Who remembers that scene in Friends when Joey officiates Monica and Chandler’s wedding?
He described their love as, “Based on giving and receiving as well as having and sharing. And the love that they give and have is shared and received. And through this having and giving and sharing and receiving, we too can share and love and have and receive.”
We laughed. But perhaps he’s got a point – we communicate with our partners by giving and receiving all sorts of things, whether they are physical acts or words. The question is, though, whether the things we’re giving are the right ones to make our partners feel loved or not?
The idea of there being different love languages became popular thanks to the book The Five Love Languages by psychologist Dr Gary Chapman.
He suggests that every person receives and understands love in a specific language - their primary love language. In short, what makes you feel loved is not necessarily the same as what makes your partner feel loved. Think about your own relationships (we say 'relationships' because this stuff isn’t just relevant to your romantic relationship). Do you get the warm fuzzies when your partner brings you a spontaneous gift? Do you love it when they offer a massage, or hold your hand walking down the street? Or does your partner simply have to put the bins out without being asked to make you happy?
Of course, you might think, "But I like my partner to do all of those things". But when you dive into the idea of love languages more closely, you’ll realize there are certain types of actions that truly make you feel your partner is listening to you and showing you their love. Things your partner does that make you feel you are absolutely on the same page as them.
Quality time – spending quiet or one-on-one time doing something special together as a couple.
Words of affirmation – words of encouragement, compliments or acknowledgement of a job well done.
Physical touch – receiving or giving friendly touch allowing you to find intimacy and connection through affection.
Acts of service – doing something for your partner to save them time and energy - a job or chore perhaps.
Gift giving – Giving or receiving presents or small tokens of love to show that you are thinking about your partner.
This isn’t just about working out your own love language or that of your partner. You need to work out both in order to begin to understand the way you communicate and why it may or may not be working. In order to build healthy relationships, this idea of basic love languages can be key to improving communication styles and the relationship dynamic as a whole.
It’s easy to speak in your own love language, but speak in your partner’s and they will really hear and understand that you love them. Think back over some recent interactions that haven’t gone the way you expected. Where you feel you've lost that emotional connection. Could it have been that you were simply speaking in different languages?
When “you never take out the garbage” translates as “you don’t love me anymore” it’s time to step up and learn your partner’s primary language.
Put your phone down, look into your partner’s eyes and show them you are truly listening. Avoid becoming distracted by messages, social media or even the kids. When your partner’s love language is quality time, they want you to show them how important they are by giving them your full attention.
Try not to think that they’re being ‘needy’ or failing to recognize how busy you are. And avoid postponing dates or arrangements and complaining about how you just don’t have the time. To this partner, your presence and spending time together in a meaningful way will be all that’s required to fill their cup up to the brim.
If your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, it’s not that they are big-headed and need to hear how great they are. It’s that they need reassurance. And the best way for them to receive that is through what you say to them. Try to focus your compliments on non-physical attributes celebrating their successes and accomplishments rather than simply telling them they look beautiful. Get in the habit of telling them you appreciate them and give specific reasons why, such as: “I love seeing the baby laughing when you’re playing with him, thanks for being such a great mom.”
The worst thing you can do for your words-of-affirmation-loving partner is to fail to acknowledge the effort they’re putting in, or speaking with harsh words or even disingenuous compliments. Be honest, offer regular reassurance and show your love through your language often.
If your partner’s love language is physical touch, it should be fairly obvious how they need you to show your love for them. But it definitely doesn’t mean they’re always in the mood for sex play or sexual intercourse. Simply offering moments of close physical contact regularly is enough to show them you care and appreciate them. Hugging, holding hands, a touch on the arm as you walk past will all be appreciated and reassuring.
On the flip side, your partner may struggle if they’re forced to go for long periods without physical intimacy, worrying that there’s a problem in your relationship. Try to initiate intimacy rather than always waiting for them to show affection first. And never withhold physical affection after an argument as this will only serve to intensify the lack of connection your partner feels.
Show your action loving partner your appreciation and support in small and thoughtful ways. When they ask for help, spring into action to show you love and support them. Notice when they do things for you and, if you make a promise to be there to help out with something, make sure you actually mean it and follow through.
Even better, plan a surprise for them. Clean up the house before they arrive home from work, take the kids to the park for a few hours to give them a break on the weekend, or pick a subscription food delivery service to take the weight off a day each week. Actions really do speak louder than words if your partner’s love language is acts of service.
This one can be difficult to understand if you don’t share the same love language as your partner. Far from being materialistic, it is about the act of thinking about the other person and recognizing the importance of each special occasion to them.
Presents don’t need to cost a lot, they certainly don’t need to be difficult to track down. The best, most thoughtful gifts, are the ones that say, “I was thinking of you and spotted this,” when you know they’ve had a difficult week. Or “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, I thought you’d like this to make you feel better”. And the worst thing you could ever do with a partner who appreciates receiving gifts? Forget their birthday or act like it’s not really that important anyway. You have been warned!
Take some time to think about what’s truly important to you. What do you absolutely love that your partner does without being prompted? This will give you clues about your own preferred love language. Then ask your partner the same question. Their reply should help you figure out which of the five love languages speak loudest to them. If you're both interested to learn more, you can easily find an online quiz to help you pinpoint your personal languages and also understand more about compatible love languages and learning to understand one another better. Another interesting idea about relationships is that of attachment styles, which will tell you something about the way you form, understand and navigate relationships.
It could be meaningful conversation, a surprise gift, eye contact or greater sexual intimacy. Learning what leads to greater relationship satisfaction and connection in the mind of your partner can help you to improve the quality of your bond. Not only will you begin to better understand where your partner is coming from, but you might learn a little about yourself, too.