Discovering the Five Love Languages was a game changer for my marriage and other relationships in my life. Yet although discovering something like this is very empowering, it is nothing unless you do something about it. In my experience, for a marriage or any relationship to work, you need to be doing that ‘something’ continually – which means on a daily basis.
The Five Love Languages is a theory developed by Psychologist and Marriage Counsellor Dr. Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages. I encourage all people who want to strengthen and deepen their relationships to read it. I really enjoyed it and found it helpful, empowering and an easy read. But for those wanting the bite size down-low, here’s how I would explain the concept of the 5 love languages: visualise a big tank – let’s call it a ‘Love Tank’. Every person has one of these. In order to fill this love tank, certain things need to happen. When someone’s love tank is full, that person feels loved, valued, appreciated and safe. The things that fill a love tank are expressed through the 5 love languages – Quality Time (spending time with someone and giving them your undivided attention and focus); Gifts (giving and receiving gifts that require thought and appreciation); Physical Touch (expressing love through physically touching someone – this is not just sex, it also includes cuddles, hand holding, back rubs, hand on knee); Words of Affirmation (expressing love and gratitude verbally or by written words); and Acts of Service (performing or completing jobs or tasks for someone on their behalf with a loving spirit). Although each and every person needs many of these 5 love languages to fill their love tank, there are generally 1 or 2 love languages that when expressed, will have someone feel more loved instantly. These are called are their ‘core drivers’.
So, that sounds like a helpful and basic concept for couples, right? Learning about the love languages as a young bride, I felt empowered and equipped to know how to always ensure my husband and then children, friends and family will always feel loved by me. Great! However – knowing and doing are two very different things. And if I don’t apply this knowledge continuously, then I am not only none the wiser, but ineffective in showing my love and affection to those whom I’m closest too.
I have been married for 23 years. I must admit, I feel proud about this. 23 years is a long time to commit to loving someone, and I will be honest, at times it has felt like we would never reach this milestone. So how have we stayed together, you might ask? One of the ways is how we as a couple chose to use this knowledge of the Five Love Languages in our relationship with each other.
It is easy to imagine what it is like when both people in a relationship feel loved. Just think romantic Hollywood film…and you are nearly there. It is magical when both people in a relationship feel loved. When people feel loved they relax more, they feel safe, have more confidence and generally feel better about life and themselves. And the great thing is that feeling loved doesn’t have to (and won’t) always come from your partner (pressure off slightly!) You can also feel loved by a friend, pet, parents or siblings.
So… let’s talk about when someone doesn’t feel loved. Because it is often when someone – or both of you – do not feel loved that the difficulties arise. And these difficulties can be a result of not feeling loved or the reason that we don’t feel loved. In many cases, we are loved but we don’t actually feel or see it. This can be frustrating for both the giver and the receiver. Imagine you are an acts of service person and you have spent an entire day cleaning the house. Then, your spouse gets home, barely acknowledges this, and then tells you about the terrible day they’ve had at work. Later, they then complain that they feel they aren’t supported by you in the issue they are having at work that they just want to talk through with you (Quality Time and Words of Affirmation). But I DID support you by having a clean house for when you came home! The thing is, they didn’t feel it – because you weren’t speaking their love language. One of the challenges with the Five Love Languages is that more often than not, couples have different expressions of the love languages. This can cause complications and serious confusion from both sides. The old saying “Treat others how you want to be treated” just doesn’t cut it here, as this stuff runs deep. It’s beyond politeness and ‘doing the right thing’ – it’s a commitment.
In the early years of our relationship, my love language was words of affirmation and gift giving. My husband’s was physical touch and quality time. So, you can imagine that if I spent my time saying lovely things and buying my husband gifts, I would wonder why he didn’t feel loved by me. Same goes for him – if he spent his time cuddling and smooching me and spending time with me, he would wonder why it wasn’t doing it for me!! See, it is like learning a language and then travelling to another country. But then upon arrival you learn that the country you visit doesn’t speak the language you learnt! Despite all the time and effort you spent learning this new language and attempting to use it in the new country, it will mean nothing. Sure, you might get a few smiles and nods and the occasional person may somewhat understand you, but it won’t get you very far. The fact is, the country you are visiting doesn’t know the language you are speaking and thus, you won’t be able to properly communicate.
The challenge then is to love someone the way they feel loved and not just the way you feel loved. You need to become fluent in their language. This can often feel unnatural and fake. In fact, I struggled with this for many years. “But I am me” I would demand, I want to treat you like this, not this. Continuing to behave in this way didn’t help my husband’s love tank get filled, which in turn affected my own love tank being filled. And when you both have low love tanks, you are in dangerous ground. Someone has to to choose to fill the other’s love tank for the sake of the relationship to survive.
Another difficulty with the love languages is that your one or two core drivers can actually change over time. So, it is not necessarily a matter of learning your partner’s love language and then sticking with it – you have to learn to adapt and grow and learn according to stages of life and circumstances. Nowadays, I think I feel most loved with acts of service (really?? Gifts are so much more exciting surely?? 😉 ) and my husband feels loved with Words of Affirmation (much easier!!! haha). So, I’ve had to go back to the books and learn my languages again – which of course, has made us better for it. See, being willing to adapt, learn and grow are crucial to your partner feeling loved. And if you really love someone, then of course you will want them to feel loved. Learning someone’s love language takes time, experimentation, honesty, vulnerability, flexibility and authentic communication.
Lastly, the other challenge is not to use this knowledge of your partner’s core drivers as punishment. When you are angry or disappointed, it is tempting to withdraw your love to pay your partner back or teach them a lesson and make them feel bad. Playing with their love language like a game and intentionally withholding it is even more painful, because it is their way of feeling loved and will drain even more from their love tank compared to withholding one of the other ones. Believe me, just don’t play dirty and don’t go there.
Knowing your partner’s love language is a gift and a privilege. So, it needs to be treated as such. It is the key to your partner feeling loved by you – and when they feel loved, appreciated and safe, they in turn can fill your love tank.
I encourage you to read the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman and learn what your love languages are and also what the important people in your life are. This is the case with our spouse, but also with our children, parents, friends, and even colleagues. Trust me, it will help you so much!