What are my expectations for this relationship?
“It’s important to know what you envision for this relationship, and what’s realistic given what you’ve experienced in your relationship thus far,” says Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure. “You want there to be a balance between the way you feel and your expectations. For example, if he’s exhibited that he’s a non-committal player, telling him you love him isn’t likely to help keep you in the game.”
What are his expectations for the relationship?
Take a moment to really think about where he’s coming from. “It’s a good idea to gauge his expectations so you can assess if you’re both on the same page,” says Levine. “If not, you can be in the middle of a romantic and passionate chapter and he may be on a different page, or perhaps nearing the end.”
Is he in a place where he can accept your love?
Your feelings may be intense but make sure you’re telling them to someone who is able to reciprocate. If he’s just gotten out of a relationship or you haven’t had the monogamy talk yet, he's probably not going to take your declaration of love very well.
“Your intuition can help you to determine if he is ready to accept your love,” says Stephanie Knarr, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Washington D.C. “Remember, to a man’s ears, love usually means commitment, so it’s a good idea to only declare your love if he is looking for a committed relationship.”
Do I really mean it?
“It’s important to be clear if it’s truly being expressed from your heart,” says Levine. So check in with yourself before you say those three little words. “Suss out if there are ulterior motives, like wanting to take your relationship to the next level so you can get closer to marriage, or something that’s definitely not healthy, like wanting to draw him in even if you know it’s not the best match.”
Do I say “I love you” way too easily?
If you say “I love you” to all your friends, your hair stylist or anybody you’ve known for five minutes, you need to understand that it’s not the same with someone you date. You want to be sure that he is your one special guy, not just some guy that you have a soft spot for.
“If you feel like you’re casually saying it without him holding a truly special place in your heart, he’ll likely see right through you and it won’t last,” says Levine.
How wrapped up in sex is this “I love you”?
Sex can make us feel very connected to a partner, but actually being in love is something bigger than a turn-on.
“If you really want to tell him how much you love him when you’re in a challenging situation or haven’t had a lovey-dovey week, your sentiments are likely real,” says Levine.
Have we both done things for each other that say I love you (without actually saying it)?
You know what they say: Actions speak louder than words. If this guy has already shown you how smitten he is, it’s a pretty safe bet that you will get an “I love you” back…should you decide to take it there.
“Respecting, supporting and taking care of each other are a big non-verbal ways to say ‘I love you,’” says Levine. “It could be something as simple as doing laundry or dishes, making a plan to go out to do something the other really enjoys or knowing exactly what to say and when that can communicate love.”
If this changes things between us—for better or worse—am I ready for that?
There’s no turning back once you’ve put your feelings out there, so make sure you’ve thought it through. “Saying ‘I love you’ can be a very courageous move, particularly since we don’t always know how the other person will react,” says Levine. “However, when you fiercely believe and utter these words, you live and speak your truth and that becomes more important than the outcome.”
Why haven’t I said it until now?
Was there something that happened recently that made you realize your true feelings for him?
“It’s good to base your declaration of love on more than just emotion and chemistry,” says Knarr. “Balance out your desire with a thoughtful evaluation of what love really means. Most men equate love with admiration and respect, so it’s good to think about whether he has the qualities you’re looking for in a man.”
Do my parents and friends like him?
We know—it’s nobody’s business but the two of yours. Guess what? Love doesn’t happen in a bubble. Once you put it out there, big changes may occur that will affect friends and family.
“After you take this leap forward, remember that it will be difficult to step back if your family members or friends do not think he is your match,” says Knarr. “If you are not sure how your loved ones feel about your new love interest, it’s a good idea to take a step back and find out!”
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.