As you and your partner spend more and more time together, it might feel like you’re moving beyond the lust phase into a deeper affection, the love phase. At some point, you might even be ready to declare it: “I love you.”
Many people wonder if there’s an optimal time to say those three words. After all, you may not know your partner quite as well as you think you do, and you might want to give them a chance to see that they share your feelings before you move forward. On the other hand, you might be afraid of scaring them off if you do too soon.
It’s important to gauge your relationship’s temperature before you decide whether to say “I love you,” says Jenn Mann, a psychotherapist and host of VH1’s Couples Therapy With Dr. Jenn and the author of The Relationship Fix. “Determine whether your time together ever dips from hot to cold, or if it’s more like a slow-burning ember of mutual commitment,” she suggests.
If you find yourself in the lust phase, you might be smitten by their attractiveness, the way they dress and the way they make you feel when you’re around them. This is a time when your brain’s chemistry is working to trigger the production of hormones that fuel sexual attraction, including dopamine and norepinephrine.
But there’s a difference between lust and the love phase, which is characterized by empathy and respect. It’s also a time when your focus shifts from self-gratification to ensuring the well-being of the person you love.
During the love phase, your heart is beating faster and you’re eager to spend time with your partner. You might even find yourself wanting to do things for them that you wouldn’t do in the lust or attraction phases, such as making sure they’re comfortable in your presence and not being jealous of other men or women who come into their lives.
The love phase can also lead to physical symptoms, such as a pounding heart and sweating, according to the American Psychological Association. It can also raise levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can suppress the immune system and cause inflammation. But it’s not clear whether these bodily reactions are a sign of true love, because no one has yet proven that the chemical changes are necessary for love.
In addition to these bodily reactions, love can also cause your blood pressure to go up and your metabolism to speed up. It can also increase your desire for sex and can turn your attention away from other interests, such as work or friends.
You can help your partner through a crisis in their life by being there for them and being honest about your feelings. But you can also demonstrate your love for them by doing small things, such as reminding them how much they mean to you or washing their coffee mug for them so they don’t have to.