June 5, 2012
Have you ever come up with the perfect gesture to show someone you love them, and been met with a lukewarm , “um, gee, thanks”, when you expected an “Oh WOW! This is the nicest (best, most considerate, brilliant) thing anyone’s ever done for me”! Well, Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages which gives us some help. I think it should be required reading for every relationship that’s trying for any degree of intimacy.
Chapman’s premise is that we all have an inherent set point around what makes us feel loved. He proposes five primary ways to show love: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts and quality time. He suggests that when we’re on the receiving end of a gesture that doesn’t represent our natural love language, it will be like receiving milk toast—a bland and colorless experience. He also says that although there is one primary love language that makes us come alive, there can often be a secondary one. So If you’re torn between two of them, no worries, you’re lucky—twice as easy for your partner to find ways to express love for you!
Unconsciously we tend to give love in the same form that we like to receive it. The problem with that is not everyone shares the same love language. In my practice I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this idea and watching light bulbs go on. Two people have spent years working very hard to express their love and concern in the only way they know how to do that—in the way that would make them feel loved—only to have their efforts ignored, avoided or half heartedly received. They love each other and neither can figure out how their partner can be so consistently ungrateful!! Interesting to me that I haven’t run into a couple with the exact same love language, either in my practice or with family and friends in my personal life. In spite of that, I’ve seen many compatible couples.
Here’s a short description for each. Remember, one love language isn’t better than another. And our natural affinity for one or two of them doesn’t mean anything good or bad about us, it’s just how we’re wired.
Gifts. I’m starting with gifts because this one gets a bad rap. Having gifts as your primary love language doesn’t mean that you’re greedy or excessively materialistic. It means that for a variety of reasons you have learned to equate and experience a gift as an expression of love. Period. It’s no better or worse than any of the other four languages. And a gift can be a picked flower or matchbook saved from a special date, it doesn’t have to be a diamond or a trip to Maui. It depends on the individual.
Words of affirmation. This one’s mine. The truth is, if you say nice things about me to my face, and especially in front of other people, I’m yours for life. That makes me feel loved. And when you withhold words of affirmation from me, all the other lovely gestures fall into the background because that basic need hasn’t been satisfied.
Acts of service. When acts of service is your love language, if someone forgets to take out the garbage when they promised they would, it can feel like a knife to the heart. They’ve been deprived of what makes them feel special. When you think about it, this example illustrates how little effort it can take if someone’s love language is acts of service! I used to clean up my son’s room (with almost zero acknowledgement) until I realized his primary love language is quality time. I stopped cleaning up his room and reduced my martyrdom by about a thousand percent!
Quality time. If you hear a lot of: “Honey, don’t you want to sit with me for a minute?” Or, “Want to run to the store with me?”, your partner’s love language may be quality time. It probably won’t matter what you’re doing when you’re together. The fact that you want to spend time with them is what matters. This one can be challenging when you’re raising children, working and trying to hold everything together. For someone with this love language, just knowing that your partner is trying to find ways to have quality time with you can end up being a gift in itself. And instead of consecutive hours, maybe it will be lots of 5 minutes. Find what works.
Physical touch. A pat on the fanny when you walk by them (if we’re talking about your partner, not your best friend ), holding hands, hugs, mini shoulder rubs.
Chapman recommends that each partner make up a list of 20 things that would make them feel loved if they were on the receiving end. My sister and I just decided to do it with each other because we realized that living so far apart it’s hard to know what makes the other one feel loved these days.
I think the list is a great idea for a few other reasons. I don’t want to kill myself doing something for someone that isn’t noticed. Also, the list takes a ton of pressure off me to find the perfect gesture while I’m still learning and getting comfortable with this idea. It gives me a smorgasboard to pick from. And finally, once I get an original list from someone, I might be more apt to take some risks in adding my own ideas to it, which might feel like another gift I’m giving.
I hope you’ll find somebody whose day you want to make and ask them if they’ll trade lists with you!