It’s that moment in a relationship when the time comes to decide to take things to the next level, or to move on. Often this is when people start considering their feelings for their partner and debating whether or not to break out the L-word.
That’s right, love. But no matter how many times we’ve all stood at these crossroads, knowing for sure whether it’s the right time to tell someone you love them can be difficult. We drive ourselves crazy wondering if our partner feels the same, or if it’s too soon, or even if we’re just saying it because they said it first. Even if it’s right, it can feel a bit scary, so here are a few signs to look for, so you’re confident when to say those three magic words.
They go out of their way to be with you
If you’re sick, they bring you soup. If you’re exhausted after a long day, they make you dinner or give you a backrub. They make plans months in advance to take you out to see your favorite band, invite you to their friend’s wedding, and make plans for the holidays. Even a small gesture to make you feel more at home at their place or more comfortable around their friends, could be a clear sign that your partner has love on their mind.
Matchmaker and dating expert Sarah Patt says, “Talking about things you should do together as a couple in the future, is a sign you want [them] in your future. Anything from something as simple as restaurant openings, concerts or events to something as big as a vacation or getting a dog together are good indicators.”
Nothing speaks louder than a person’s actions. And if your partner is going out of their way to be with you on a regular basis, then it’s likely they’ve caught some serious feelings for you.
They comfort you when you’re upset
We all have those days where we feel like nothing’s going right, but having a partner there to comfort us can completely turn things around. They make stressful situations easier to deal with, and can even sometimes completely erase them from our minds. If just the sight of your boyfriend or girlfriend can lift your mood no matter what you’ve been going through, then it might just be love!
Being able to pick up on a person’s emotions is important in any kind of relationship, but is especially important in a romantic one. But like many aspects of relationships though, you’ll need to reciprocate this care for your partner as well. Psychologist and author of Opening Love’s Door, Diana Kirschner, suggested in Cosmopolitan, “Make sure you both get a chance to state what’s on your mind…alternate playing reflective therapist, where one listens while the other talks.”
They’ve become your best friend
Is your partner your go-to person to lounge with on the couch when you’re binge-watching your favorite show? Are they the first one you call with any news, good or bad? Are they top of the list for your weekend plans? These are all signs that your partner is not just your boyfriend or girlfriend, but your best friend as well.
These are signs that you and your partner have developed an “infrastructure,” according to psychotherapist and author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences, Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. — aka, “Dr. Love”. Tessina says, “Internet dating, coupled with movie and TV images of instant ‘love at first sight’ create expectations that prohibit people from getting to know anything about the character of the person they’re dating, and don’t give the couples a chance to develop what I call the ‘infrastructure’ of a long-lasting relationship.” Waiting until the relationship has developed a foundation for success is the best time to say the L-word.
They’ve introduced you to their friends and family
If your partner is introducing you to the people they care about most then that’s a sign you’re more than a crush. Dating, relationship, and etiquette expert April Masini knows the signs to look for if you’re trying to determine whether or not you’re in a serious relationship, and several of them revolve around friends and family. Masini writes that you can tell someone is serious about you when they “introduce you to [their] friends and family,” and when he or she “makes a significant place for you in [their] life at holiday time, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, by inviting you to a family function, or giving you a thoughtful gift.”
Your partner should go out of their way to include you in conversation, talk you up by telling everyone some of your goals and accomplishments, and show you affection regardless of who’s around. And if you are the one who isn’t ready to introduce your partner to your friends and family, then that could be a sign that you should hold off on telling them you love them.
Their presence makes you happy
Another sign that you’re in love with your partner can be found in how you feel when they’re around. If you’re feeling giddy and get butterflies when they walk into a room, then your body is probably reacting to the fact that you’ve fallen in love. According to Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist, these feelings are associated with dopamine released into the body. The chemical is linked to the pleasure area of the brain and provides a feeling of euphoria.
Fisher explained how the natural chemical works saying, “That ‘someone’ takes on special meaning to you and you focus on this individual because the dopamine system has been activated. It is what triggers very goal-oriented behavior, where no one else matters but your new partner.” That might explain why so many of our friends seem to fall off the face of the earth once they’ve entered a new relationship. But if you’re looking for a sign that reveals whether or not you’re ready to say “I love you,” then ask those closest to you if your mood has noticeably changed for the better.
They show interest in your goals
Love at its best is having the support of your partner through thick and thin, but having someone by your side who values your goals isn’t always easy to find. So when you find someone who not only shows interest in your personal and professional goals but goes out of their way to support you, then love might be at the tip of their tongue.
