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When does not saying "I love you" in a relationship become a legitimate issue?

angry-muffinangry-muffin Registered User
edited January 2012 in Help / Advice Forum
The basics: So I have a partner, lets call them Alex. We have been together for 2 years. I said "I love you" for the first time over a year ago.

Also, I wish to keep this gender neutral on both sides, so I'm going to use "they" instead of "he/she". If this is a problem (i.e. too confusing) then let me know and I'll correct it.

The problem is, Alex has never said more than "I like you" although acts as though they care about me. Alex has explicitly stated in the past that they don't wish to talk in terms of the future (once, awhile ago) although I first met Alex's parents over a year ago. Alex has also been stressed a lot lately, so I assumed that the stressors were a more immediate concern, and that once that quietened down Alex might come around to using the "L word".

Alex has never been very affectionate vocally, although is affectionate otherwise (physically, as well as doing things like going out of their way to help me). Although concern has been shown in the past, recently Alex has decided that it's probably better that my parents are not so open to meeting my partner.

It may also be important to mention that the last ex of Alex's was a nasty piece of work, and I think that might be why Alex is not very vocally affectionate now. Although I'm not sure Alex is consciously aware of it, if it is the case.

In general, there is little to complain about in my relationship. I'm not asking for any huge commitment at this stage - I'm just starting to get concerned that there will always been another worry in our/Alex's life and that Alex may never get to the stage when they can say "I love you" back. I would like to know if a future together is even a possibility or if this will always be one of those "just having fun for now" things.

Am I over reacting? Should I just give it more time? If I do bring the conversation up, what would be the best time?

angry-muffin on


  • ConstrictorConstrictor The Dork Knight SuburbialandRegistered User regular
    A two year relationship without hearing a single 'I love you' is a serious issue in my opinion, regardless of the genders of any of the participants.

    I would open up lines of communication with my partner on this issue and see how it goes. Counseling might also be somewhere to go from there.

  • BedlamBedlam Registered User regular
    Two years seems like a long time for just having fun. Have you tried talking to Alex directly about your feelings?

  • SentrySentry Registered User regular
    Yeah, this is one of those things that needs a conversation. There are red flags here which may have an explanation or may not be a big deal, but unless you talk it out you'll never know. Being together for two years but never talking in terms of the future seems like a bigger deal to me then not using the L word, but honestly those two issues are probably pretty related.

    When I was a little kid, I always pretended I was the hero,' Skip said.
    'Fuck yeah, me too. What little kid ever pretended to be part of the lynch-mob?'
  • mtsmts Registered User regular
    As long as he is effectionate otherwise I wouldn't worry about it.

  • sarnickosarnicko Registered User
    if you are broads then be worried, if your bros dont worry bros dont express emotions

  • FonjoFonjo Registered User regular
    sarnicko wrote:
    if you are broads then be worried, if your bros dont worry bros dont express emotions

    Yeah.... that's not true at all. Some individuals don't express much in the way of emotions but overall, I'd have expected something by two years.

    This person might have a very good reason for not wanting to say that they love you at this point. The best advice has already been said and it applies to all relationships. Just try communicating with the person.

  • naporeonnaporeon Registered User regular
    I don't know, @angry-muffin. I was in a relationship for the better part of a year, and while we communicated pretty regularly, and saw a lot of each other, I never said "I love you"...because I didn't. I was fond of her, sure, and I really enjoyed spending time together in a more than "just having fun" way, but I never really crossed any threshold into what I would describe as actual love.

    I would say that it's vital to consider whether it's important to you that Alex loves you, and, if s/he does, whether s/he expresses it. If the answer to the former is yes, that is difficult, but something you may be able to move past by some open communication. If the answer to the latter is yes, this is probably going to prove fatal, since s/he is unlikely to become comfortable with verbal affection.

    Some communication with Alex is absolutely necessary, but it really needs to be augmented with some examination about what is important to you, going forward.

  • bowenbowen How you doin'? Registered User regular
    There is no time frame. I'll admit that I personally believe 2 years is a long time for that to never even be a thing. They seem like they don't really care enough about the relationship.

    Voice your opinion to them, though. If they're reasonable they should explain why. If they avoid it or attack you, then, by all means, make a decision from there.

  • Fuzzy Cumulonimbus CloudFuzzy Cumulonimbus Cloud Nurse, Veteran, Army Mom, Ficus, Space Dad, Survivor Contestant God Bless This Mess Registered User regular
    Are you a gay couple? Gay couples have terrible intimacy issues and all kinds of masculinity ideals that really screw with how a good relationship should function. Did you ever ask your partner if he loves you? If he does but doesn't say it often then that is one thing. If he avoids it all together, it is a symptom of something far more complicated.

