Mariska Hargitay on If Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler Will Ever Be a Couple: She 'Loves Him'

"These two people love each other," Mariska Hargitay tells PEOPLE of her and Christopher Meloni's Law & Order characters, commenting on their potential romance

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Captain Olivia Benson
Christopher Meloni as Detective Elliot Stabler, Mariska Hargitay as Captain Olivia Benson. Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Mariska Hargitay is getting real about her Law & Order onscreen romance.

The Golden Globe winner, 58, tells PEOPLE that the show is "taking it one step at a time" in regards to her character Olivia Benson's evolving relationship with former partner and longtime friend Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni).

"It's such a complicated relationship that I think we just want to respect the complexity and the nuance of it," she says.

Hargitay has starred in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Detective Benson since it premiered in 1999. Meloni, 60, played her partner Detective Stabler until leaving the show in 2011. He returned to the franchise last year with his own spin-off series Law & Order: Organized Crime.

"These two people love each other, they have been family to each other but he just lost his wife and no matter how she feels about him, the most important thing for him is to grieve his wife, heal from that," Hargitay explains. "And he's in a new job and he's sort of unbalanced ... But what we do know is that Olivia loves him, will always love him, will always be there and they have a bond like no other."

Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni
Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

When imagining what their first date would look like, Hargitay says it would have to be "really easygoing," as their characters "couldn't handle a lot of pressure."

"It's a lot of pressure. I don't even know the answer to that. It makes me nervous just thinking about it," Hargitay says, adding: "Let's just go out to dinner, let's start there."

Meloni has also considered the fictional relationship. "In the future, I don't not see it," he tells PEOPLE, adding: "That might be very satisfying for a lot of people, I'll leave it at that."

Meloni explains, "I just think that it really has to be a natural aspect of Elliot's back and in town and especially how he left and their radio silence over all these years, you have to answer these questions and figure out how they inhabit the same space."

RELATED VIDEO: Friendship Goals! Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni on Their "Effortless, Easy, Fun" Relationship

The pair has teased fans with their onscreen chemistry since they reunited last year, even sharing some steamy behind-the-scenes photos.

Meloni and Hargitay previously opened up to PEOPLE about their onscreen chemistry and reuniting in front of the camera for the crossover event that also brought Meloni back to SVU for several episodes. "It was Pavlovian: Ring that bell, and you get right into Stabler and Benson," he said last February.

"There was so much shorthand between us, which all goes back to the trust we have," Hargitay mused. "He's always made me feel like I could just jump off the ledge, the cliff, the bridge, and he would catch me, in so many ways, whether it was comedy or acting or friendship."

Meloni added: "It's simple. We have each other's back."

Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime air Thursdays on NBC.

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