By Joy Birnbach Dunstan, MA, LPC, MAC
Languages of Love
Once in awhile, you run across a book that puts a clear framework around a confusing problem. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages shines a bright light on the dark confusion of why each partner in a “good” relationship might feel unloved by the other.
We know the difficulty of trying to explain a problem in our best English to a Spanish-speaker. They don’t comprehend our words, and speaking louder doesn’t help either. Love has its own languages as well, and if you express love in a language your partner doesn’t speak, you won’t be understood, and your expression of love won’t be recognized.
Chapman has identified five primary languages that people speak and understand. The language we speak is rooted in our upbringing and the ways we were, or weren’t, shown love in our childhood, as well as from our own unique psychological makeup. Your partner may not speak or understand the same love language you do. If you don’t learn to express yourself in a language s/he understands, your feelings may not be communicated and the loving spark between you can gradually fade.
Love language number one is words of affirmation. These are words that build up the other person. Verbal compliments, kindness, recognition, and appreciation are powerful communicators of love. “You look great in that dress.” “I really appreciate you washing the car.” “You must have worked hard to gather all this information.” These words let your partner know you’re paying attention and appreciate him or her. When someone receives affirming words, they feel noticed, understood, and cared about.
Love language number two is quality time. This means giving someone your undivided attention. Watching television or going through the mail while your partner is talking is not quality time. Quality time is about being together with focused attention. It’s about listening more than talking. Taking the time to share activities that each of you enjoys is important. Perhaps this week you both attend a music concert that she appreciates, and next week you go on that fishing trip he’s always talking about.
Love language number three is physical touch. This doesn’t refer only to sex, but includes casual and tender touch, massage, hugs, and holding hands, as well as lovemaking. Not all touch is created equal, so discover the types of touch that communicate tenderness and love to your partner.
Number four is acts of service. This means doing things your partner appreciates. These are often basic everyday things like setting the table, walking the dog, or fixing a leaky faucet. Fulfilling valued requests (rather than demands) with a positive attitude is a genuine expression of love and caring.
Number five is the giving of gifts. Gifts are visual symbols of love and remembrance; something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, s/he was thinking of me.” They are not necessarily anything expensive; they can be simple things like wildflowers or your partner’s favorite candy bar, or even a gift of your time.
Discovering the love language of your partner is essential to keeping that person feeling loved and cherished. If you “show” your partner love by helping around the house, but her love language is quality time, she will feel uncared about and you’ll feel frustrated. Take the time to discover and learn to speak each other’s language of love. It’s a lot easier than learning Spanish, and potentially much more rewarding.
(Editor’s Note: Joy is a practicing psychotherapist. She can be contacted at email@example.com or 765-4988.)