  • UsagiUsagi Nah Registered User regular
    edited January 2012
    Well, it becomes a legitimate issue whenever it starts to bother one of the people in the relationship, there is no set timeframe for when certain relationship milestones have to be achieved.

    So I'll echo everything that @naporeon said, and then add that it's important that both you and Alex want the same thing out of the relationship. If you want long-term commitment, plans for houses and dogs and picket fences and the like, while Alex is concentrating on school/career/other stressors and hoping to keep things more casual, then there's bound to be discord. So sit down and have a talk with Alex, outline what you've been feeling, ask where they'd like the relationship to go, and then measure that against your expectations and needs.

    Usagi on
  • lewsivlewsiv Registered User regular
    Why not just ask them if they love you? Two years seems like plenty of time to know.

  • EggyToastEggyToast Registered User regular
    If there is something about your relationship that makes it socially unacceptable to some people, regardless of what that circumstance is, then that changes things. It doesn't matter what the something is -- you could be dating someone of the same gender while living in Missouri, or someone of a different skin color in Alabama, or whatever. Maybe one of you is from an orthodox religious family and your relationship is somewhat frowned upon. Whatever the reason, if there is a reason, then that explains somewhat why this person feels that they can't plan strongly for the future, don't want to be all "i love you" all the time, or whatever. It warrants discussion, but don't be surprised if that sort of stuff comes up.

    If you are in an otherwise normal relationship, as in you and your partner are dating and your parents and friends are all cool with it and you're cool with it, then this does raise red flags. As an anecdote, I've known a few people who do the "I don't want to make any big decisions" with their partner and the relationship goes on for years and suddenly they break up and they're much happier. I have one friend who dated a girl from, like, age 19 to age 28. She moved to his college, but for years they lived in separate apartments, even across multiple moves each. Eventually, he bought a house entirely in his name and she moved in, and a year later they broke up. He said he just didn't "feel like he was into it."

    Another friend was dating a girl for 3 years or so, she had moved in with him when he bought a house, and one night he opened up about the relationship. He said she wanted kids pretty badly and he wasn't sure that's what he wanted, and wasn't sure what was next in the relationship. When they broke up a couple months later, I wasn't too surprised, but I was amused when he got into his next relationship and was married and with a kid in under 2 years!

    In both situations, one person liked the relationship, thought it was enjoyable, but wasn't really into it. They didn't really want to change things and they enjoyed spending time with their partner, but after some years they realized that they simply didn't love the other person. For some people, it takes a long time to realize what "love" feels like, and that's not wrong. For others, they realize quickly, but it may not be as strong. There's an entire spectrum of how people feel and how they express themselves, and it's not always "the L word." I have another friend who made a big deal about dropping the "L-Bomb" with her boyfriend after they'd been together for 3 years, and after 5 years together they got engaged and are now happily married. Dude has crazy eyebrows. Just because they didn't say "love" didn't mean they didn't love each other, though -- they just didn't vocalize it, or thought that the "L-word" was a big deal.

    That doesn't mean that you're supposed to just sit there and take it. If you're feeling like chopped liver because your partner expresses their feelings for you in a shitty way, it's in your right to bring it up and, if nothing happens, you're free to move on and seek a partner that fulfills your needs.

    || Flickr — || PSN: EggyToast
  • Zombie NirvanaZombie Nirvana Registered User regular
    edited January 2012
    I suspect this relationship isn't going anywhere. If you're having fun and don't want anything else, stick around. If not, what are you doing? I also agree with FCC up above. But that may not be PC and sometimes honesty leads to infractions and/or banning in this day and age. So I'll leave it at that. :)

    Zombie Nirvana on
  • etherealmysteryetherealmystery Registered User
    edited January 2012
    lewsiv wrote:
    Why not just ask them if they love you? Two years seems like plenty of time to know.

    Why don't you just ask him about it?

    If you've said, "I love you," over-and-over again and he's said nothing, it could be that he says I love you some other way. Actions speak louder than words for me. Still, it's nice to receive verbal validation! Many of us need it, though it may be secondary to certain acts.

    To understand one another, choose a casual, comfortable environment and get to the chase sincerely with something like, "what does love mean to you, and how do you express it?" Try to say it in a way that doesn't seem like you're singling him out. If he balks at you, it's merely defensive - some people do this, and generally it's not a good sign. Nonetheless, you should ask him about it, how and if he communicates love. Also, it's wise to be prepared for and accept the possibility that he doesn't reciprocate your feelings yet.

    If it's been over a year, almost two, I think that warrants more than enough reason to ask. Just go for it. You should be able to talk to each other about anything.

    etherealmystery on
  • SeolSeol Registered User regular
    This needs open conversation, but... The impression I get is that Alex is aware that they don't feel the same way about you as you do about them, and - furthermore - is aware that you're aware of it too. If that's true, it's possible they're uncomfortable with this, and the balance of emotional power (ie, that they have too much) that results, and is trying to keep the situation under control by being noncommittal.

