If you really love somebody, saying 'I love you' isn't the best way to show it.

The funny thing about love is that it is often described as the most powerful emotion in the world.

The surge of love when your child is born.

The trepidation and joy when your partner says they love you for the first time.

The overwhelming love of a best friend, sister or brother, grandparent.

It is intense and terrifying and wonderful and incomparable.

Yet, despite these truths, love also has a funny way of falling into monotony.

Our honeymoon stage ends, our baby’s nappy needs to be changed and it’s a miracle our partner remembered bread and milk on the way home from work.

Love is almost a routine.

Despite many people worrying about falling into this ordinariness of love, new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships has found that it is the small acts of affection that count.

Asking almost 500 Americans, researchers were able to rank some of the acts that people felt most loved by.

And, in something pretty surprising, saying ‘I love you’ was fourth on the list.


Above those words, the most loving act was someone showing compassion towards them in a difficult time, followed by a child snuggling up to them.

Then at third, again above the words of ‘I love you’, people felt more loved by a pet happy to see them.


Speaking to Health Day, the study author, Saeideh Heshmati, said that it was interesting to see some of the most loving actions to be ‘non-romantic’.

“Our results show that people do agree, and the top scenarios that came back weren’t necessarily romantic,” Heshamti said.

“We found that behavioural actions — rather than purely verbal expressions — triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, ‘I love you.'”

Listen to Bec Sparrow and Robin Bailey on their ‘love languages’. (Post continues after audio.)

Importantly, ‘over the top actions’ (I’m thinking every single date on The Bachelor/Bachelorette) ranked lower for people.

“Our results show that people do agree, and the top scenarios that came back weren’t necessarily romantic.”



Heshmati said that considering all this research, authenticity was the key.

So, when falling into the rut of a relationship, saying ‘I love you’ may not come across as sincere to your partner, compared to you listening to a recount of their really crappy day at work.


The same is true for massive romantic celebrations; if they don't feel it's real, people aren't going to love it.

Describing the least loving actions, it's no surprise that the respondents said controlling actions like knowing where somebody was or what they were doing.

Researchers explained how the negative reactions to these possessive behaviours manifested in a couple of different ways. Firstly, it was considered whether being controlled could be interpreted by a person as insecurity, therefore not living.

Secondly, researchers also took into account the negative connotations Western culture has on being controlled, compared to others worldwide.

"In American culture, it seems that controlling or possessive behaviors are the ones people do not feel loved by," Heshmati said.

"If someone wants to know where you are at all times, or acts controlling, those actions are not loving to us."

Worse, controlling behaviour can be a sign of emotional abuse. It's important to understand the signals. For more information, click here.