Just as I was about to launch into a conversation with B. that I was dreading, I got an email from my sister with a link to Five Languages of Love.
Turns out Gary Chapman has figured out that each of us speaks one or more languages of love, and when we don’t know what that is for our partner we end up misunderstood and frustrated.
So for example, I am dying to put my arms around B. as he walks into the house. To me, touching is the most important way of showing love. But B. is a man on a mission. He narrowly avoids my hug and streamlines for the garage where he needs to recycle an empty plastic bottle this very second.
Do I feel frustrated that my affections are rejected? Yes. Does B. feel frustrated that I got in his way with my stupid hug? Probably.
Turns out that the whole issue has nothing to do with us not liking each other. It’s just we express it differently, and what we expect in return doesn’t always match the reality.
How to solve this? Figure out what your partner’s language is and learn to speak it. Even if it feels like Chinese at first.
Chapman identifies five: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch.
1. Words of Affirmation. My guess is that to a certain degree most people speak this language, and it’s the easiest one to learn. Find ways to praise your partner but do it sincerely and for something they really deserve. My sister once told me that she’s prepared to stay at work way into the evening just because her boss acknowledged the difficulty of the task and praised her for creativity and a job well done.
2. Quality time is not just time spent together when both of you are on your iPads. It’s not just watching a movie together. It’s actually engaging with each other, having a meaningful conversation, sharing an experience. If this is a new language for you, consider asking your partner questions and getting them to do most of the talking. Or share something that happened to you that day that also somehow involved the partner, i.e. a client walked in and we talked about how both of you like to garden.
3. Presents seems like a universal language but that’s not always the case. One partner may be very excited about giving gifts when the other one, who doesn’t speak it, would find faults with them. Dress too tight. Ring too golden. Too cheap or too expensive. If you don’t speak it and know what to give your partner who does, just wrap yourself in a gift wrap. Or pick a flower. Or draw a postcard and write a cute message.
4. Acts of service can also be a double-edge sward. If your partner likes to help you with things even if you didn’t ask them, their language of love is help. Want to get them excited? Volunteer to vacuum the house, do the laundry, make something to eat, do something that they normally hate to do but do anyway. Even if it’s a steep learning curve for you, your efforts won’t go unnoticed.
5. Physical touch isn’t just about sex. Even though about sex sometimes too. Most people want to be touched and hugged and kissed, but some want and need it more than others. They share the power of touch with the people they like and expect the same in return. My dad used to hug the four of us in this giant hug when he wanted to share his joy. Sounds like physical touch would be his native tongue.
One of the ways to figure out your partner’s language is just to watch what they like to do for you. Do they offer help? Do they buy gifts? Tell you you are beautiful/smart/sexy? Invite you on walks? Touch you when they want to share joy or give comfort? Do the same thing in return. Or just ask them. If you asked me I’d tell you fair and square.
Chapman says that most people speak more than one language, with one being dominant. So that means that there’s a good chance that while you might speak different dominant languages – and it might me a process to learn them – there may be a language or two that you share. It’s so much easier to make each other feel loved when you learn that, for example, both of you like words of affirmation.
Learning to speak this new language may not be easy. Like for me, offering help is somehow not the most natural thing. I’d rather hug them or tell them that do a good job. But learning it can turn into a fun challenge with fast and furious rewards.
And yes, we didn’t have to have that grueling conversation. Because when both people feel loved, sometimes things just work out.