    Whether or not Alex says they love you, at the end of the day, isn't the be all and end all - there are a lot of ways that can be said without using the words. You should be able to tell whether they do or don't by everything else they do for you. But if there's a block there, conceptually, for them, that could be an issue, a line they don't feel comfortable crossing. And if they won't commit to you being a full part of their life, including being a part of their family, that's a bigger issue - that does speak to long term commitments.

    One thing to bear in mind - and this is crucial - do not let any conversation on this subject get positional. When people feel they're being attacked for their position, they defend it, right or wrong, and if you come across aggressively on this subject (which is quite easy to do unintentionally on such matters) they'll defend themselves and, in the process, reinforce their own belief in their reasons for their current position. Softly softly is the key here.

    All of this is me reading too much of myself into Alex, and may well not be the case here. But then, it might.

  • ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    It becomes an issue when it starts to bother one of you. At that point you really need to talk about it.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
  • angry-muffinangry-muffin Registered User
    Thanks. I have thought that Alex might just have a different way of expressing it - it does seem a possibility. My other thought was that Alex may not have actually thought about it - there has been a lot of unrelated crap going on for awhile that was more important to think about (although that becomes less of an excuse when it goes on for so long, I think.)

    When should I bring it up? I was going to bring it up a month ago, after Christmas celebrations were over (so I didn't wreck them in case it went bad) but all of a sudden something else has gone wrong in Alex's life, both major but unrelated. I'm worried that it would be bad timing to bring it up now, but at the same time, this may be an issue for awhile. I'm not sure the conversation should wait. Is a few weeks enough, maybe, so that the brunt of the blow of said issue has had a little time to dissipate?

    One a side note, someone mentioned the balance of emotional power. That is actually something I've worried about in general, because I have a bit of an unrelated problem with emotion (something I have medication prescribed for). As a result, I tend to hold back and have trouble communication how I feel about anything and in general. Alex has expressed concern about me holding back in this way and has said that they want me to let them in more. I have another reason why this may be an issue, but I'm worried the more I explain the more obvious it will be who Alex and I am, should Alex or someone else I know see this.

  • FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD along with you if I get drunk well I know I'm gonna be gonna be the man whoRegistered User regular
    edited January 2012
    Two years is a long time to be wondering where somebody stands with you. Two years is also a really long time to put off discussions about the future. I'm not saying that Alex needs to promise anything, but you two at least need to be on the same page about expectations.

    The way you make this sound, it's not just about whether Alex is comfortable verbalizing his/her feelings, it's also about what his/her feelings actually are.

    I totally agree with Ceres and others that you guys need to talk about this.

    But I'm also going to say that (regardless of his or her gender), Alex needs to "man up" and decide whether he/she invested in your relationship or not. If this is simply an issue of communication; if it turns out that yes Alex is completely invested in your relationship and wants to make it work, then you still have a right to ask Alex to step out of his/her comfort zone a little and provide some more verbal acknowledgement of his/her feelings.

    Edit: sorry, I didn't see your subsequent post. Yes, if there is unusual stress going on in Alex's life, then this would be a bad time to bring it up. That said, you will have to have this talk sometime, and putting it off for months isn't going to help things.

    Feral on
    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch man" fallacy.
  • FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD along with you if I get drunk well I know I'm gonna be gonna be the man whoRegistered User regular
    edited January 2012
    BTW, I'm looking at statements like these:

    Alex has never been very affectionate vocally,
    Although I'm not sure Alex is consciously aware of it, if it is the case.
    As a result, I tend to hold back and have trouble communication how I feel about anything and in general.

    This sort of paints a picture of two people who just aren't very communicative with each other in general.

    It might be better to cultivate habits where you're more open with each other in small & frequent ways, rather than try to sit down and have one huge big-deal conversation.

    Feral on
    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch man" fallacy.
  • ihmmyihmmy Registered User regular
    Some people are just bad at saying they love you. Other people toss it about willy nilly. It's something worth discussing though.

    My step dad is particularly bad at saying he loves anyone. It became part of the issues between my mom and him that led to them splitting up. I think I've heard him say it to me once, and he wrote it on a card once, and I've known him for over 15 years as family. But I know through his actions and who he is, that he loves me no matter what. A little bit different with a familial relationship, but I just came to accept that he wouldn't say Love with any sort of regularity.

  • angry-muffinangry-muffin Registered User
    Feral, I am trying to work on communication issues. Although to be fair, I'm more communicative with Alex than I have ever been with anyone else. Letting Alex in as far as I have has been one of the harder things I've ever done. I'm a bit scared of the possibility of this only ever being a for-now thing, because of that - especially considering that the encouragement on Alex's part for me to get to where I am, and further, would not be very fair if they never intended to invest much in the relationship themselves.

