By Alexa Ashworth – MFT, Intern & Stephanie Camins, LPC
Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, wrote this book known to millions today on how partners can become better attuned to one another. Too often people seeking out a direction for the future of their relationship are looking into their own self-identified love language first. In doing this, one is understanding how they want to be loved best.
However, knowing how you want to be loved and how you are able to love another person are two very different concepts. Chapman wrote this book in hopes that people could differentiate from their own love language and know how to make their partner feel most valued. The common misconception for many people reading this book is, “If my partner knows my love language things will change”. When actually it is about being conscious of what you are doing for your partner that makes them feel most loved, then comes change.
The Five Love Languages
Each language represents the way we RECEIVE love. It is the way you feel loved by your partner. We each have a primary and a secondary love language. You may feel the most loved when your partner rubs your back or holds your hand. This would represent physical touch. Others may want to hear compliments and positive words which are words of affirmation.
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
The love languages also can be used to guide you in expressing love to your partner. Even if your partner has a different love language than you do, it is possible to show them you love them using their love language. It’s ok if you’re not big on gifts. If your partner is, they will appreciate thoughtful, heartfelt gifts from you.
You may not be much for compliments, maybe they even make you uncomfortable, but telling your partner what you love and appreciate about them will light up their heart. With the love languages comes the old adage, what you give you shall receive. The more love your partner feels, the more likely they will give back in your love language. As with anything in relationships, it’s a dance. Each moving in coordination with the other to make something beautiful happen together.
How do Therapists Use This Technique With Clients
Therapists and Counselors use a very intentional model when working with the ideas from Chapman’s book. A few questions a therapist may ask a couple working with this model would be, “What do you do for your partner (acts of love) on a daily or weekly basis?” and “When you do these things (acts of love) are they satisfying your needs or your partner’s needs?” Furthermore, “Do you know what this act means for your partner when you go out of your way to do something special?”
A therapist is interested in exploring how each person displays their love and how well each person receives it. This is key when a couple is understanding why friction has been created within the relationship. It is also possible that one person in the relationship is speaking their partner’s love language, although they do not know how they themselves want to be loved in return. Whichever you are currently questioning, whether it is knowing your own love language or your partners, a therapist will help both partners understand one another on a deeper level.
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Let’s continue to break down Chapman’s model for working with a couple in the therapy room using a more specific example. Imagine you are a person whose love language is getting gifts. Since you absolutely love it when you receive a gift from someone else, you believe that is also what your partner will love most. Your partner may be enjoying the gifts you bring to them, although, still feels empty inside. The reason for this emptiness is because your partner actually enjoys physical touch most.
If gifts are not your partner’s love language than it is time to become self-aware of what actually makes your partner feel truly adored. As Chapman phrases it in his book, your partner’s love tank might not be full. It may be that your partner’s love tank is empty, not that your partner devalues what you are doing.
As a couple, you both may have to re-explore what physical touch means for both of you. A therapist would allow the person with physical touch love language, to have the space to say what they feel they are missing, while also asking if that person is comfortable with giving a gift to their partner. If you are the gift giver in this example, you may ask what it would mean for your partner to get you a gift, spontaneously. The therapy room is a place for a couple to re-visit how full their love tanks are.
We also have to honestly ask ourselves if we are comfortable acting out a love language that may be incongruent with our own love language. Physical touch may not be your primary or even secondary love language. If this is true, it may be extremely difficult for you to just wake up tomorrow and be someone who is going to rub your partner’s back or hold their hand in public.
A therapist’s role in this example would be helping each partner navigate what they are willing to try that they have not done before to acknowledge the other partner’s love language. A therapist will also be paying very close attention to each person’s communication style while further understanding how barriers formed in the relationship. So, a therapist may ask, “Are you making clear requests to your partner?”. We have the ability to guide our partner in a healthy way or demand what we want, possibly becoming a threat to the other person.
What if I cannot act out my partner’s love language?
Most of us do not have one love language. In fact, we can have a primary and secondary love language. That being said you could use all five love languages in your relationship to demonstrate how you feel about one another. Therefore, instead of feeling inadequate, unable to act out your partner’s love language ask yourself what will matter most to your partner?
There are hundreds of little things we can do to make someone feel valued and show them we truly care. If you are unable to express acts of service, such as cleaning the kitchen, maybe try commenting on how much you love it when your partner cleans the kitchen after dinner.
You may also try asking your partner what they would like help with at any given moment to show them you are present and care. These are very simplistic examples; however, the point is that we all have several opportunities in one day to show or tell our partner how much we love them. I believe that when partners sincerely modify their behavior to ease the tension around each other’s differences that can mean just as much as speaking your partners love language.
Expressing Love versus Making Someone Feel Loved
We all show love in different ways and that is OKAY. You may find yourself with someone who expresses their love the same way you do or you may be with someone who expresses their love completely opposite of you. What matters most is that both of you feel secure in each other’s love and are able to accept one another’s differences.
Are you naturally showing your partner you love them through effortless, thoughtful actions? Or are you showing your partner you love them through fear-based actions? It is extremely important to assess the underlying intention of how we display our love because it says a lot about why we behave the way we do in relation to our partner.
Both you and your partner must be willing to compromise and adjust any personal expectations in order to start openly expressing your love in a way the other person desires. If our partner does not make us feel secure, it will be challenging to want to meet their personal desires. Truly consider the intention behind your motivations for loving your partner the way you have been or would like to move forward. If we express our love in a way that our partner craves, we will experience how we want to be craved in return.
Chapman believes that the more we express our love the way our partner wants to be known and valued, then our partner is more likely to speak our love language with no expectations attached. Remember we cannot force someone to be loved in the way we like to be loved. We must put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and understand what it is that fuels our partner’s passions and deepest desires.
Our words significantly impact those we love which is why it is very easy to misinterpret what makes our partner feel most valued. We misinterpret what our partners want when we stop listening for what makes them the happiest or most loved. If we do not openly and clearly communicate how we want to be loved or say out loud what we appreciate about our partner, our partner may not do the same thing we once loved again. The most valuable thing we can do for our partner is to start to carefully listen for what makes them feel most alive and take note of that.
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