There’s nothing wrong with saying “I love you.”
But as Lesli Doares — marriage coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage — explains, “one of the challenges to ‘I love you’ is that it doesn’t always mean the same thing to the two of you.” Whispering other more specific sweet nothings, “shows that you are paying attention to your spouse and what they’re doing,” she says.
So, here are 5 such sentiments you can start saying—stat.
1. “Thank you.”
Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman says, “Gratitude is something we all need and seek from our partners.” By saying thank you she says, “we demonstrate that we recognize our spouses’ contributions and value what they bring to our life and to the relationship. It also offers positive reinforcement that leads to a partner making a continued effort because what they do is recognized and appreciated.”
2. “I appreciate what you do for us.”
Consider this phrase the close cousin of thank you.
“This is another way we tell our partner that we value them and that their contributions make a positive difference in our lives,” Coleman says. “These affirmations are what fuel happy relationships. They keep us going through the hard times and help us stay strong as individuals and as partners. They also strengthen our bond and lead to an even greater desire for closeness and intimacy.”
3. “I’ve got your back.”
Says Coleman, “Everyone needs a little reassurance—especially during the tough times that marriages face.” That can be especially true when our partners let us down.
“When a partner screws up, this reassurance can go a long way to help them move forward in a positive direction, knowing that your feelings haven’t changed and that they continue to have your love and support,” Coleman explains.
4. “You’re just right—just the way you are.”
In your wedding vows, you offered your spouse unconditional love. And when you say these words “you’re offering that unconditional love,” says Coleman—which is essential in intimate relationships. Without it, we’re just one screw up away from a partner not feeling the same way about us, seeing us in a negative light, losing respect for us, or seeking someone else who has more to offer.”
5. “I care about your feelings and needs and value what you have to say.”
Says Coleman, “It’s essential that people feel heard by their intimate partner.”
And while we don’t always have to agree with our spouses, “fully listening and accepting them is still possible and essential when two people are struggling with an issue that they have very different feelings about or proposed solutions to,” Coleman explains. “This is an important first step to compromise and finding win-win solutions—which are the only ones that work.”