It’s easy for those words to become routine, which is why these unexpected phrases are so valuable. And often, they’re more poignant than your basic “<3” text.

By Anna Davies

In her book Committed, author Elizabeth Gilbert mentions that her husband dropped this sentence when both were getting testy as a reminder to be cautious about impending insults. Ellen Kenner, Ph.D., a relationship therapist and coauthor of The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love With Passion and Reason, says that it’s a smart strategy. “Having a phrase that slows you both down can prevent arguments from escalating.”  


This phrase can be maddening—after all, you’re not weeping because it’s fun—but experts agree it’s actually based in love. “A man wants to do something to help, and hates seeing that you’re upset,” says David Simonsen, Ph.D., a Seattle-based licensed marriage and family therapist. “Letting him know that it’s enough to just be there and allow you to vent takes away the pressure to make it better.” 


“My wife came up with this—it’s the first letters of the phrase ‘Oh for a muse of fire,’ which is how the Shakespeare play Henry V begins,” says Ethan S., 31, of Summit, NJ. “Now we both say it as shorthand for ‘seize the day.’” Kenner approves of code words between couples, precisely because they serve as a reminder of the bond you share. “Coming up with an inside joke or word makes it clear that you’re on the same team,” he says. 


Elizabeth Gilbert uses this word, which means “Let’s cross over” in Italian, at the end of Eat, Pray, Loveto describe her decision to finally commit to the boyfriend she met in Bali. And it’s yet another great reason to sign up for a foreign language class. Not only does speaking in another language always sound s_xy, but coming up with “your” relationship-describing word—especially if it doesn’t have a clear equivalent in English—gives you even more tools for describing how you feel about one another. 


Carrie Bradshaw was in her 30s onS@x and the City, but Mr. Big’s nickname of choice made clear how much he cared for her. According to Kenner, nicknames have this effect—again, because no one uses it except you and your guy. Just remember, the key to a successful nickname is making sure it’s one you and your husband both like. Hearing it should send shivers down your spine in a good way, not a fingernails-on-a-chalkboard way.


In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel and Augustus whisper this word to one other to remind themselves that their love will transcend death. It’s short, romantic, and gets to the point, so try it in lieu of your normal “I love you” and see what happens—you and your husband may start a tradition of your own. 


For Kevin T. of Hoboken, NJ, this phrase has become a running joke—with a positive message. “My wife had been bugging me for months to try quinoa,” he says. “When I finally did, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Now I use the phrase to show that I did something she wanted me to do, like bring an umbrella on a rainy day or finally tackle some project. Basically, it means you know best.” And while it may sound like your husband is looking for congratulations when he mentions something so random, he’s really trying to show you that he does listen and take what you say to heart, says Simonsen.


On 30 Rock, Liz Lemon’s adorably broke boyfriend Criss Chros decides that, on Valentine’s Day, Liz needs a proper table so they can have a romantic dinner at home. Things don’t go as planned, but the sentiment is actually sweet. “Men want to provide for women, and doing something he thinks you’ll need or like is a way to show that he wants to take care of you,” says Simonsen. Whether it’s cleaning the garage, getting started on dinner or, yes, buying furniture that you then have to assemble, your husband is attempting to do his part in making you happy.


Scott B., 34, of Seattle, loves his mother-in-law, but he primarily calls her because he knows how happy it makes his wife. “When I get closer to her family, I know I’m getting closer to her,” he says. And experts agree that this is definitelya sign of love, as is retweeting your brother’s weird joke, hearting your sister’s Instagram vacation photos, or bringing up your best friend’s name in conversation. “He’s showing that he loves all of you and everything you bring to the table,” says Kenner.


Nicholas Sparks corners the market on romantic phrases, and this one shared by Noah and Allie inThe Notebook takes the cake. Playful, fun comments that spontaneously occur when you’re having a good time can be extremely helpful in times of conflict. “When I work with disagreeing couples, I have them think of a memory when they felt truly in love and distill it down to a phrase,” says Kenner. “Sometimes they won’t tell me what it is, but their whole body language changes. Their eyes soften, they turn toward one other. They may still disagree, but they have an easier time seeing one another as the person they fell in love with.” Lesson: The next time you and your guy have your own “bird” moment, commit it to memory and keep it in your back pocket for when issues arise down the line.