Romantic love can feel pretty fantastic. There’s a reason why love features as a central topic in so many stories throughout the centuries of human history.
Still, love isn’t always wonderful. In real life, it’s often unpredictable, frustrating, even painful.
While it certainly can offer plenty of rewards, these benefits don’t generally come without some dedicated effort and willingness to accept some challenges as part of the process.
When you love someone, you choose to nurture the first stirrings of attraction, feeding those early feelings and strengthening them to weather stressors to come.
The work involved may not always feel easy. Yet many people find the reward — mutual, lasting love — well worth the investment.
People often say you’ll just know when someone loves you. There’s some truth to that, though it may not show up in the extravagant gestures you see in the media.
You can usually recognize real love by these 12 signs.
Safety is a cornerstone of loving relationships. A partner who loves you won’t physically hurt you or damage your possessions. They also won’t threaten or pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do, make decisions for you, or cut you off from your social support.
Feeling safe also means feeling free to make your own decisions and express yourself without fearing their response. When you share opinions and goals, you receive encouragement, not putdowns or criticism.
Everyone experiences annoyance and anger on occasion, but it’s possible to express anger in safe, healthy ways. A partner who loves you won’t threaten you or use anger to punish you or make you afraid.
If they do have an angry outburst, they might agree right away to get help — not just to improve for themselves, but also because they saw your fear and want to help you feel safe again.
A partner who loves you will take an active interest in the details of your life.
They’ll listen actively by asking questions and waiting their turn to share instead of immediately diverting the conversation toward their own experiences. You get the sense they really care, instead of feeling brushed off with a distracted “Uh huh” or “Wow, that sucks.”
While they may not hear or remember every word you say, they’ll generally have a pretty solid awareness of the things that matter most: your likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, friendships and family relationships, and so on.
In a healthy relationship, partners acknowledge the bad as well as the good. When you bring up concerns or relationship problem, they’ll consider your feelings instead of ignoring you or trying to minimize your distress.
No matter how much you and your partner share, you’re different people, so you won’t feel the same way about everything.
Someone who loves you will accept your individual ideas and feelings as part of who you are. They might engage in some respectful debate, but they’ll show interest in your perspective instead of insisting you take their side.
A loving partner may offer guidance and advice when asked, but they won’t try to control your choices or behavior. They also won’t withhold affection or criticize you until you agree with them.
Generally speaking, you’ll feel comfortable when agreeing to disagree.
Love requires open, honest communication. This doesn’t mean sharing every thought you have. Everyone has some private feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping these to yourself.
Your partner will probably do a thing or two that frustrates you over the course of your relationship, whether that’s snoring or getting so caught up in a TV show they forget to pick you up from work.
Sometimes, you might find it more productive to vent to a friend about these minor irritations instead of picking at every little annoyance.
Still, you probably can’t read each other’s minds, so to help your relationship thrive, you have to talk through the issues that really matter. A partner who loves you will acknowledge the need to communicate and show up, physically and mentally, when it’s time for a conversation.
Good communication might involve:
- discussing emotions
- identifying and addressing areas of conflict
- connecting through physical or emotional intimacy
- checking in about relationship boundaries
- tuning in to signals in body language
Communication doesn’t come easily to everyone. Instead of assuming a partner who has a hard time expressing thoughts and emotions doesn’t love you, look at their willingness to learn and practice better communication skills.
Certainly, partners should enjoy each other’s company. A loving partner, however, will also recognize you have a separate identity outside the relationship and support you when you want to spend time seeing friends or pursuing your own hobbies.
They’ll also maintain their own friendships and interests instead of looking to you to entertain them or fulfill all their social needs.
Your partner may not always agree with the way you spend your time. When you do something that worries them, like spending a lot of time with a toxic friend or drinking too much, they might express respectful concern: “I’ve noticed [X] isn’t very nice to you sometimes,” for example.
They might also set boundaries for themselves, such as, “I don’t want to hang out when you’re drunk.” Still, they won’t try to control your friends, your choices, or your behavior.
Trust often develops along with love, and you typically won’t find one without the other.
