Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I love my husband … I just don’t want to say it. Many years ago, I dated a guy for five years. I (stupidly) said those three little words first, and of course he immediately said them back. For two years, my ex would never say it unless I said it first.
Then I decided to wait to see if he ever did. I waited a whole year. Zilch. When I pointed it out, he said it at least five times a day. Ugh. I was sorry I ever brought it up.
When we split, I found out he was never really sure if he loved me. I asked him if the only reason he said it is because I did. He said nothing, so that answer is yes.
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Fast-forward to today. My husband and I were engaged before we said “I love you,” because I wanted him to say it first. Now he says it frequently, but I just can’t motivate myself to say it first even though this time, I don’t think I’m making a fool out of myself. Marrying my husband is a big enough action, yes? We’ve been together a decade.
Don’t Want to Say It
If it’s important to him to hear you say it, then doing this for him takes precedence over serving your baggage. So lose the baggage. It could be as straightforward as deciding on a certain situation and/or frequency for saying “I love you” and then forcing yourself to stick to that until it stops feeling weird.
Even if it isn’t a big deal to your husband, I can make an argument for pushing through your awkwardness for the sole reason that having a bad relationship of “many years ago” announcing itself constantly in your current marriage really just sucks.
Especially if it haunts you in other ways, too, as is often the case.
For Don’t: When my then-boyfriend and I were dating, “I love you” was a serious commitment that he wasn’t ready for.
It wasn’t the exact words that mattered to me, just that we have something to say that meant, “You’re very special to me,” so we worked out a bunch of silly phrases, like, “I really super-duper like you!” We’ve since worked our way up to “I love you,” but we still use the other phrases because it was so much fun. Just a thought, if your hang-ups are with the words instead of the sentiment.
For Don’t: I know a guy who said, “I told her I loved her when we got married, why do I have to say it again?” Not to be maudlin, but what are the odds that, if you lost your partner today, you would wish you’d had the chance to say “I love you” one more time?
Hello, I Love You
Re: Don’t: The letter-writer (LW) is basically doing to the husband what the ex-boyfriend did to LW – denying him the chance to ever hear “I love you” without prompting and possibly leaving him feeling as anxious and insecure as LW felt with the ex.
Well said everyone, thanks.
One more thing — “(stupidly)” has no place here. It’s not a transaction — it’s just your truth.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.