Have you ever felt misunderstood by your partner? Sometimes it can feel like are speaking to a brick wall and like you speak completely different languages. “You never listen to me”, “You never tell me you love me!”, “I tell you all the time, you just don’t get it!”, “You don’t understand me!”
Relationships can be infused with misunderstandings. It’s tiring to not feel loved and understood and to argue all the time. Love is a basic human emotional need. We all want to feel loved, a need to sense that we belong and are wanted. In the early stages of a relationship it’s easy to feel love because we are in an emotional high caused by hormones. This is however temporary and at some point later on, when the reality of mundane everyday life sets in, some people feel that love is fading away. But what happened?
Love Requires Effort
Love is not something that we can take for granted. It takes effort. It is a choice to love someone and to express it. Imagine that you have a bank account for love. You can make deposits and withdrawals. When you express love in a way that you partner understands you make a deposit to their account. If you keep it in credit they will feel loved and appreciated but if you don’t, and the account goes into debit, they might feel empty and unloved. They might not have energy to give you love, then you might feel unloved and frustrated. When things go wrong ina relationship it is easy to blame the other person, but there are always more than one person in a relationship. It is important to recognise our own role and responsibility and the effect our own behaviour can have in the other person.
The Five Love Languages
Dr. Gary Chapman, after researching commonalities in his many years of marriage counselling, came to the conclusion that people express and receive love in five different ways. He called these “the five love languages”. The basic idea is that each person has a preferred way in which we understand love. We also have a preferred way in which we show love to another person. We can have multiple preferences but one or two might stand out as being stronger.
If you have an idea about what love language your partner understands best, you can learn to speak that language with them. Similarly, if you know what you prefer yourself you can express this to your partner and see if they can adopt it. This way, you can create a greater appreciation and better communication between you.
So what are these five languages that Dr. Gary Chapman identified?
Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation is the first love language. It’s about what we say and how we say things. Affirming words can be verbal compliments, verbal encouragement, kind words, and making humble requests instead of demands. It’s about letting go of harsh comments, unnecessary criticism, and demands.
Words of affirmation will meet a need to feel appreciated. Sometimes women especially have a tendency to not accept compliments. For some reason we think we are not worthy and dismiss them. If you receive a compliment, say “thank you” and acknowledge it! If your partner has words of affirmation as their main love language but you struggle to express yourself verbally, you can make a list of things that you can say. Think about what you appreciate in your partner, listen to other people who might be better at expressing themselves verbally and see what you can learn. It is not complicated, it can be things like:
- “Thank you for taking the waste out”
- “Would you mind cooking that fantastic curry you make this week?”
- “You look great in that dress”
- “I love you”
- “I think you should sign up for that course you were talking about, you would do really great”
You can be together 24/7 without having quality time of one person is in front of the computer and the other on the phone. Quality time is not being in the same place, it is giving your partner your undivided attention, and it is the second love language.
I remember sitting in an Italian restaurant in Gran Canaria earlier this year. At the table next to us sat an elderly couple. The man was browsing on his phone, and the woman was staring out in the air with a gazing look on her eyes. The whole dinner they sat like that until they left. I felt sorry for both of them but more so for the woman who was being completely ignored the whole time.
Quality time is when you do something together where you both are mentally present. The activity itself doesn’t matter, that is not the point, it is just a vehicle and facilitator. Quality time is also about quality conversation. About listening and empathising with your partner. Showing that you care about what they have to say. Dr. Gary Chapman states the following as essential attributes of a quality activity:
- at least one of you wants to do it,
- the other is willing to do it,
- both of you know why you are doing it—to express love by being together.
With Covid and social distancing, many couples have spent a lot more time together than they are used to. If we spend a lot of time together it doesn’t mean all of that time had to be quality time but it easily happens that none of it is. You can schedule designated time when you do something together. It can be as simple as switching off social media for a while and actually talking about something that interest your partner.
The other day I wrote a blog about Kinbaku, Japanese rope bondage. You might wonder what an earth that has to do with it but for me that is a way of spending quality time together as well as a way for me to get my need for physical touch affirmed. It may not be the activity that jumps into most people’s heads naturally, but quality time can be trying something new together that one or both of you are interested in.
Receiving gifts is the third love language. A gift is a symbol of thought and visual symbols of love. We tend to give gifts on birthdays and religious holidays but these are expected gifts. Unexpected gifts will be more meaningful to someone who has gifts as their primary love language. The thought is more important than the value and a gift can be made, bought or found.
If your partner’s primary love language is receiving gifts but it doesn’t come naturally to you, then think about what gifts they might have appreciated in the past, or ask friends or family members. You can keep notes when they express there might be something they like. Quality time can also be a kind of gift in that you gift your physical presence if this is important to your partner.
My husband always buys me flowers. I think it is a nice touch and it is such a simple thing to do. Sometimes I do it myself but it’s more rare. I have sometimes suggested it to others and they go “I am not that type, I would never buy flowers!”. But why not? What if your partner would actually like it? Do you know?
Acts of Service
Acts of service means that you do things to express your love for your partner. For example, I love to cook and I know that my husband appreciates the food I cook. I cook almost every day and I buy all the groceries. My husband on the other hand does the the washing up after I have cooked, and he does most of the cleaning of the house. I deeply appreciate this act of service and so we have these roles when it comes to housework.
One can look at it as a simple way of just distributing house work, but one can also look at it as a way of expressing love and appreciation for each other. Other examples of acts of service can be: washing the car, dropping the kids off at school, mowing the lawn. Maybe there are things you can think of that are not household chores that are relevant acts of service in your relationship? If both of you dislike housework, maybe you could hire someone in to do it as an act of service to both of you and you could then focus on quality time instead if that is important to you?
Physical contact is important for most of us. If your partner’s primary love language is touch, it will be of even more importance to them. However, everyone does not have the same preference when ot comes to touch. Therefore it is important to communicate and understand how and when your partner likes to be touched if it is their primary love language.
Touch can be just quick in-the-moment of passing someone, like putting hand on one’s shoulder or back, or it can be more intent and requiring more attention, like a massage, kissing, or sex. It can be holding hands when you are out walking, sitting close together on the sofa, hugging when you leave and come back home. It can be about your preferences for how to have sex and be intimate. Don’t assume you know, find out what your partner likes! If sex is important to you, check my blog on how to talk about sex here.
Knowing your Love Language(s)
Having read this you might know instantly what your preferred love language is or you might not. Do you know what that of your partner is? You can discuss this together and see if you should make changes for how you communicate with each other and express love. Questions you can ask yourself to find your primary love language are:
- What have I most often requested of my partner?
- What do I typically do or say to express love to my partner? (The way you request love could be the way you prefer to receive love.)
- What does your partner do or fail to do that hurts you most? (The opposite of that may be your love language.)
- if I could have the ideal partner, what would they be like? What would they do for you?
You can also take a short online test to find out what your primary love language is. One is available here.
If you find this interesting you can read the book “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. It is an easy read and very accessible. You may need to see through some religious bias depending on your religious views but off you can do that I am sure you will find it useful.