Who Says It First?

In the not so clinical terms of Blaire Waldorf, “8 letters, 3 words, say it and I’m yours”. But clinically speaking, what does it mean to say those eight letters and three words first— “I love you”. 


Cross culturally, and across all kinds of amorous relationships, power plays a role emotionally and sexually in relations whether we like to think it does, or not. Gottman Institute gives an example of this in how stone-walling, the power-play of emotionally ignoring one’s partner with a straight face, is seen across couples, LGBTQI+ included and mostly in the partner who is “wearing the pants”. However, trading off power in a relationship when done healthfully can keep things exciting, much like a really great sports match when the scores are neck and neck. 


When we say “I love you” we are expressing vulnerability in sharing how we feel about our significant other. And it takes a great deal of loving oneself to say it first with the risk of no reply in place or the dreaded “thank you”. Due to biology, those with higher levels of testosterone in a relationship are usually quicker to fall in love, and say it. In heterosexual relationships, this would usually be the man… but what happens when both parties feel it, and the “receiver” in this dynamic wants to say it first? Does this have any consequences for the relationship to come? 


The “principle of least interest” indicates that whomever has less interest in a relationship has more power or control in the relationship. However, don’t all parties lose if one person has this control? Isn’t the objective to love and be loved the same in return? It seems a healthier approach. The bottom line, based on studies, is that it isn’t about who says it first, but when it is said that plays a role. Has the emotional connection matched the physical one already? Findings align with the notion that those relationships that wait past six months to express love usually have a decline in longevity as it is a strong indicator of emotional unavailability and poor emotional communication. With maturity you are able to know yourself and ultimately who you love better, so love often occurs sooner and in more lasting ways with maturation of the partners involved. Love takes on different meanings at different stages in life, and it’s ok to express where you are at and do what you are ready for in a respectful way. 


In my experience, power plays are best in the bedroom. However you identify with your gender, how you identify with yourself and love yourself is what matters most at the end of the day. Expressing love for another takes courage, vulnerability, and ultimately self-love. To express love for another correlates to the love within oneself and knowing that, whatever the outcome, you’re ok and you already have yourself. This is the most important love story of all. If you feel it, speak it. Lay the groundwork for open and honest communication to come. A relationship should be a safe space. 


To explore healthy ways to communicate your feelings in a relationship please email me or call 917.476.9381.

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Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy


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