Despite the common stereotypes of women being overly emotional or men being hesitant to express their feelings, research suggests that men say “I love you” first in relationships. A new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that this pattern is found across countries, not just the United States.
Expressing feelings in romantic relationships is very important. Acts and expressions of affection enhance commitment and lead to healthier and more stable long-term romantic relationships. Despite the benefits, many people get nervous when saying “I love you” for the first time. Research shows that saying “I love you” signals commitment to your romantic partner. Previous research showed there was a “male confession bias” in the United States, and this study seeks to see if it is applicable globally.
Researcher Christopher D. Watkins and his colleagues gathered a total of 1,428 participants from seven different countries on three different continents to complete this study. Participants were asked to fill out demographic questions, as well as measures on attachment styles and love confession. The love confession measure asked them to speak about their experiences with saying “I love you” in a previous or current relationship and was used to create the “male confession bias” variable used in this study.
Results showed that men said “I love you” first in relationships, but that more women than men reported that the man confessed his love first. This may be a memory error and has been shown in previous research as well. Six out of the seven countries surveyed showed this same pattern, with France being the only one without significant sex differences.
Men and women showed no significant differences on when in the relationship they first thought about saying they loved their partner, how many days into the relationship it was said, or happiness at hearing “I love you.” This suggests that while men may be first to say they love their partner, women are usually on the same page emotionally. Results also suggested that males were more likely to say “I love you” first if they live in a country with more women than men and that avoidantly-attached partners are less happy to hear confessions of love.
“We know that romantic love and passion are cultural universals, and both feeling and expressing love is important in a good quality relationship. At the same time, people differ, but in a predictable way, in their proclivity toward romantic love, which would partly be expressed by speech acts such as saying ‘I love you,’” Watkins said in a news release.
“Across the cultures we surveyed, our research suggests that men tend to say I love you before women, and both men and women are less happy to hear ‘I love you’ if they tend to avoid romantic intimacy or closeness. This develops prior research, which observed the same ‘male confession bias’ when studying just one country—the U.S.”
This study sought to measure if male confession bias existed more broadly than just the United States. Though this research shows that that phenomenon is generalizable to many countries, the authors did not include anywhere in Asia or Africa, which is a limitation. Future research could focus on if countries that have more of a collectivist or community-based nature may show different patterns on confessions of love.
The study, “Men say “I love you” before women do: Robust across several countries“, was authored by Christopher D. Watkins, Jeanne Bovet, Ana Maria Fernandez, Juan David Leongómez, Agnieszka Żelaźniewicz, Marco Antônio Corrêa Varella, and Danielle Wagstaff.