A partner who loves you will likely trust you, unless you betray them. They won’t question you when you see friends, follow you, or go through your phone or computer.
If they have no reason to believe you’ve been dishonest, they won’t accuse you of lying or cheating, or insist you go everywhere together.
Trust also means they feel safe enough to share opinions and emotions, open up about challenges they face, and ask for help.
This trust might not hold if you mislead, deceive, or betray them. Love often remains where trust has shattered, so you can sometimes rebuild this trust — but not without time, transparency, and hard work.
Attraction might happen in an instant, but lasting love requires more time and commitment.
It might seem romantic when someone immediately decides you’re “meant to be” or says “I think I love you” after just one day. But this sometimes suggests a controlling or manipulative personality, not true romance.
With so many people in the world, the idea of one-and-only instant love can seem pretty flimsy. Sure, soul mates could exist, but it’s important to recognize that love typically doesn’t happen in a flash.
Someone who truly cares will want to build your love from the ground and shore it up at the seams by:
- prioritizing time together
- expressing an interest in getting to know you
- being prepared to talk through disagreements or conflict
- agreeing to try new things together
- expressing their commitment to mutual growth as partners
Conflict doesn’t necessarily make a relationship unhealthy, but the way you handle it does make a difference.
An attitude of “my way or the highway” does not suggest a loving relationship. Someone who loves you won’t look at you with contempt, insist they’re in the right, or refuse to hear you out.
In healthy relationships, both partners work together to find solutions for areas that could improve, such as communication or intimacy. You might make a few sacrifices for the sake of your relationship, but you shouldn’t be the only one giving ground.
A partner who loves you will make sacrifices of their own to find a solution where you both feel satisfied.
Maybe neither one of you gets everything you hoped for, but meeting in the middle can leave you both content.
While no single person can meet all your needs, romantic partners do provide plenty of emotional support. Many people seek romantic relationships for just that reason.
A loving partner can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything for you, but they’ll still cheer your successes and have your back when you stumble. They’ll offer assistance when they can and ideas or helpful suggestions when they can’t.
If you’re struggling with something they can’t help with, such as mental health symptoms, serious financial stress, or a problem at work, they’ll encourage you to seek the right kind of support.
No matter what, you can count on them to offer compassion and a listening ear.
Loving relationships can’t thrive without respect.
A partner who respects you will show that they value you and your time together. They’ll also support your choices, even when they don’t agree.
Other signs of respect to look for include:
- clear, prompt communication
- polite and considerate language, even during arguments
- no pressure to set your boundaries aside
Maybe your partner doesn’t bring you lunch at work or surprise you with fancy gifts.
But they do hand you a cup of coffee every morning once you make it to the kitchen. They never forget your dates, and they smile whenever you walk into the room.
Love is most visible in the small moments of everyday life. Rather than sweeping you off your feet with lavish gestures, someone who loves you may simply offer a steady, caring presence in your life.
They show up for the bad as well as the good, making it clear you can count on their continued support.
These quieter expressions of affection may not thrill you in the way a very public performance of your favorite love song would, but they’re bound to last long after the last notes of said song have faded away.
Love doesn’t always mean “together forever.” It’s often possible to salvage a crumbling relationship when love is still present, but irreconcilable differences might mean you’re better off moving on to find someone who’s a better fit.
Say one of you wants children and the other doesn’t. Or perhaps you’ve always planned to settle down near your family on the East Coast, while they can’t imagine living anywhere but the Pacific Northwest.
Someone who truly loves you will let you go once it becomes clear your relationship has run its course.
Love isn’t all or nothing, and with time, romantic love may transform into lasting friendship. Even when you can’t maintain a friendship, it’s never wrong to cherish that lingering positive regard.
A loving partner will share your desire to strengthen your bonds and grow together.
Relationship skills don’t come easily to everyone, though, and some people need a little extra support with learning how to express feelings in healthy ways. Couples counseling can offer a great space to explore this together.
In therapy, you can practice good communication, explore goals for the future, and identify any areas of tension, so you can address them before they create problems down the line.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.