Many of the conflicts couples face are rooted in the experience of not being valued, cared for, and loved. This leaves partners not feeling secure in their relationship. As loving as our actions may be, if our partner does not experience them us as such, overtime s/he will be –to use Gary Chapman’s language– left with an empty love tank. This is obviously not a good idea if we want a fulfilling and long-lasting relationship!
Dr. Chapman’s research claims that the five love languages he identified are universal and found in all cultures. Couples who know their partner’s love language and consciously fill their partner’s love tank, can bypass countless frustrating arguments or distancing patterns, which over time ravage relationships. As importantly, providing our partner the kind of love that will make him/her feel special and emotionally fulfilled will decrease the probability that s/he will want, or unconsciously be drawn to look outside of the relationship to get his/her needs met.
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So, we are left asking how can we identify our own, and our partner’s love language? Here are three ways that will help you do so
1) Do you express love to others in the same way you wish others expressed love to you? Do you uplift others, and especially your significant other with kind and positive words? (Words of Affirmations). Are you someone who always bring a little something to your girlfriend to make her feel special? (Gift Giver). Do you stop everything and totally engage with your beloved when he needs to talk? (Quality Time). Do you fill up his gas tank and pick up those things he said he needed at the store, just to make his life easier and lighten his load of daily chores? (Acts of Service). Or, do you give your partner the best and safest hugs which allow him to let go of the stress, and feel safe in your arms? (Physical Touch).
If you express love the way you wish your partner did towards you, and expect that in so doing he will “get it” and reciprocate, please do yourself and your relationship a favor; kindly and clearly communicate your needs and wants. Let him know what is meaningful to you –what your love language is– and what is not as much. As attuned to our partner as we may be at times, none of us is attuned all of the time; and none of us is a mind reader. Let’s be honest here, expressing your needs and wants might feel a bit vulnerable, but it will also help your couple bypass countless disappointments and arguments. More importantly, it will increase the chances that your partner expresses his love in a way that is aligned with who you are and how you are wired. It will also strengthen your sense of safety and satisfaction in the relationship!
2) What do you judge, or actively criticize your partner for not doing?
When we choose to look more deeply at what feeds our judgments and criticisms we usually –read almost always– find that underneath our righteous indignation, we feel vulnerable for not being seen truly, for not being cared for and attended to. At its core, our criticisms and judgments are clever ways our minds use to avoid the painful feelings which come when we believe we don’t matter enough to be cared for by the other person. This high speed psychological process is often rooted in shame and guilt for having needs and for being human. When we abandon these ineffective ways of denying our true needs, and instead choose to self-actualize by sharing what we really need in order to feel connected and cared for, we empower ourself and our partner to create the relationship we both yearn for. As we do this, our judgments and criticisms become our guiding posts towards having a more honest and vibrant relationship. They loose their grip for being emotions and thoughts we guilt or shame ourselves for having.
For example, if you find yourself judging your partner for being selfish because she prioritizes quality time for herself and her friends, one of many possibilities for your judgment is that her valuing quality time pushes against the same desires in you which you don’t yet acknowledge, or prioritize? Could it be that you also want to have more quality time for yourself and with her? Sharing these thoughts with your lover doesn’t mean that she has to drop her friends and life so that she can always be with you in a co-dependent way. However, if you accept that you need more “me” time, and/or “us” time, and agree to increase the amount of quality time spent alone and/or together, it will help you be more coherent with what really matters to you, therefore make you both happier and more relaxed. It might also help you implement better boundaries to protect what is truly valuable to you; more “me – us” time! By the way, this kind of mutual agreement is a sign of being inter-dependent; which is far from being co-dependent. To top it off, it will also make you less judgmental of your partner or of others who value quality time! Now, who said judgments were a bad thing?
3) What do you request most from your partner?
Most often, our repeated requests or regular comments to our partner are our ineffective ways of communicating what we really want which would make us feel less anxious and truly loved. Instead of constantly asking your partner “would you take the trash out?” (Acts of Kindness); or, “how do I look?” (Words of Affirmation), what about letting your partner know that when he does those acts of kindness or remind you that you are very handsome, it means a lot to you? In fact when your partner obliges your requests, please make sure to let him know that you noticed and appreciate what he did. This can be a great time to practice “I” statements: “Thank you for saying this… for doing that… I appreciate it a lot… I feel so much better… I love you for having my back… For knowing that you get ME… It helps ME relax when you…”
What if we still don’t know our own love language, or that of our partner?
If you still don’t know your own love language, or that of your partner, ask yourself which of the five love languages would you most easily give up? Keep asking this question until you are left with one, or two love languages. This does not mean that you can’t appreciate other ways of being loved, but rather that you know what really makes you feel special, seen and cared for.
