Generally speaking, all of life is about attraction. We tend to move towards things that attract us and away from things we find unattractive. People also expect attraction to be a constant and never to fluctuate. Therefore, it is not surprising that a lot of people question their relationships when they enter therapy.
In this article I will focus on intimate relationships. Today, people commonly have short-lived, intimate relationships. In other generations and times, people more often tended towards a single relationship which could have been less intimate. We live in a pluralistic society where there are many ways of expressing ourselves and a lot of options available. Therefore, how do relationships in this day and age last? Why do people still believe in happily ever after? People often believe that if they find their ‘perfect’ partner love is a smooth ride. Whereas the existential approach to counselling and psychotherapy sees people as ‘dynamic entities constantly in flux’. Thus, if we are constantly changing and developing, is it reasonable to expect our partners not to?
In Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ can be translated as opportunity and danger. This is a wonderful way of understanding crisis because, paradoxically, crisis is not always a bad thing. We can interpret attraction in the same way. We are hardwired to move away from conflict and danger. However, growth only occurs through conflict. It is by embracing another person’s point of view and way of being that we change our perspective.
Human beings are always in relation towards something. We are in relation to ourselves, objects and other people. While Sartre said ‘hell is other people’, I believe this depends on the type of relationship these two people carved between themselves.
I have recently come across Dr Gary Chapman’s theory that people tend to speak five love languages. He believes that people have five different primary ways of interpreting and expressing love. These are; Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.
From his website, here is a summary of each love language:
Words of Affirmation:
If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
Nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures.
Acts of Service:
Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
In relationships, problems may arise when people have different primary love languages leaving one partner feeling unacknowledged and unloved. On Dr Gary Chapman’s website there is a test where you can learn your own love language and that of your child or partner. For instance, if your love language is one of service, you show your partner you care for them by doing things for them. If theirs is one of words of affirmation, you might often miss each other. There are many examples of how people misinterpret displays of affection in intimate relationships.
While the test is not 100% accurate and this theory does not offer a complete road map to navigate the complex world of relationships, it may help in some cases. By bridging gaps in understanding ourselves and those we love, we may spend less time wishing for the ‘perfect’ partner. Finally, we can be attracted to people who are different to us as this gives rise to conflict and more opportunities for growth. Counselling and psychotherapy is a useful way in which you can explore how the meanings you attribute to your world impact on yourself and others. By gaining new insights into themselves, people often choose happier, healthier and more fulfilling relationships. An awareness and clarification of where you are now is the first step. The aim is to feel valued and understood in this important area of life, and not to repeat past patterns of behaviour. As Einstein once said: ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.
by Fernanda Barros
Fernanda is a fully qualified, accredited counsellor and psychotherapist through the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapists MBACP (Accred) practicing at The Awareness Centre. She is also a Counselling Psychologist in the last stage of completing her doctorate dissertation.