Something I come back to over and over again with couples I work with is the idea of Love Languages. Developed by Dr. Gary Chapman, the Love Languages provide a model of how we show care and affection in relationships - all relationships. Dr. Chapman has distilled how we communicate affection into five key themes:
Physical Touch - caressing your partner's back, holding their hand, being close to them
Quality Time - planning and making time to be together without other distractions or obligations
Words of Affirmation - telling your partner how you feel, that they matter to you, that you appreciate them
Acts of Service - doing something practical and valuable for your partner
Gifts - Giving or receiving meaningful, material reminders of your affection
Our primary Love Language is the one we understand most easily. Take a moment to think for a second, what really makes you feel loved and appreciated by your partner? What makes you feel close to them? What do your close friends do that shows you they really care? Chances are, 2-3 of these languages will rise to the top. If you're unsure, or if you like online quizzes, you can take a free quiz to find your primary Love Languages here.
As with many aspects of ourselves, the way we approach our natural Love Languages can be impacted by many factors of our life experience.
For example, some Love Languages have been culturally regulated to intimate relationships or gender roles. Do you feel comfortable sharing physical touch with friends, for instance? Women tend to be more comfortable with physical touch in plutonic relationship than men. Some Love Languages are limited by circumstance. We cannot always be physically present with our friends and partners which can make it difficult to feel connected if your primary Love Language is Physical Touch or Quality Time.
Our experience of connection is also deeply impacted by the Love Languages of those around us. Some Love Languages may have been more or less present in your family growing up. How closely would you guess your parent's or siblings match your Love Languages? If you're primary Love Languages were very different than those around you as a child, it may have been more difficult to feel loved and appreciated.
Discovering your Love Languages is a good first step. But it's what you do with that knowledge that can really improve your relationships over time.
First off, the Love Language you understand most easily is also likely the one you use most often to show your care for others. Can you think of how you demonstrate that you appreciate someone? Do you buy thoughtful gifts for them that you know they will like? Do you make an effort to get them on your calendar regularly? Since we tend to give and receive love in our primary language, if our partner's primary language differs from ours, we may not automatically feel loved by their acts of love.
This brings us to the work of Love Languages, translation. Since our partner may not naturally speak our Love Language, we must also work to recognize and take in the love they are showing us in other ways. By learning to listen to other Love Languages, we can increase the number of ways we feel love.
Love Language translation is the process of looking for your partner's primary Love Languages in your interactions. Do they communicate love with Acts of Service? Quality Time? If these are not your Love Languages, you may tend to overlook them. Start to bring your attention to those gestures from your partner. Maybe he filled your car up with gas or takes on a household chore he knows you dislike. Maybe she tells you things she appreciates about you and verbalizes ways she feels proud of you. Perhaps he frequently rests his hand on your back or touches your hair. She may go out of her way to bring home your favorite snack.
When you recognize a gesture as an expression of your partner's Love Language, pause and try to soak it in. Remind yourself, 'this is my partner loving me.'
The act of Love Language translation also flows the other way. Can you stretch yourself and offer gestures of love to your partner in their language as well? Acts of Service is a tough one for me personally, it doesn't feel like offering love. But if I remind myself that, by organizing this trip or taking care of this task I am actively loving my partner, it begins to feel like an act of love for me as well.
Just as you have a Mother Tongue, our primary Love Languages will always come most naturally to us and love will flow effortlessly when expressed in that way. However, by increasing our awareness of the ways we give and receive love and the ways they overlap or differ from our partner's natural expressions, we can expand our love receptors and our capacity to feel loved and cared for.
Feeling loved more often and in more ways? That is certainly a recipe for better relationship.