Speaking your partner’s love language
This is a term that was popularised by Gary Chapman in 1992. His book on the subject is an international best seller, but surprisingly there are many couples who have still to come across this simple and yet transformational concept.
When the word “love” in a couple is evoked, we are culturally programmed to translate this ambiguously as “attraction” or “sexuality”. This is not the meaning that Chapman uses. It would be better to talk about the “languages of close relationships”. How do we know that we are valued and respected by another person? How, in a close committed relationship such as a marriage, are we regularly reassured of the exclusivity and complicity in daily living? The answer to these questions is found, according to Chapman, in the ways we relate (or don’t relate) to each other.
Recently I read an article, probably written by a woman, that suggested leaving written notes for your man as the best way of making him feel loved. I smiled as this, as our own personal experience is quite the opposite. Some people, of course, do legitimately respond to the “note” method, but in our case I am almost totally indifferent to a romantic note left on my pillow. It’s thoughtful, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Discovering this, my wife decided to save her energy and effort and to concentrate on other approaches!
The idea of different love languages scores a point here. We are all responsive to certain types of action and communication, and frequently to the combination of different styles. Good theories always attract counter ideas, and the five love languages is not exception. People have suggested that fragrance, food, and laughter also count separately as communication languages. That’s something you can decide on yourself. Chapman’s five basics are 1. Words 2. Touch. 3. Acts of service 4. Gifts 5. Time
One of the clear implications of all of these ways of expressing love is that they are just as powerful positively as they are negatively. Let’s assume that you, being completely opposite to me, just adore the idea of receiving a romantic note. Even if your spouse leaves a little note on the fridge saying “went shopping – back in an hour”, this makes you feel warm inside and you affectionately run your finger over the note thinking about the fact that they wrote this specifically for you. Wonderful, isn’t it?
That is, until the moment there is no note. The house is empty, and there is no note. What do you do? You panic! What could have happened? Did he not feel well, perhaps he was so busy he wasn’t thinking about me, what if he doesn’t think about me the way he used to? All these, and many other negative thoughts, rush though your mind.
Whether we realise it or not, we are all influenced by the effects of the communication we receive from our spouses. For some couples it tends to work out naturally, as they marry someone who has a very similar relationship language to their own. Most people can identify at least two of the five that are important to them, and having one in common really helps a couple in the long term. Some people would even say that they are receptive to any and all of the five languages. And why not? At least this should make them easy to please!
Of course, as you will have already realised, this is not only for couples, but also applies to children, parents, work associates and just about any human being you could be in contact with. This can also cause real problems. You are responsive to Acts of service, and the junior office clerk is always doing things for you (it’s her job). She is sensitive to words of encouragement, and being a true professional you always thank your staff. It’s not hard to see how the emotional entanglement gets started.
So how can you work out which love language is the right one? Fortunately it’s not so hard, and the results can be really beneficial. If you want to do it the complicated way, there are a number of self evaluation tests on the internet. The simple way, and usually just as effective, is to have a guess and try. You will pretty soon see what works and what doesn’t. You can also observe what the other person does. If they regularly give gifts, you can be sure this is a major language for them.
You can easily get a copy of one of Chapman’s multiple books on the subject, or just read up on it on the internet. There are some courses for couples that use this material to work through the process more intensively, and this could also be a lot of fun as a couple. You could even talk about it together and discuss how this works for you. Radical idea, that!
The challenge is not knowing what to do. It’s actually realising that in this relationship the other person works differently to you, and responds to things that you do not naturally do. So out of generosity and a desire to make them really feel good (yes, read “love”), you remember to do one of two things that you would not be personally interested in if someone did them to you. This requires some thoughtfulness, and a little discipline. But it’s worth it.