Two more interesting points about Love Languages:
1) Children who are loved in each and every love languages are better able to identify and provide the love language of the people they come across as they grow up. Like families where more than one language is spoken in the household, these children are fluent in as many love languages as were spoken at home! This investment in our children will spread more love into the world. Literally so!
2) It is my observation, that people for whom Words of Affirmation is their love language often need to hear that they are loved when in the midst of arguments or conflicts. This can be quite unsettling and difficult to do for their partners whom can’t move freely from intense arguments and conflicts, to feeling loving towards their partners. The inclination to judge their partners as needy (and weak) is quite high. Once this in in check, it can also be a great exercise –when warranted– in not taking their arguments too seriously, and by so doing, forgetting what really matters; we are arguing intensely AND we can still affirm our love for each other as intensely!
And if this helps, here is a re-cap of the main characteristics of each love language:
Words of Affirmation. Encouraging, complimenting, supporting, cheering-up your partner with words that resonate deeply with him or her. Take the time to ask your partner what makes him feel most supported. Unless she clearly displays that your words of affirmation have landed –like a big smile on her face, or a deep exhale of relaxation as a proof that the tension in her body was released– don’t assume she received your gift of love. Ask and double check what are the words of affirmation she wants to hear from you? For example, “You are great at what you do” might be a genuine belief you have about his skills. However, those might be words that only have the meaning you intend to convey when a teammate, or a superior who sees him perform day-in and day-out at work, utters them. While well meaning, these words of affirmation might just fall flat for him, leaving him feeling empty. Maybe what she really needs to hear is that you really appreciate the long hours and difficult commute she puts in so that your communal life is better and more comfortable. As is the case in most relationships, unless it’s been confirmed –sometimes many times– do not assume that your sincere words of affirmation are what your partner wants and needs to hear from you.
Acts of Service. You love knowing, and experiencing, that the chores of daily living are shared, that your partner lightens up your burden on your “to do list”. This makes you feel cared for!
If this is your partner’s love language, please don’t wait for her to ask you to empty the garbage container, or pick-up your socks off the floor. Just do it! If you don’t know, ask: “what is one thing I could consistently do for you that would let you know that I really care about, that I love you?” If you know you can commit to doing that one thing, again, just do it. Do more if you can. If you are the recipient of that love language, please let your partner know that his/her love has been received, and are deeply appreciated.
Receiving Gifts. Receiving gifts makes you feel special. Gifts make you know that he/she thought of you; they become a physical representation of your connection to your beloved!
It is easy to think of gift giving as an expensive way of loving someone. Of course, keep the expression of your love within your budget. Whether your bank account allows for love notes scribbled on post-its, or semi-annual luxurious trips abroad, if your partner’s love language is gift giving, make sure to regularly sprinkle gifts his or her way. There is no love given, or received, if you end up living above your means and maxing-out your credit cards. Picking up a beautiful stone while on a walk with or without your partner, sending a picture of something that will make him laugh, buying her a chocolate bar you know she’ll enjoy, and a thousand other non-expensive gifts can all convey your love. Just don’t let expensive price tags prevent you from speaking his/her love language. Keep it real and within budget –and remember that many gifts are free– and love your partner as is meaningful to him or her.
Quality Time. It is the quality of the time spent together which matters to you. Often it is not the activity itself, but the fact that you shared that activity together. If an activity needs to be changed or cancelled, it won’t matter as much if the good mojo between you and your partner is preserved.
This means that checking Facebook on your phone while talking to your partner, or watching TV while never pausing to look at your partner, eyeball to eyeball, does not qualify as quality time. Sorry TV and Facebook junkies, this doesn’t fly. This kind of presence is not even close to what is needed for those for whom quality time is their fuel. Actually, this way of being with your partner will frustrate the hell out of them. Undivided attention is what matters. Your genuine interest in wanting to know how he is doing; your true curiosity about what makes her tic; your willingness to ask questions that help move the conversation forward, not to be confused with wanting to solve her problem(s); and your willingness to move from “clock-time” to “us-time” are all quality time moments that will make your partner feel seen, cared for and loved!
Physical Touch: Broadly speaking when your senses are aroused (smell, sight, auditory, gustative and touch), you feel alive. When your partner pays special attention to making your senses come alive, you know you are loved!
Where and how does your partner love to be touch? What kind of touch soothes him? What kind of physical attention makes her feel special? Obviously, physical touch can translate into having sex in any of its different flavors. However, physical touch can also simply be holding hands in private or in public, getting a deep and long hug, or having your hair played with. If you don’t know what kind of physical touch your partner needs and truly enjoys, experiment. Ask. Double check. If you are on the receiving end, teach your partner how to touch you. And, if your immediate response is “she/he should know how to touch me”, I invite you to drop your magical thinking hat, and let him/her know what YOU like.
C. Nathan Bergeron, LMFT, L.Ac. ©