Not everyone says “I love you” all the time in a relationship — and even if they do, it can start to sound as perfunctory as “God bless you!” after a sneeze (a phrase said with good intentions, but often more polite than passionate). Worse, according to a study out of England, the habit of saying “I love you” at all diminishes rather dramatically over the years. Those in two- to five-year-old relationships are the most verbal about their feelings — more than half of them say “I love you” every day to their partners. But this plummets to 33 percent when looking at relationships that are over 10 years old, and the ratio drops even further to only 18 percent when relationships over 50 years old are examined.
But rather than despair, because — after over 30 years of marriage — this research indicates that my lifetime supply of I love yous may be dwindling, I decided to take a closer look at the daily interactions I have with my husband. And I was relieved to find that there are a myriad of secret ways that my husband expresses his devotion without a single word. As I began to list them in my head, I ended up with a dozen small things he does that, while they may not look like love to other people, mean just as much to me as those three little words:
1. He carries my suitcase upstairs for me without being asked. Note: I don’t pack light.
2. He lets me hold the shared umbrella even though everyone knows the person who wields the umbrella is the only one who actually stays dry. The other person will only get poked in the eye by a spoke, or have water dripping down his neck.
3. He charges my cell phone for me because he always wants to be able to reach me. I frequently abandon it out on counter tops and coffee tables, only to return later and find that he has rescued it, and plugged it in.
4. Even though he exercises every day to stay healthy, he does not point out my creeping extra pounds or say, “Do you really think you should?” when I reach for another cookie. (Even though I am asking myself that very same question as I chew.)
5. He has an eagle eye for a single seat that he can usher me to at an over-crowded Christmas Mass. He prefers to stand, and I prefer to believe this.
6. He hops out of the car to pump the gas on frigid days, even if I’m the one in the driver’s seat.
7. He laughs at all my jokes. (I’m sure this is easy for him, however, because I am convinced that I am very funny.)
8. He wordlessly fixes the kitchen disposal (yet again!) even when it’s clear it was my artichoke leaves that caused the problem.
9. He lets me warm my feet on him in bed. Lesser men would be afraid … very afraid. My feet make ice cubes feel like heating pads.
10. He gamely eats all the candies in the Valentine box that have been put back with little vampire bites taken out of them (yes, that was me, testing to see which little squares had caramel inside, and therefore, were worth eating fully).
11. He records The VOICE for me even though he hates reality TV shows. Luckily for him, I don’t also try to sing along.
12. He agrees — without gripe — to drive two hours away with me to take my mother out to lunch for her birthday, even though his favorite football team is in a playoff game that weekend. And he is a very loyal fan.
Sure, as we grow older together, it may be true that we say “I love you,” less often, but I don’t think it’s because our love or appreciation for one another is fading. In fact, my own little study proved to me just the opposite: As we rack up the anniversaries, we’ve become even more secure in the knowledge of our daily love, so that, while those three little words are always nice to hear (and I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to say them more often), we don’t need to say them out loud quite as much to reassure ourselves.