My boyfriend and I recently resolved a conflict that we’ve had since we first started dating. On the face of things, it’s pretty simple: I want him to tell me he loves me and give me more compliments than he does; he feels like I don’t see and appreciate the millions of big and small things he does to show me his love. Almost every time we had this conversation, he’d say he would give me more compliments and I’d say I would pay more attention to his actions — and then we’d both forget. It wasn’t until he brought up the idea of “love languages” that we finally figured out how to give each other what we need.
Dr. Gary Chapman created love languages in his 1995 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. The idea is that everyone gives and receives love differently and that those differences fall under five pretty self-explanatory categories: quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. If you and your partner speak different love languages — which you can determine really quickly with an online quiz — it can cause conflict because you might think that you’re not getting what you need, even if your partner is doing all they can to show their love.
Your Needs For Love May Be Different — And That's OK
“It's so easy to assume that what makes you feel loved makes everyone feel loved, but that's just not the case,” dating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist Pella Weisman tells Bustle. “Your partner grew up in a different family, perhaps in a different culture, and has their own internal landscape of needs and desires. If you fall into the trap of thinking that their need for love is the same flavor as yours, you're probably not going to find the right ways to help them feel deeply, truly loved.”
The thing that finally broke through for my partner and I was when he told me that his primary love language is “acts of service.” Doing things for me — or me doing things for him — is more more important than saying “I love you” or, say, holding hands. I, on the other hand, am a love monster, with three almost equally important love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch.
It’s a lot — but notice how “acts of service” isn’t on there? I was showing him I love him by telling him and touching him a million times a day, but when he told me that doing things to help him was more meaningful for him, I started to focus on doing that more often. I didn’t stop telling him I love him eight million times per day, but I just added more “acts of service” as well.
They Bring Up Important Conversations
Licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson uses love languages in her practice not only to help her clients communicate more effectively but also to open up important discussions. “Love languages can be a wonderful way to open a really critical discussion around differing points of views or perspectives,” Richardson tells Bustle. “If my love language is gift giving but my partner's is touch, I may be really hurt when they don't get really excited about the gift I bring them. Understanding that my partner is not angry or ignoring my efforts but is simply not programmed to feel ‘loved’ that way, can help (not prevent) me from feeling hurt or rejected.”
But They Can Also Be Used As Weapons
And finally, clinical psychologist and marriage therapist Dr. Wyatt Fisher points out that while love languages are great for bringing couples closer together, they can also be used as weapons. “Couples must remember the way their spouse likes to receive love is also the way you can hurt them the most,” Dr. Fisher tells Bustle. “For example, if a husband’s love language is physical touch, then his wife can hurt him the most by withholding affection and sex.”
Like any tool, love languages can be extremely useful, extremely hurtful, or totally useless, depending on how you use them. But you’ll never know which role they play for your relationship unless you give them a shot. I can say for certain that figuring them out has helped mine — and these experts all agree that they’re a valuable tool. Why not give them a try?
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