The simplicity {and significance} of saying I love you

I think we underestimate the power our words have.

Over and over again in songs and in blog posts and in People Magazine articles about celebs who call it quits, we see the phrase, “They were only words.”

Only words.

In everything there is a small shred of reality and even in this, there is truth. We can speak words and they can mean nothing. Or we can speak words and they can mean everything.

We can throw around words like they are as light as feathers shed from birds or we can wield them with power and confidence because, I am coming to believe, they can have more significance than we know.

And for our spouses {and the ones closest to us} the words “I love you,” however basic, mean quite a bit.

Simply, I love you.

Maybe we say it a lot. Or maybe we don’t say it very often. But, even though it seems fundamental, it is important.

For the last six months, I have been trying to communicate this to my husband every day in written form. I’ve written notes, I’ve texted and I’ve sent emails. I’ve simply returned to saying “I love you” as often as I can. It is, in seventeen years of marriage, the most simple thing I have found that has actually changed us as a couple.

Over the past months I’ve learned a few things:

“I love you” is a little like “I’m sorry.”

Not that love is an apology, but this is what I mean: A frustrated or exasperated “I’m sorry” carries no weight to the person hearing the words. But a heartfelt “I’m truly sorry” said with intention and importance can mean the world.

The same is true of “I love you.” We can throw it around, sure. Or we can make eye contact, or heart-soul contact and say, “I love you today. More than I did yesterday.” And that kind of “I love you” can change a life.

I’ve said “I love you” even when I don’t feel like it, and that’s okay.

I love my husband even when I don’t “feel” big, romantic love for him. That’s what being married is. It’s the truth of a deep, cultivated love even when the silly, bubbly feelings aren’t close to the surface.

Saying “I love you” even when I’m not feeling it today is okay, and more than okay, it’s good, because it’s still true. It tells you that that love is true even when it doesn’t feel good and it tells your spouse the same thing.

Saying “I love you” with intention can change the way your spouse feels about him or herself.

Again, I know it sounds a little fundamental, but when people hear over and over again that they are loved, valued and noticed, it can change their whole view of themselves. It can make them feel more important if they were feeling undervalued, and feel seen if they were feeling like they didn’t matter. Don’t underestimate how powerful this can be in someone’s life.

When we say “I love you” it takes the focus away from us and puts it on our spouse.

Anything in our relationships that help us to be a little less selfish and a little more other-focused is good. Even if it’s in a very small way, an “I love you” tells your spouse that you are thinking of him and that you are focused on something other than yourself.

Our words are powerful. They are not “only words.”

Perhaps some of the most powerful words are three very small, but meaningful ones: I love you.

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Sarah Markley

Sarah Markley speaks regularly for conferences, MOPs meetings and church groups. She also writes for (in)courage and A Deeper Story. Sarah has two daughters, a husband, a dog, and a cat, and lives in Southern California. You can find her on her blog, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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  1. I agree, words can have such a powerful effect, they can either build people up or break people down. This is a great push for me to use those 3 little words more often and with intention. One of my husband’s love languages is ‘words of affirmation’ and there is probably no better way to affirm him by honestly telling him how much I love and admire him. I shall start today!

  2. Love. Love. Love this post, Sarah.
    It’s sort of like giving thanks, in being that the heart begins to well up with joy the more often we give it- even in the hard things.
    I can imagine the more often we say I Love You, the more we open our hearts up to really feeling what we say…
    You are so right.

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  4. Sometimes my husband & I will get into a huge fight and we’ll stop speaking to each other. And I don’t feel I’ve done wrong so I cannot say I’m sorry.

    After a day or so, I’ll say to him “I still love you, you know.” And he says “I love you too, but” such & such, or whatever the problem is. This always gets us talking again, and in a much calmer way, and reminds us that no matter what we still always love each other.

    And then we’ll make up 🙂

  5. I know I get so giddy whenever I hear my husband tell me he loves me, whether in words or in an email or even a text.

  6. This is interesting to me. My former husband said, “I love you” all the time, even after the divorce. His words did not match his actions and so the words had little value. I’ve recently remarried and a similar dynamic was true in his first marriage. His former wife articulated love, but did not live it. So, while saying “I love you” is necessary and important in our relationship, demonstrating it or providing more detail is much more meaningful. I’m looking for ways to do that, everyday.

  7. I love that point about how “I love you” can be an apology. Last week my partner and I had a very rare fight and I was having trouble letting go of my anger and moving on. At one point he came to find me and just put his arms around me and said, “I love you,” even while I was all stiff and wouldn’t look at him. I thought it was very brave of him (I know I’m scary when I’m mad!) and it really helped me move past the anger so we could talk it out and resolve the issue.

  8. Mark Allman says:

    Words are powerful and we should treat them as such and use them to encourage and to build up. I think one positive comment to a person can change their whole day and be multiplied to others.

  9. I love this.
    Words are important, and expressing your love for someone is always worth it. I say it to my kids A LOT, but I probably don’t say it to my husband as often as I should. Just going to text him now…
    Thanks for the reminder.

  10. I have heard it said that the 3 most important words are I am sorry. But then again maybe we can only say those 3 words if we say the first 3

  11. great point!!

  12. Sarah, my man has a huge problem with saying or me needing to hear and be shown loving affection. He says that makes him look like (in nicer words) a wimp!! ?? He means this. He can down rite HURT my heart and everything when and how he puts it to me. We are trying to reconcile our Marriage,(married 17 years. Both in early 40s) been divorced 6 years. Back together off and one (twice) this past year. WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO AND SAY NOW? Ive explained the importance of LOVE expressed and needed. Long slow talks only gets me hated, harsh feelings and feeling of rejection or out of place for this NEED!! HELP PLEASE, ANY ONE!!!!! E-mail me.

    • 1 Peter 3 New International Version (NIV)

      3 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

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