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The Secret Ways You Say "I Love You"

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Where Do Codes Come From? continued...

No couple sits down and makes a point of figuring out a covert phrase or signal to share; rather, "The meaning of a code evolves over time," Boxer notes. "The more we get to know each other, the more we understand how the other person thinks."

Usually, codes are created at random, as was the case for Andrea Nemeth, 36, and her husband, Vadim Shleyfman, of Caldwell, NJ. "When we wave our hands in a shooting motion like a gun, we mean, 'I love you,'" Andrea says. Its origin? She can't remember! "We created it in some goofy moment," she says, and they now use it often.

What Code Can Do for Your Love

Having your own shorthand is a time-saver, for sure. But your catchphrases and nonverbal cues can also help you put hard-to-express emotions into words, find a comfortable way to ask for sex, even say, "Why are we fighting, anyway?" Some of the surprising benefits of your secret language:

Code keeps "I love you" from being one-size-fits-all.

When Anna Colombo, 37, met her man, she knew right away they were meant to be together. "Yet saying 'I love you' was not my thing," says this native of Italy who now lives in Salt Lake City. "So one day I told him, 'You're my home.'" More than 10 years of marriage and two kids later, the pair say these three magical words all the time. And their pet phrase has new relevance, she adds, "since we left Italy and our families and friends to move here."

So why not just say "I love you"? "Code is extra-intimate, because it says that you and I have been through this thing that nobody else has," says Tessina. "It's absolutely specific to you two." And if you're not a Hallmark kind of couple, it also lets you personalize the tone of your "I love you," as Shannon and Daniel McCauley of Philadelphia do. "I often call him 'a half-witted, stuck-up, scruffy-looking nerfherder,' to which he replies, 'Who's scruffy-looking?' - in perfect Han Solo timing," says Shannon, 32. "We also sign every email with 'I.M.S.' It stands for 'Implied Mushy Stuff.'"

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