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Alexander has been contributing for THS for over a year! While he attained a major in communications at SFU, he also recieved a minor in Psychology. Despite those accomplishments, Alex has also never had a full cup of coffee (crazy right?!). Alex is a lifelong sports fan and will defend his Seattle Seahawks to the death, especially if faced against a 49er fan. While Alex's long-term goal is to become a marriage counsellor, he also has a strong passion towards writing that he looks forward to exploring.

The Evolution of Love and the Phrase ‘I Love You’ Over Time

Image Credit: Holly Boers

Image Credit: Holly Boers

Butterflies encompassed my entire core the first time I uttered the phrase “I love you” to my partner. Holy smokes I thought, these are the words! I stammered and hummed and hawed my way through my speech, but ultimately looked at my dear partner and simply stated “I love you”. Boy, was that fun to say—she said it back!

How on Earth could you believe your luck, I thought. There would never be three words that I could ever say that could bring up so much joy, and I believed I would utter these words every single day that I was with my partner. Yet, as a new study by YouGov reveals, those ever loving words tend to decrease as your relationship progresses through the years together. Similarly that feeling of chest-pounding and butterfly feeling that had once intimidated me, also tends to decrease as your relationship becomes more serious. It is important to look at the research conducted and in doing so, gain insight on the evolution of love in a relationship. Both seeing how love transforms and gets stronger but also the potential negative ramifications if your relationship progresses to a level in which you take your partner for granted.

How fun are relationships at the beginning? Everything is new and exciting, and it’s hard not to want to just soak up your partner. Now whether you are Ted Mosby and dropping the “love you” bomb from the start or you’re more aloof, that original butterfly is one of the best ones out there! In fact, if your relationship is ever to progress to a deeper and more committed level, then you more likely than not to have started out in the ‘butterfly’ stage. In terms of how prevalent this feeling was, YouGov looked at relationships ranging from 0-12 months, up to 50+ years and looked at how this feeling evolved.  While couples in their first year had over 30% express being head over heels, that number continues to drop until hitting around 11% after 5-10 years and continues a steady decline.

Oh my God, does that mean love and romance is dead? No! What that does mean is that it is very easy to have relationship blinders when a relationship first starts out. Every song on the radio is about you, and even the rain was just meant to act as a backdrop to your romantic kiss (aka, The Notebook). What are some benefits of the ‘butterfly stage’? You may do some really weird things (sure, lets take the recycling in as a team!) just to spend time with them. You’re open about your feelings and you get a super cute text, with maybe even a smiley face if you’re having a real good moment. You may start realizing your partner is not perfect (…and if you didn’t, spoilers!) but in the process you start building a level of trust and care with your partner that sets the foundation for the rest of the relationship.

What is next you ask? Well if you’re not “butterflying” all over the place (totally a phrase), then you may still state that YouGov has found that you would describe yourself as ‘definitely’ being in love. This number hovers around 50% for the duration of a relationship, only increasing slightly towards the 40-50 year mark. This feeling of love can remain consistent throughout the remainder of your relationship (be it 2 years, or 50). You won’t love everything about your partner, and you may notice a decrease in other areas but the areas you miss from the butterfly, should be—while a bit disappointing to some—normal. Robert Sternberg is a professor at Cornell university, focusing on interpersonal relationships and helped develop the “triangular theory of love”. Sternberg’s theory  describes how overtime a relationship moves from that butterfly stage to what was known as a ‘companionate love’ . While passion may decrease, companionate love is built off of commitment as well as having a deep level of emotional intimacy. These qualities while so important to develop cannot be rushed into a relationship. I may love my (imaginary) girlfriend of 1 month, but that does not mean we would have the experience with emotional intimacy that helps sustain the longer relationships during tough times.

YouGov was not only interested in how this feeling of love changes over time. but also if there was a correlation to the frequency of the phrase ‘I love you’. They found that at around 2.5 years, at least 50% of couples state ‘I love you’ on a daily basis. This number proceeds to drop to 18% once your relationship hits 50+ years.  The reasoning behind this centers on the idea that after a few years, your partner knows they love you and therefore it won’t be as necessary to say it every day. For some, they show love through their actions. It is also interesting that the frequency of saying ‘I love you’ tends to increase once the couple is retired/towards the later stages in life. This could very well be that without the stress that comes with a career and everyday life, that these relationships are able to spend more time reflecting on the love and life they had built together. But Alex you say, saying I love you is a staple of any solid rom-com! Yet in real life, for some couples, rubbing their back and not teasing your partner during a hangover could be the biggest act of love you do all week.

That being said every partner is different and may have different emotional needs to be met. On a personal level, even if I knew my partner loves me, to be able to look them in the eyes and say those words and hear them back on a daily basis helps to validate the whole relationship. It means that while I may have my screw ups, on this day I know she loves me because she told me as well as showed me. Combining your words with your actions is is the easiest way to make sure you do not take your partner for granted which if done, can be incredibly damaging.

Leon Seltzer has a Ph.D in the ‘evolution of the self’, and in 2013 went onto discuss the ramifications of taking your partner for granted. When your ‘core relational [and] intimacy needs [are] met almost automatically’ you may start to forget how that partner enriches your life. If one of your partners does not view ‘I love you’ as important, but you do, it can also lead to a remarkable hit to one’s self-esteem. As relationships progress it may be natural to start feeling safer and more comfortable, but that does not mean it is time to stop caring or taking the relationship for granted. It is interesting to point out that YouGov did have close to 30% of couples state their love was more ‘practical’ than anything else by the 20-30 year mark. While practical love may seem logical, especially after so much time together, you must also make an active effort to show how much you love your partner. It may just be instead of taking her out for dinner, you take out the trash without her asking but hey, that’s still love. People need to know that their actions are “truly meaningful-valued and even treasured” and saying I love you is a great way to help solidify your actions. It is a constant active effort to make sure your partner knows that you love them every single day just a little bit more. The words are not as important as the act but it is also far too easy to  forget both these aspects and become complacent especially as the relationship continues to progress.

So what is love? For some it is a catchy song (don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more?) , for some it might be a familiar feeling or to others a foreign feeling. But even if you do not have that partner today, the knowledge of how a relationship may progress as shown by YouGov can still hold significant value. Love is an ever evolving force and it needs to be able to change and adapt as your life progresses. It’s amazing to feel that butterfly stage, but it is even better to be able to lie there and say beside me is a partner who has been through everything with me, and that feeling is not invalidated by not saying I love you everyday, but it still does not hurt to hear.

The best relationship advice I ever got was to put love into everything you do with your partner.  Never stop putting in that effort, and be excited to see how your love will transform over time.

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