THE BLOG
05/06/2013 03:39 pm ET Updated Jul 06, 2013

What Do You Mean When You Say 'I Love You'?

The English language is very limited when it comes to words having to do with love -- we only have the one word. As my daughter, Sheryl Paul, wrote in "96 Words for Love," many other languages have many more words for love. For example, Sanskrit has 96 words for different kinds of love.

Having only one word can present a problem when it comes to understanding what someone is saying when they say "I love you." Let's look at some of the things you might mean when you say "I love you."

Non-Romantic Love

Universal Love

When I say "I love you" to someone with whom I'm not in a close relationship, what I mean is that I love them in a universal way -- the way I love everyone. In my heart, I love everyone in the sense that I truly want everyone's highest good. I want everyone to flourish and have joy in their lives. I feel love in my heart for them and their journey toward their wholeness. They are not necessarily important to me in a personal sense, but they are important to me in a universal sense.

Friendship Love

When I say "I love you" to a friend, I am saying, "You are personally important to me. I value you in my life and I am here for you. I think about you and I pray for your highest good. I always want the very best for you."

Parental Love

When I say "I love you" to my children and grandchildren, I am saying, from the deepest part of my heart, "I cherish you with my whole heart and soul. You are a miracle to me. I will do anything to support your happiness, health and well-being. I will be here for you in whatever way I can until the day I die. You are more important to me than life itself. I feel joy for your joy and pain for your pain. You have a permanent place in my heart that no one else will ever fill, for you are uniquely you and I'm so blessed that you are my child or grandchild." For me, this is a deeply profound love, and very unlike romantic love.

Romantic Love

Romantic love is the love that most often gets muddied or confusing. When you say "I love you" to a lover or romantic partner, what do you mean?

Love Expressed From a Full Heart -- Love Expressed to Give

When you feel full of love in your heart -- because you are connected with yourself and your inner source of love -- your expression of love is pure. You are saying "I love you" to your lover or partner as a true gift, with no agenda or expectations attached.

Do you remember a time when you welled up with love for a lover or partner? A time when your heart felt so full of love you thought it would burst? When your heart is full of love, the expression of love for your beloved is clean and spontaneous, and it feels great to just express it. In fact, you just have to express it and it feels deeply joyous to do so.

When you give this love to a partner, you are giving them a great gift. You are saying: "I want to be on this life journey with you. You are deeply connected with my soul. I love who you are in your essence. I want to share all of me with you and I want to know all of you. Let's learn and grow and play together, and let's be here for each other through all the challenges in life. I open my heart fully to you."

Love Expressed from an Empty Heart -- Love Expressed to Get

Here is where the expression of love toward a lover or partner can be manipulative -- to get love rather than to give the gift of love.

Saying "I love you" when you are feeling empty inside means that your expression of love is coming from neediness, and therefore isn't love. There is a big difference between love and neediness.

This expression of "love" is to get something, such as sex, attention, approval, money or time with the person. Because the words sound loving but the energy behind them feels empty, needy and pulling, things can get confusing.

"He said he loves me but it doesn't feel like he loves me."
"She emails me that she loves me but doesn't act loving when we are together."
"I cringe when he says he loves me, because he only says that when he wants sex."
"Why does she say she loves me and is then often angry at me? It doesn't feel like love at all."

Can you see the confusion that can occur when you say "I love you" but your heart is not filled with love? You are not really saying "I love you." Instead, you are really saying, "I need you. I need you to love me to feel that I am okay. I need you to have sex with me to know that I am okay. I need your attention and approval to feel that I am okay."

Obviously, this isn't love, but it can get confusing when we couple it with "I love you."

Since we have only one word for love, for relationships to be clear and connected, it's very helpful to be clear on what you mean when you say "I love you."

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

Connect with Margaret on Facebook: Inner Bonding, and Facebook: SelfQuest.

For more by Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.

For more on love, click here.

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