“He is never really present, even when he is there”, “She only criticizes me, she only puts me down”, “She says she loves me but her actions tell me otherwise”, “He brings home flowers, but they feel like guilt-flowers”
When I meet couples for relationship counseling, we first try to create a safe environment by understanding both partner’s outward behaviors and communication (de-escalation). Often, they are only focused on what their partner is doing wrong or is not doing enough. They do not see the things their partner may be doing right (at least trying to).
Where it often goes wrong is that we all have different perceptions of the concept of love; how we understand expressing and receiving love. A man may think he is doing something nice for his wife by booking her a massage in a SPA, while she gets upset thinking “why doesn’t he give me the massage himself?”. She may not see it as a “loving gift”, but rather as “a lack of physical touch”.
The concept of the love languages was developed by author and counselor Dr. Gary Chapman in his book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts”. He describes five unique styles of communicating love:
Words of affirmation – verbal acknowledgements of affection, including “I love you’s”, compliments, praise, words of appreciation, verbal encouragement, text messages or love notes.
Quality time – love expressed through undivided attention, putting phone down, eye contact, active listening.
Gifts – “visual symbols of love”. People with this preferred style recognize and value the gift-giving process: the careful reflection, the deliberate choosing of the object to represent the relationship and the emotional benefits from receiving the present
Acts of service – doing nice things for your partner, going out of your way to make life easier for him/her, such as bringing her a cup of tea in bed (because you know that is how she loves to wake up in the morning) or tidying up the house before he gets home (because you know tidiness makes him happy).
Physical touch – feeling loved through physical affection, like kissing, holding hands, cuddling on the couch, sex.
Second, now you have learned your partner’s preferred love language, try to use his/her language to convey your love to him/her, as this is how your partner is most likely to receive your love. As Chapman says in his book: “If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.”
Third, even if partners continue to express their love in their own preferred love language, try to recognize and appreciate your partner’s efforts, even if they do not match your expectations.
Fourth, the love language tool should not be used competitively or as a ‘weapon’ against your partner; “I gave you 10 gifts this month, now it is your turn to touch me more”.
Last, the love languages are a useful tool to improve how we communicate and express our love to our partners, but it will not fix all relationship issues. It is a good starting point for couples, to create awareness and to focus their attention on the relationship needs of the other person.
A relationship counselor can help couples to improve their interpersonal communication and to recognize their partners’ way to show love.