What’s the catch? Well, it’s essential to actually be open with your partner about your goals for the future. If your dream is to backpack around Europe before you start having children and your partner has never left his or her hometown, that might cause some conflict in the future. One of New York’s licensed marriage and family therapists, Rebecca Hendrix, says, “Make sure your partner knows about that dream, and is open to it.” So before you say the L-word, get real about whether you and your partner are on the same page.
They’re curious about your childhood
Being in love is more than just getting to know who the other person is currently. It’s also about who they were in the past, and how they grew into the person they are now. Our childhoods make up a large part of who we are, and tend to hold some of our best stories, but can also hold a dark past. If your past isn’t particularly all rainbows and butterflies, then you’ll want to avoid telling them too soon or too bluntly.
Online dating expert Laurie Davis says, “You don’t want to overwhelm your partner, but you want to be sure to give him or her all of the important facts. You should definitely practice before you tell your match, or you’ll most likely fumble through the conversation uncomfortably.” If your partner is constantly wanting to find out more about you, then it’s a sure sign that your relationship is ready for the next step.
You trust your partner completely
People all have different opinions on trust. Some feel that trust is something that needs to be earned, while others trust people until they’re given a reason not to. Regardless of how you go about trusting those close to you, having complete confidence in your partner is essential before telling them you love them.
A large part of being able to trust a partner is feeling like you can be open with them, and feeling secure in the relationship. Often these feelings can be caused by hormones that are released in the body after falling in love. According to a study by the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic, there are three stages of love: “lust, attraction, and attachment.” It’s in the third stage of love — the attachment stage — in which the body releases oxytocin and vasopressin, which provide people with a sense of security, often leading to long term relationships. If you are experiencing these feelings and trust your significant other, it might be time to spill the beans on how you feel about them.
You feel comfortable around them
Maybe you’re not comfortable enough to let one rip in front of your partner on movie night, but if you’re thinking of throwing the L-word out there, then there should be a relatively high level of comfort when you’re around your partner. “It’s Just Lunch” dating and matchmaking expert, Sarah Patt, says, “Commitment happens based on mutual comfort levels in a relationship. Making it official can be based on how often you spend time together, or your mutual feeling, and definitely a commitment from both people.”
Women’s Heath dished on signs you’re really comfy in your relationship, like “sending a text without re-reading it six times,” ordering what you actually want off the menu, and doing double-duty on a single toothbrush together. If you can dance with your partner in the kitchen, stuff your face at their dinner table, and fall asleep in their arms, then it might just be love.
You can’t help yourself
When it’s the right time to tell someone that you love them, the words feel like they might pour out of you at any moment. You want to scream it from the mountain tops, or make it official on Instagram!
But oversharing in a heated moment, is a thing you might want to watch out for. In a recent study titled Sex Unleashes Your Tongue, researchers found that both men and women are more willing to share intimate and embarrassing details about themselves after being exposed to sexual stimuli, such as a photo or video of an attractive person or couple kissing. Compared to those in the study who were exposed to non-sexual stimuli, a video of a cat in one instance, those exposed to sexual stimuli were much more revealing about themselves to a stranger who they had a conversation with afterwards.
The details of the study, might explain why you may have dropped the L-bomb in the past without meaning it. So, why does our brain do this to us? According to research, it’s because “selection pressures have produced mechanisms that keep sexual partners bonded to each other so that they can work together to increase their offspring’s chances of survival during the vulnerable period of infancy.” Science.
Not being able to contain your feelings outside the bedroom is a huge sign that you’re not only in love, but ready to say the words out loud.
You just know
The first time someone in a couple tells the other, “I love you,” can be a huge deal. So it’s important to be sure your feelings are real. According to co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic and university assistant professor, Mary Lynn, DO, “Love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship.” Reality check: your buzzy feelings might just boil down to a chemical reaction.
But, it could also be real love. Neurologist Dr. Fred Nour, and author of True Love: How to Use Science to Understand Love, shared with Today that falling in love “is the [relationship] phase that everybody talks about, all the movies, all the romance novels, because it’s fun, exciting and thrilling. In this phase…we see people as we want them to be, not as they are.” He says that this initial fantasy is important, as it sets you up for a loving, long-term connection.
Your body might be going out of its way to confuse you on how you feel, but as long as you’ve recognized most of these signs in your relationship, then go for it. Tell your crush you love them!