Mindful Relationships: The Five Love Languages

In my last Mindful Relationships post, I considered the idea of holding your partner as the object of your meditation, constantly working to perceive them as they truly are and to serve them based on this accurate perception. Considering the people closest to us are often the ones we treat the worst, this is no small task! It takes quite a bit of self-study to recognize and catch yourself on your bad habits. I find it helpful to read books about success in relationships to help me identify my blind spots. Some are better than others and some are preachy, but from each book I’ve read, there has been a gem of knowledge I’ve been able to take away.

One of the first relationship books I read was The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The gist of the book is that different people express and understand love in different ways, and that it is easy for love-miscommunications to occur when people do not understand one another’s “love language.” The love langauges Chapman identifies are:

1. Words of Affirmation. People who express love by offering words of encouragement, praise, and kindness speak this love language.

2. Gifts. People who tend to give gifts and other physical tokens to people they love probably speak this love language.

3. Acts of service. People who do things for others to show they care are communicating in this love language.

4. Quality time. People who express love by spending time to connect and communicate with their loved ones with them speak this love language.

5. Physical touch. People who express “I love you” through a hug, a shoulder squeeze, or by holding hands express themselves in this love language.

The purpose of laying out the love language is not to slot people into boxes. Few people  use exclusively one of these love languages; however, most of us express and understand some of them better than others. Problems may arise  in well-intentioned, loving relationships when one person expresses love in a way that the other does not understand. For example, I tend to shower my husband with praise and gratitude to express my love to him, but the intent of these words affirmation are almost completely lost on him. Words of Affirmation is not one of his love primary languages. Even with all that effort on my part, if I did not take the time to cuddle up to him while watching a movie, hold his hand while walking down the street, and give him a kiss and a hug before leaving for work, he would not feel adequately loved, because physical touch is one of his primary love langauges.

Failing to communicate to my husband in a love language he understands would not only be unsatisfying for him, it would also be exhausting for me! I would feel like no matter how much I did to show their him I loved him, it would never be enough. The key is to go back to really seeing, hearing, and feeling your partner. How do they express love to you? By cooking you dinner after you’ve had a long day (Acts of Service)? By bringing along a pint of your favorite ice cream for dessert (Gifts)? If this is how they express love, there’s a good chance they understand love in this way too. What do you do that makes them light up? Do they melt into your body when you snuggle up next to them (Physical Touch)? Do they lap up your compliments and praise (Word of Affirmation)? What are they begging you for? Do they get upset when you are distracted by a phone call or e-mail from work while they are telling you about their day (Quality Time)? Figuring out exactly what your partner needs can help you streamline your efforts, allowing you to effectively communicate your love without wearing yourself out.

Also, once you identify how your partner expresses love, be sensitive to that, and begin to understand their actions for their intent. I used to reject peoples’ attempts do give me acts of service, wondering, “don’t they think I’m capable of doing this myself?” But they were only trying to express love, and nothing feels worse than having an expression of love rejected.  You not only need to learn how to express love appropriately, it helps to much to learn to understand your partner’s love language.

It goes the other way too! If you want to feel fulfilled in a relationship, figure out what you need from your partner in order to feel loved and give them the lowdown. Identify the way in which you tend to express love, and talk that over with them. I found that using Five Love Languages as a framework gave my husband and I a good, concrete means of talking about our seemingly complex needs.