My girlfriend and I love each other, but we feel we’re becoming numb to hearing it from each other. We’ve been together three years, so I assume that time is what’s put a damper on the “three little words.” I suggested that when we are about to say “I love you,” we come up with something more personal and meaningful. This, sadly, was difficult and lasted about a day. Now we’re back to expressing affection the rote way. Yes, we could have a bigger problem, but beneath this is a bigger worry – that the relationship will get old, too. –Same-Old, Same-Old
The pressure to be original in love can be pretty trying. Imagine Shakespeare tentatively mumbling to a woman “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and hearing back, “Ugh, Will…for the third time this week?”
Likewise, the first time you heard “I love you” from your girlfriend, you probably thought, “Wow, she loves me! Hot damn!” But once a relationship gets going, sometimes “I love you!” wells up from the bottom of the heart and sometimes from the need to say something a little more feel-good than “Gotta get you off the phone so I can clean up this cat vomit.” Sometimes, one partner is needy and says it constantly so they can hear it back constantly. (If not for somebody being there in their life to respond, they’d be standing for days on end yelling it into the Grand Canyon.)
So, yes, it’s probably time for a little rationing of “I love you” if it’s become shorthand for everything short of “pass the salt.” But there’s actually research by Dr. Sara Algoe and others showing that expressions of appreciation seem to keep a relationship alive, keeping partners from taking each other for granted and feeling taken for granted. This doesn’t necessarily require blithering on in detail about your partner’s great qualities, especially not when you both know what you’re really saying with a laughing “I love you!” is “You are simply the greatest for coming over and resting your boobs on my head while I’m stuck writing these boring reports.”
Of course, one of the best ways to make “I love you” more meaningful is by showing it – ideally, at least once a day – just by thinking about what would make each other happier and less stressed and doing it. This could involve small kindnesses like getting up to refill your girlfriend’s drink when you’re eating dinner or somewhat bigger (and ickier) kindnesses like telling her to stay put while you clean up after her puking cat. Any guy can go through the romantic motions – say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day with $50 worth of chocolate truffles and a suspiciously funerary flower arrangement – but it takes a truly loving guy to say it on a random Tuesday with a rag full of cat vomit.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon. 2013, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.