    I do worry about being too communicative, as that has been and issue in the past (with other people), and a lot of the stuff I don't communicate about are because they don't make enough sense in my head to verbalize it. I'm really trying with the bigger, important stuff, because it is important to me to be able to do that. I have tried explaining it, but I'm concerned about Alex does not really understand what I mean about not being able to verbalize everything. That, and when I get irrationally emotional a lot of the thoughts that go through my head sound like emo bull sh*t that I don't believe or think when I calm down. I don't know how to better explain it or if my problem will ever go away.

    But anyway, I think I'll leave it for a few weeks so that hopefully the other issues die down a little, and nothing else comes up. I guess there will never be a perfect time.

  • DrAlleconDrAllecon Registered User regular
    But anyway, I think I'll leave it for a few weeks so that hopefully the other issues die down a little, and nothing else comes up. I guess there will never be a perfect time.

    You're right. There will never be a perfect time, and life has a tendency to get in the way an awful lot. But after giving Alex a little time (a couple of weeks or so) you really owe it to both of you to discuss this. It can't be easy for you to continue to try and do your best to be there for Alex if you have doubts as to how much Alex is there for you.

    If you're concerned about your ability to communicate with Alex, or you're concerned about the conversation escalating to the "irrationally emotional" level, there is an exercise that you could try. Go to separate rooms of your house, and simultaneously write for 5 minutes what you want out of your relationship, or any other question that you'd like answered. Then, after the time is up, hand each other the paper, head back to separate rooms and read them. Then take 5 minutes to simultaneously write a response. It gives you both a chance to really reflect on what you want to say, and instead of just feeling defensive, or thinking of your verbal reply instead of really listening to each other, you can really focus on what the other person was trying to say. You can keep doing this several times with multiple issues (how you feel about kids, career paths, religion, where the relationship is heading, etc).

    If you think that's too corny, or that Alex wouldn't participate, then you could try writing Alex a note expressing how you feel so you can bring up the subject to discuss later on.

    Either way though, you're right to give Alex a little time to get past this bit of bad news/stress, but don't let too much time go by. Sadly, there's bound to be something else that comes along making it a bad time to bring it up, and soon you'll be together 3 years without knowing where you stand.

  • DruhimDruhim Registered User, ClubPA regular
    Gonna second what naporean and usagi said. This is an issue because it's bothering you. There's no universal timeline for this. For a different couple, this may be perfectly fine if they're both ok with it. This is a matter of what you both want from the relationship and if you're wanting very different things, you need to talk and either reach some common ground/compromise, or walk and find another relationship where you're getting what you want/need.

  • FiggyFiggy Registered User regular
    There is always going to be a reason not to bring this up. If there has been something major like a death in the family, give it a couple weeks. Just be wary about putting this off for other reasons.

    People in bad relationships often make excuses why they can't end it yet. Don't find yourself in that kind or situation.

    XBL : Figment3 · SteamID : Figment · Website :
  • angry-muffinangry-muffin Registered User
    Hey, thanks everyone. It's sorted out now. :)

  • HeraldSHeraldS Registered User regular
    This seems like one of those threads where you already know the answer but it's not what you want it to be. Two years is a long, long time to never say "I love you" or make plans for the future. There will never be a right time to have this conversation, because it will never get less awkward or potentially painful, only more. Sit your person down and lay everything out. And don't let them weasel out by saying they're not vocally affectionate or whatever. You aren't asking them to say they love you every time you get off the phone or whatever, you're asking to hear it once so you know where their head is at. If they flat out refuse or try to equivocate, you've got your answer. And if they respond in a more positive manner, all the better. Good luck and godspeed.

  • DruhimDruhim Registered User, ClubPA regular
    Hey, thanks everyone. It's sorted out now. :)


  • FeralFeral MEMETICHARIZARD along with you if I get drunk well I know I'm gonna be gonna be the man whoRegistered User regular

    every person who doesn't like an acquired taste always seems to think everyone who likes it is faking it. it should be an official fallacy.
    the "no true scotch man" fallacy.
  • Penguin_OtakuPenguin_Otaku Registered User regular
    Had two different friends that were conservative about dropping the L-bomb, each for their own reason.

    First guy was just kind of a tease to his girlfriend. Dating since freshman year of high school and have been dating through college. Last I talked to them he still seldom said it and did it almost to "reward" her. Guy was kind of weird and withholding. She'd say it to him and he'd just kinda mumble, "You, too."

    Other guy didn't say it because he was a romantic in that he wanted the first person he said it to be his last, so he wanted to make sure. It'd been very obvious to us for a while that he was very much in love with his lady, but he just wanted to be for certain. Anyway, long story short they're engaged now.

    Happy to hear it worked out for you.

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