You are probably familiar with, or have at least heard of, the five love languages. This was a concept and book brought about by Gary Chapman. He asserts that there are five primary ways in which we experience love: 1. Physical Touch 2. Quality Time 3. Acts of Service 4. Gifts and 5. Words of Affirmation. While these have quite a bit of face value, I think they can look a little different for everyone. This is an important nuance I’ll get into later.
As a marriage counselor, I don’t believe this book or concept is the ultimate guide to relationships, I do believe, however, the concepts can be quite powerful when fully understood. One of the issues is that half of the equation is often overlooked when discussing the five love languages. That crucial missing half is about how we naturally give love.
Just as we tend to have two or three main ways of receiving love, we typically have one or two ways of giving love. In my years of marriage counseling experience, I have seen it be more common for there to be a misalignment in how one partner gives love and the other receives love than it is for there to be alignment in those things.
What does this misalignment create? Frustration on both ends. Picture this. George grew up in a home with little physical affection and a dad who was always doing things for others. George learned to give love through acts of service. George’s wife, Mary, grew up in a very affectionate home with lots of praise and hugs. George is constantly busting his butt at work and around the house, doing projects and things that he thinks Mary will like. While she does appreciate these efforts, she just doesn’t quite feel connected with and loved by George in the way she’d like to be.
This leads her to express dissatisfaction with their relationship. George is scratching his head trying to figure out why’s she’s not happy. After all, he’s constantly doing things for her. But Mary is wishing that George would just hold her and tell her how grateful he is for her. Both end up in a place of frustration, and the worst part, it’s not for lack of trying! George is loving Mary, just not in ways that fully resonate with her.
Truly understanding how our partner receives love means we will tailor our love showing efforts to meet their needs. It is far easier to learn how to give love in a new way than it is to learn how to receive love in a new way.
Now, as I alluded to above, there is one more secret to unlock from the five love languages concept. That is, how you personally experience that love language. What you deem as quality time is likely not what your partner deems as quality time. I suggest laying out a road map for each other. Once you’ve identified what your top two or three love languages are, then break those down even further into three or four concrete examples of what that looks like. For example, if words of affirmation are one of your love languages, you could break that down to specific words or phrases that you like to hear from your partner (e.g. I like when you tell me I’m pretty or when you acknowledge my efforts around the house). Giving your partner a clear roadmap to your heart only increases the likelihood of them loving you in ways that are more meaningful and, ultimately, more connecting.