Have you ever been in a relationship where you feel you’re giving someone gallons of affection…and they don’t seem to realize or appreciate it? Or worse: they complain that you’re not showing them enough love? Before cursing your communication stars or complaining that your partner just doesn’t “get it” and you couldn’t be MORE loving, consider the following: maybe you’re just not speaking the same language (love-language, that is).
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book “The 5 Love Languages,” there are five main “languages” in which people can receive and express care. When people’s languages for showing love are not compatible with the languages in which their partners receive love, all parties involved can feel at a loss. So how can you avoid having this happen? The first step is to learn what the love languages are! Then, you’ll be ready to analyze and figure out which ones are yours and which ones are your partner’s. (Stay tuned for part II where I’ll talk about how to show your love in fruitful ways and how to keep a relationship love-steady.)
The Five Love Languages
This is perhaps one of the most well-known languages, one of the “oh, that’s obvious!” ones. It’s that attitude of “it’s obvious,” though, that can lead to miscommunication with partners; not everyone enjoys touch to the same degree! Touch can encompass a wide range of expressions, too, from sexual contact to a totally platonic holding of hands while walking down the street to grab dinner; it’s not just about the hot n’ heavy. Touch can also embody a wide range of emotions: concern, care, love, comfort, excitement, happiness, the list goes on. For people whose primary love language is touch, feeling physically/spatially distant from their partner can be torturous, as their connections thrive with proximity.
For folks who are into quality time, that usually means turning off all electronic devices and having their partner’s undivided attention. Chores, the day’s stresses, kids, friends, ringing telephones, dirty dishes–all of these should take a backseat for a while. Showing someone love in this fashion means making them feel special and taken care of, so make sure you eliminate all distractions and keep your attention focused on them. For that same reason, try your best to minimize the number of postponed dates or cancelled engagements with them, since those can be extra hurtful. Also, when having a conversation, no matter how trivial, it can feel distancing to have a partner constantly checking their email or texting, so please pocket your phone!
This is not about being materialistic, money-hungry, or obsessed with accumulating things! For folks who are into receiving gifts as a love language, the important thing is the thought behind the gift–the effort and attention to detail, rather than the fact that they’re getting an object. Perfect gifts show their receiver that the giver knows them, is listening, and cares for them. For these folks, hastily-thought-up gifts, missed anniversary presents, and things of that nature can feel pretty terrible.
Acts of Service
Easing the burden on someone can be a truly meaningful act of love, and for those whose primary love language is “acts of service,” it’s one of the most meaningful of all. For those folks, something as seemingly “trivial” as having their laundry taken care of, or their dishes cleaned, can mean the world. Like with the language of receiving gifts, it’s less about the actual object or thing being done/given, but the emotion behind it. While the burden being eased is a big draw, the fact that someone is taking the time to do them a favor is what really sets this person’s heart aflutter. For that same reason, being flaky, lazy, unpredictable, and irresponsible when it comes to fulfilling obligations or doing tasks can really hurt and irritate your partner.
Words of Affirmation
For folks who are into words of affirmation, compliments can be everything. Kind words that show you appreciate them, that you’re listening, that you validate their feelings…all of these can work wonders. For that same reason, be very mindful when critiquing your partner; watch your language carefully so you don’t unintentionally hurt their feelings. This should be a general rule, of course, but for people who know their partners are particularly sensitive to words, this should be an even higher priority.
Figuring Out Your Love Languages
For how you express love, start off by asking yourself a few questions:
How do I usually express my love to others? When I want to show someone how much I value them, what do I immediately try to do? Does it vary depending on the person? What factors go into how I express my love? Does it vary when I’m in public versus when I’m in private?
For how you receive love, ask yourself the following:
When I feel unloved, what do I feel is missing? When I’ve been feeling unappreciated in the past, what have people done to cheer me up? In bad relationships, what do I usually complain about? What things have people done for me that have made me feel really good and appreciated?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of how you usually express love and prefer to have love shown to you. Remember: they don’t have to be the same language (and they usually aren’t!).