Are you struggling to maintain intimacy and love in your long-term relationship? It could all be down to the language you’re speaking and what’s important to you and your partner. So, what are the five love languages, and how can understanding them help nurture a stronger bond?
Life, love and the universe – what’s it all about? While we can’t answer that for you, we can state that there are certain universal truths, one of which is – life is all about attraction. We tend to move towards things that attract us, and away from things we find unattractive. It’s natural, evolutionary and instinctual. However, like many things in life, attraction is not a constant. It can fluctuate – so it’s not surprising that a lot of people question their relationships when they enter counselling and psychotherapy.
In this article, we will focus on romantic partners and intimate relationships. Today, with increased liberation and continual reassessment of what we want and need, it’s more common for people to have short-lived intimate relationships. Conversely, in other generations and times, people more often tended towards a single, long-term 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’. This begs the question – if we are constantly changing and developing, is it reasonable to expect our partners not to? And what happens when you wake up one day and realise the person you fell in love with is, in many ways, not at all the same person anymore?
Are You Entering a Relationship Crisis?
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 – in fact, it can help us grow and develop. 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.
To read more about conflict in relationships, check out our post on strategies to heal conflict in your relationship.
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.
What Are the Five Love Languages?
So where does conflict come from in a romantic relationship? Despite your continual efforts, do you feel innately unsatisfied by your partner? Perhaps you’re on a mission to feel loved, appreciated and cherished, but you’re hitting a brick wall. It might boil down to how you interpret and express love, and how your partner does. Both are equally important and should be considered.
I have recently come across Dr Gary Chapman and his 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
- Physical Touch
So let’s take a deeper dive into the different love languages and what they mean. What’s your primary love language?
1. Words of Affirmation
If you speak the Words of Affirmation love language, it’s likely you feel appreciated, noticed and validated by your partner when they are communicating love. More than likely, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. You’re not asking for epic sonnets or love poems – simply honest, simple words like ‘you’re beautiful’, ‘I appreciate all you do at work and home’ or ‘you’re an amazing parent’ make all the difference. Hearing the words, ‘I love you,’ is important, but hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward.
On the other hand, insulting comments and rude words can wound you. They can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten or forgiven. If you love someone whose primary love language is words of affirmation, be sure to choose your words carefully. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells, but at the same time you can be considerate and careful with your language and tone, knowing what an impact it can have.
2. Quality Time
The quality time love language is all about giving your loved one the time and attention they deserve – away from distractions, TV, smart phones and even other friends. Actions speak louder than words, and for someone who speaks this love language, nothing says, ‘I love you’ like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there and paying attention makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. If you love someone in this camp, take a second to think before you make a promise or arrange a date – if you aren’t able to meet them when you say you will, or if you let them down, they might think they aren’t a priority for you. And that can be hard to come back from.
If you live a busy life, you shouldn’t feel guilty for it. It’s all about communication – let your partner know that you won’t be available twenty-four hours a day. You might have a busy job, volunteering work or other commitments – but whatever time you have with them, make it count.
3. Receiving Gifts
Don’t mistake the ‘receiving gifts’ love language for materialism – it’s not that simple. At its heart, it’s not even about gift giving – it’s about what’s behind the generosity. 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. Remember, the language isn’t necessarily materialistic – the gift could be something as simple as a flower picked from your garden or a copy of your favourite book. Finding the right gift, one they will appreciate, shows you truly understand your partner and you made a real effort.
4. Acts of Service
The ‘acts of service’ love language is different from receiving gifts in an important way – it’s about performing acts and stepping up, around the home or with your family. It can include anything from picking up the dry cleaning, to vacuuming the floors or doing the weekly shopping. What’s important is that you pay attention and understand your loved one’s source of stress and aim to minimise it as much as possible. If you perform acts to make their life easier and ease the burden for your spouse, this 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.
5. Physical Touch
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. This doesn’t necessarily mean over the top PDA. It simply means that physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive.
However, many couples find conflict in this area. While one person may feel connected, secure and safe through touch and physical proximity, this isn’t the case for everyone. Maybe you grew up in a household where touch was kept to a minimum, so continual touch and confirmation feels foreign to you. In order to prevent anyone from feeling unloved, it’s best to communicate, and to compromise where possible. You might not feel comfortable kissing in public, but hand holding might be the perfect middle ground to satisfy everyone.
Understanding Your Partner’s Love Language
Relationships are all about getting to know one another – their favourite meals, their hobbies and interests – and also their love language. Your needs and expressions are important, but so are your partner’s. You might feel all loved up after receiving a present, but for them, the real gift is quality time with you. Take the time to get to the bottom of what they want, and deliver on it to keep your loved one happy and content.
Communicating Your Own Love Language
… Having said that, you should never forget about your own needs. Understanding and discovering our own primary love language will help you better understand yourself, and it’ll help you communicate to others how you want to be treated, resulting in a more fulfilling relationship or marriage. If your partner simply refuses to adapt or adjust, there might be something deeper at play, perhaps something that could be unpacked and explored in couples counselling.
Not Everyone Speaks the Same Love Language – And That’s Okay
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’.
You know in your heart of hearts whether your relationship is worth fighting for – all too often, our pride gets in the way. But if you need a helping hand and a neutral third-party to guide discussion, we offer sex and relationship therapy. Get in touch today to discuss how we can help.
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.