What Does “I Love You” Mean?


It is not enough to tell someone you love them on a regular basis if there is no passion and fire behind the statement. We often say the words, “I love you” without really feeling the meaning of them. Yeah we know the words mean, ”You matter to me… I care about what happens to you…. I think you’re pretty cool.” But there is so much more to it then that. When we are first falling in love, we think about the ideas of what that means. We analyze the relationship and each other. We really look at what is developing and we evaluate whether or not it is safe to say those three little words. It is a big deal to make the decision to say it to someone else. How will they receive it? Do they feel the same way? Will they say, “I love you, too” or will they mumble something about having a meeting they forgot about? After the relationship is going along successfully, we forget to really think about what it means to still be saying, “I love you” to the other person.

Here’s an exercise for you that should help you rediscover what it means to say those words to someone. Think about tone and voice inflection. You can change the meaning of a sentence by which word you give extra punch to. “I love you” is different from “I love you” which is also different from “I love you.” Let’s look at each version separately.

When we say it as “I love you” one is reminded of when someone is depressed and thinks that nobody cares about them. We let the person know they are wrong by letting them know we want to be seen as the exception to that belief system. But take it a step further…. Who are you? What does it mean when YOU are the one saying that you love someone else. What does that entail? Who exactly is loving them?

When we say it as “I love you” then it means more then just “I like you” or “I want you” or “I admire you.” What does the word love mean to you? Are you using the right word? Maybe you really should be saying “I care about you” or “I love how I feel when I’m around you” or “I think you’re amazing.” Sometimes we just cluster a whole bunch of positive emotions together and put them under the umbrella word – love. So take some time and think about what that word means to you and how it is used.

When we say it as “I love you,” what comes to mind is someone being accused of wanting someone else and they adamantly reply, “No! I love YOU!” For this portion of the exercise, think about who it is you say those words to. Who are they really? Are they the same person today as they were when you first started saying it? If you met them on the street for the first time today, as they are now, would you still fall in love with them all over again? Do you still see them for who and what they are deep down inside or are you just saying the words to a memory of who they were when you first met them?

Finally, blend all of these concepts together in your mind. When you tell your partner that you love them, what is it you’re saying in it’s biggest fullest sense? Now write it all down. “I love you means….” You may only have one or two sentences or you may have pages and pages of words describing what it means for you to love that person. It is not important how much you have written, but that you have now reconnected yourself with the root of what it is the words “I love you” means to you. When you say it to your partner, you will say it with real passion and fire again because the meaning will be fresh in your mind. You won’t be simply repeating it on autopilot like so many of us do. Perhaps you will add a passionate kiss and even tell them about this exercise and what came to mind as you contemplated what it means to love them.

You could even ask your partner, “So tell me, what does it mean to you when you say the words, ‘I love you’ to me?” Give them time to think through their answers. Don’t pressure them. It’s a lot like the first time you tell someone that you love them…. you still have to put yourself out there and wait for the honest openhearted response that they give you. Just like with a new relationship, you can’t yell at them for not responding correctly or start nagging about how they ought to be more in touch with their feelings – especially their feelings about you. Perhaps it would be better to agree that you will each take pen and paper and spend some time alone thinking through what you would like to say to the other. Maybe you are both open enough to sit cuddled together on the sofa and share the free flowing thoughts that come to mind as you contemplate together what “I love you” means to you at this stage of your life together. The worst thing you can do is make it like a pop quiz in school where your partner feels like a big fight is going to occur if they don’t answer it correctly and in a timely manner.

Another idea you could try is to write out your own thoughts about what it means to love your partner in your best handwriting and leave it for them as a love letter somewhere that you are sure they will find it. Even if they do not do the same for you, you may still find a deeper more meaningful response from them the next time you tell them those three magical words.