When I’m in a relationship, I always really enjoy learning as much as I can about romantic attachments in general. One of the things that I learned quite a while ago (like, back when I was still married) and still try to apply today is the concept of love languages.
For those of you who don’t know, Gary Chapman wrote a book about the different ways that we experience love, which are what is known as the love languages (if you’re curious as to what yours is, you can take the quiz here) Those five languages are as follows:
—Words of Affirmation: You feel loved when someone’s feelings are spoken/written with words.
—Acts of Service: You feel loved when other people do things for you, such as chores.
—Gifts: You feel loved when someone takes the time to get you a gift that they put thought into.
—Quality Time: You feel loved when someone gives you their full attention.
—Physical Touch: You feel loved when someone gives you loving touch, sexual or non-sexual.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? The problem, however, manifests when our partner does not give out love the same way that we receive it.
For example, let’s say that Tim puts in a lot of thought into buying Dawn random gifts. It’s not even her birthday, and he brings her a piece of jewelry that he thinks will look great with one of her favorite dresses (classic Gifts). However, Dawn gets a little disappointed because he didn’t write her a card to go along with her gift (classic Words of Affirmation). Then, Tim gets pissed because he, in his mind, is showering her with love and affection and she doesn’t appreciate him like she should. Viola, something that was supposed to be a thoughtful moment turns into a hurtful wedge.
I’ve come to think of these situations like having an itchy back. I think we all can agree that having our back scritched and scratched feels pretty good. However, our back usually itches in different areas. I could have a really itchy left shoulder blade, and my partner could spend hours scratching my lower back, but I will still be left at the end of it with an itch.
If that were the case, I would most likely be vocal about the unsatisfactory experience and try to guide them to the offending patch of skin. And most of the time, people have not problem moving their hand and scratching where it actually itches.
However, the moment you step outside the metaphor and voice that you’re feeling a lack of love, defenses come flaring up. I believe this is due to two different reasons: one, we don’t really know how to guide our partner to our love language in a way that is simple and non-accusatory, and two, people can get very hurt and defensive when it comes to the subject of love, especially if they feel like the one they love views them as falling short.
And let’s be honest, it is really hard when someone seemingly rejects your love. You spend all this time and effort on showing someone how you feel, and if they don’t receive the message, it feels like both a failure and a personal attack.
But, as is the case with most everything in a relationship, you have to remember that this is not about you: this is about loving your person so much that you want to make sure that they feel that love no matter what, even if they need it shown to them in a way that is foreign or uncomfortable for you to express.
One nice thing about love is there can (usually) never be too much, so a request for a translation to a different language does not mean that the original ceases to be spoken. It simply means that you put in the extra effort to get the translation right.
I would encourage everyone to add this tool to your toolbelt simply for understanding yourself, first and foremost, and then applying it to your relationships. The more we focus on making other people feel good and loved, the less we will cling to our own ideas of how love should be shown. And I think we can all agree that the more love that’s felt in the world, the better off we will all be.