver. Expressions of true love are supposed to have a certain amount of anxiety and uneasiness in them. You are opening your heart to another without a guarantee of the result. Sometimes it’s hard to be human.

If you fear the worst and think your lover will control you or take advantage of you, I’m willing to bet you’ve been treated badly earlier in your life. Maybe love for you was a mixed experience. Love on one day, anger and rage on another, and fear on the third. These kinds of intense emotions mixed in with the love you are supposed to feel from the people you grew up with can really take a toll on love.

Most people who have experienced this kind of thing need to separate the love they are feeling from all the contaminants it got mixed up with from family of origin experiences. Otherwise, telling someone you love him or her will feel ‘dangerous’ not joyfully risky.

For other people, “I love you” feels like you’re about to take on a bunch of unwanted extra responsibility. If “I love you” or better yet, “you love me” then you get to depend on me all the time.

Just like with the more negative emotions that can get associated with love, this kind of responsibility for a dysfunctional love relationship is enough to scare anybody away. Your personal history dealing with love mixed with ‘neediness’ should give you a clue where to start looking for a way to free “I love you” from chronic dependency.

If you choose to remain defensive about love, meaning you just want to avoid getting hurt no matter what, love is going to be hard for you.  It’s basically impossible to be in love and avoid getting hurt. The bumps and bruises of love happen just because there are two people involved in a love relationship.

You can’t control or predict with absolute certainty what someone else is going to think, feel, or do. What you can do is work on your own faith in your own ability to survive whatever hurt comes. Not telling someone you love, “I love you,” may be your ill-fated attempt to avoid hurt by remaining defensive.

Now I have met a few reluctant lovers who rarely or never say the magic words “I love you” because they are predicting with absolute certainty that they will indeed be ‘abandoned’ at some point by the object of their love. They are so certain of this, based on past experience, that the only way they can manage their conflict between love and fear is by keeping their mouths shut about love.

If they only knew that the risk they take in saying a heartfelt “I love you” is the only thing they can really do to improve the chances that love will not leave. Go ahead, close your eyes and jump. Let’s hear it, “I love you!” Everyone knows there’s not enough of this in the world right now.

Comments? Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan






Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

Leave a Comment