8 Things To Say When You're Not Ready To Say "I Love You"

Because we all can't say "I really really really like you" as cute as Tom Hanks.

Every couple moves at their own pace. Some wait a few months, others a few years before saying "I love you." 

There's no right or wrong time to say it, so long as you're ready. Maybe you're not (and there's nothing wrong with that), but we all can't pull off saying "I really (really really really) like you" as adorably as Carly Rae Jepsen... or Tom Hanks. 

Here are eight phrases to help you test the waters before taking the "I love you" plunge: 

1. "I feel happier now that you’re in my life."

When to say it: The honeymoon phase.

Why it works: By emphasizing your feelings, this phrase becomes an entree into a more intimate and significant conversation. Psychologist and relationship expert Dr. Monica O'Neal says, "It's a way to change the tenor of the way you speak about one another. It can open up a deeper conversation about how you feel about each other, and if you're important to each other." 

Perhaps most importantly, she adds, "You'll find out if that person's feelings matches with yours or not."

From there, your conversation can continue in "a more significant feeling state" which O'Neal says will eventually lead to love. "To actually take the risk to talk about how you feel with someone and how they have an impact on you," she says, "that's how you get a little deeper into love." 

What are those feelings? I don't know, but we share 'em! Right? 

2. "I'm in like with you — and excited about it!"

When to say it: You've been dating your S.O. long enough that you feel secure picturing a future together. 

Why it works:According to Andrea Syrtash, relationship expert and author of "He's Just Not Your Type (And That's a Good Thing)," falling in like with someone is an essential step towards love. "We focus so much on love," she says, "[but] love often takes time and experience to build with someone." 

Instead, she encourages couples to express their excitement about where the relationship is headed. By using the above phrase, you're telling your S.O. "that you do believe love is possible [while still] being honest about where you are now."

3. "You make me feel incredible."

When to say it: You want to take things slow, but still want your partner to feel appreciated. 

Why it works: When you acknowledge the positive effect your S.O. has had on your view of yourself, you're expressing how thankful you are for the unique bond you share. Unlike traditional compliments, this phrase shows you've taken the time to reflect on yourself and your partner as a team, rather than individuals that happen to be dating. 

You're also telling them that their positive qualities have made you the best version of yourself. Many relationship experts agree that you can't love someone else until you love yourself so finding someone who shows you why you're deserving of self-love is an essential step to falling in love.

4. “Your loving words are so very special to me.”

When to say it:Your S.O. says "I love you," but you're not ready to say it back. 

Why it works: Dr. Karen Ruskin, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and author of "Dr. Karen's Marriage Manual," says it's important to reiterate "love" in the adjective form of "loving" if you're not yet ready to say the verb version. By using your partner's word in your response, she says, "They feel like their voice is heard and their message received." When you follow it with "very special to me," she adds, "That shows that what they've said has meaning to you and that you must really want to be with them." 

In this particular scenario, however, words may not be enough. Ruskin believes it's necessary to utilize the three key senses: sight, sound and touch when having an emotional discussion with your S.O. 

"It's not just about the words," she says, "It's about the overall experience the person has with you. There are no words that are going to be enough if someone says 'I love you,' and you just say words back. It can matter, but it won't provide for the meaning or significance of what you're trying to portray." 

5. "I really care deeply about you."

When to say it: You've said "I like you" so much it doesn't really mean anything anymore.

Why it works: You can show your S.O. you care about them in many ways, but there's only one way they'll know for sure — telling them. 

"Well, first of all, it conveys you took the time to say that with some reverence instead of some throwaway comment," O'Neal explains.

When there's nothing more to be gained by saying "I like you" again, this phrase's power is its ability to create a "more connected moment" between you and your partner where you can "tap into a deeper emotional state." Once you're in that state, you and your partner can discuss openly and honestly your feelings for one another, as well as your hopes for the future of your relationship. 

6. “The depth of what I feel for you is tremendous. I’m loving where we're going.”

When to say it: You're this close to saying it, but still want to test the waters.

Why it works:Ruskin explains that saying "I'm loving where we're going" instead of "I love you" opens up a door to talk honestly about where you both are in the relationship. "Now you've expressed that you feel deeply, so this allows the other person an opportunity to say 'I'm loving where this is going too,'" she says. "You're touching your toe in territory to see their response, but you're putting something out that's safe." 

The next step, she advises, is to use her four-ingredient "recipe" (words, tone, body language and touch) to observe your partner's response. "You'll feel more confident in knowing where they stand," she says, "Or maybe you'll come to discover they're not where you are. It's sometimes hard to discover that truth, but it's better to know than not to know." 

Contrary to exclaiming "I love you!," which i  simply a declaration, not a conversation starter, Ruskin encourages couples to use this phrase as a jumping-off point. She says, "If the person responds in a closed-up kind of way, you can ask, 'Is that too much for you? Where are you at?' So you've opened up a dialogue opportunity." 

Where that dialogue leads is entirely up to you. 

7. “I am falling so deeply for you."

When to say it: You feel ready enough to say everything... except the "L" word itself.  

Why it works:While the usual phrase requires the addition of "in love," Ruskin says that by purposefully omitting the "L" word, "you're showing you're on a journey." This phrase's ambiguity allows you to imply love is the direction in which you and your S.O. are headed without explicitly stating it. If your partner agrees, your shared expression gives you both a little wiggle room to get comfortable with the idea of "falling in love" before it actually happens. Whenever it does, you'll both feel more prepared to insert the "L" word into a phrase you've already exchanged with positive results. 

8. Nothing.

O'Neal cautions, "If you're spending too much time thinking that you don't want to say it and freak the other person out, then you should ask yourself what you're getting out of the relationship." She believes love is a gift that should be given away freely, not just if you think it'll be given back. 

If you're only willing to say I love you if they say it back, she adds, you may want to take some time and reassess your relationship. "There's a different level of safety when love is in the picture," she explains. "So saying 'I love you' shouldn't require so much work and fear. It should just come up in conversation." One way she suggests doing that is to say, "I don't think I realized but I think I'm in love with you." She says, "It's okay to introduce it as a state of something you're becoming aware of." 

And if after reading all these ways to postpone saying "I love you," you've realized you are, in fact, ready to jump into love, O'Neal has one last piece of advice: "Have a reflective moment about the relationship and just say it."