They're said to be the three most powerful words in the English language but how much importance should we really place on saying 'I love you' to our other half?
In the context of romantic relationships, films, novels and greeting card companies would have us thinking this simple line is the be all and end all of long-term success. And a new YouGov study seems to agree, finding a direct link between whispering sweet nothings to each other and feeling in love.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research shows that the longer a couple have been together, the less they feel 'butterflies-in-the-tummy love', but more brow-raising is the fact that we tell our partner we love them less and less as the years go by. More than half of us in relationships of 2-5 years say 'I love you' to our partner every day, but this drops to 33 in partnerships of 50 years or more.
So why the decline? Laziness? Forgetfulness? An actual lack of love?
Psychologist Anna Hamer thinks the decrease is less about a lack of saying 'I love you' as the years go by, and more about its overuse during the early stages of being together.
"In the first few years of a relationship, our brain chemistry changes to make us feel intense euphoria, as well as an almost obsessive focus on our partner. It feels much easier and more natural to say 'I love you' because we're more aware of our positive feelings towards them. So as time goes by, and that chemistry spike fades, our feelings become less intense and the words don't flow so easily."
But she doesn't believe that it should be taken as a sign that our love for each other fades or that the relationship shouldn't last.
"I don't believe there's a direct link between using the phrase and feeling in love. If you say 'I love you' without meaning, it's essentially worthless. Plus, it's important to remember that we all express love in different ways - while one of us has learned to communicate love via verbal expression, someone else may have learned to show love by practical gestures or through physical affection."
Although the new research seems to suggest the less we say 'I love you' the less we feel love for each other, could it not simply be that both, indirectly, naturally fade over time?
Mary Restell, who's been happily married to her husband Roy for 32 years, would disagree.
"We got married all those years ago because we'd each found the other half to make us feel complete, and that hasn't changed. We still say I love you every day, as well as hold hands and kiss each other goodbye, because we still feel lucky that we have each other. If you start to let those things slide and take each other for granted, you'll drift apart and let damaging silences sneak in. Then suddenly that very special thing you shared is lost."
So, if the 'I love you's' have all but disappeared, how can we make sure love lasts? Elizabeth Sullivan, relationship coach and NLP practitioner, recommends the little things.
"Saying 'I love you' reminds your partner that you enjoy a special bond which is to be taken seriously, so make that sentiment your focus. Cooking dinner, buying a gift which shows you've listened or taking them to their favourites places can all be used to gain the same positive impact as saying 'I love you', without saying the actual words."
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