Everyone knows that good communication is an important foundation for a good relationship, but what does ‘good’ mean in terms of how we communicate love to each other? Is it taking the time to talk about ‘things that really matter’? Should we make sure that we tell our partner every day that we love them?
In his book The Five Love Languages, relationship expert Dr Gary Chapman talks about how people communicate love in different ways. He compares it to speaking different languages. We all have a primary language – the native tongue we grew up speaking and, even if we later learn more languages, feel most comfortable conversing in. When people don’t understand each other’s language, it is hard to communicate with each other effectively, or even at all. Dr Chapman explains that in the area of communicating love, it is similar. Your emotional language and that of your spouse may be as different as English is from Chinese. And, if that is so, no matter how much you try to express your love in your own ‘love language’, if your spouse’s ‘love language’ is Chinese, you will never understand each other.
Dr Chapman identifies five emotional love languages – five different ways in which people commonly speak and understand emotional love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. Most people communicate love in just one or two of these ways, and often we aren’t even aware of our particular ‘love language’ because it is something that simply comes naturally to us.
Most people show love in the way they like to receive it, they may each think they are expressing their love to their partner frequently, but the message can get lost in translation.
For some couples, problems can arise when they have different love languages. For example, even if they have very similar interests and a lot in common, they may find that one person communicates love through acts of service, and the other through words of affirmation. Because most people show love in the way they like to receive it, they may each think they are expressing their love to their partner frequently, but the message can get lost in translation.
The person whose love language is acts of service is most likely to show love through the things that they do for their partner. Whether it’s cleaning the house, preparing a meal, or washing the car, nothing says ‘I love you’ more to them than doing, or having done for them, these practical acts. However, the person who communicates love through words of affirmation longs to hear their partner say ‘I’m so proud of you’, ‘You mean the world to me’, or simply ‘I love you.’
Dr Chapman says that a husband and wife seldom have the same primary emotional love language and when we don’t recognise this we become confused when our partner does not understand what we are communicating. We are expressing our love, but the message does not get through to them. It is easy then to see how a couple could begin to feel frustrated, or even un-loved, by their partner.
What is your love language?
Learning about the simple idea of the five love languages has already transformed the relationships of thousands of couples. Why not take a look at these descriptions of different love languages to see if you can recognise which one you use the most.
Words of affirmation
If your love language is words of affirmation, reassuring and encouraging words or compliments will communicate love really powerfully to you. An insult or unkind word will also have a greater effect on you than for someone who doesn’t find words as important.
If your love language is gifts, you will tend to appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort behind a gift as much as the gift itself. The value of the gift isn’t necessarily important to you – you will appreciate small, spontaneous gifts that show that you are cared for as much as you would appreciate expensive presents. A forgotten birthday or lack of thought in choosing a gift is likely to make you feel hurt or unappreciated.
Acts of service
If your love language is acts of service, you probably show your love for someone through the things that you do – things like offering to wash up for your partner after they’ve had a tiring day, even though it’s not your turn. You will feel really loved and appreciated when your partner does things for you, and you may feel especially hurt by laziness or broken commitments from them.
If your love language is quality time, you will feel particularly loved by periods your partner spends alone and uninterrupted with you. It won’t necessarily matter to you if you go out for the day and it rains; the important thing is your time together. You are likely to find it particularly frustrating if you don’t have your partner’s undivided attention when you are together.
If your love language is physical touch, then holding hands, a hug, or a back rub will be particularly important to you. You will feel really special when your partner physically connects with you, but may feel hurt or neglected if they pull away from you or brush you off when you try to hug them.