Love Hack: Love Languages and Communication
The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is a concept that we come back to time and time again. We utilize this in our daily lives and encourage others to become familiar with it too. It is universal for all relationships: romantic, kids and even work, but in this blog, we will be focusing on the romantic sense.
We recommend people take the quiz to figure out specifically what their love language is. Oftentimes, the love language that someone acts out (let’s say buying someone gifts or always saying nice things to others) is how they like to receive love. It is what speaks to them. We can get stuck because we DO the things we often WANT in return - and then get angry or feel unfulfilled when it is not reciprocated. Well, of course, if you’ve never verbalized it, you can’t be pissed about it! People aren’t mind readers. Thankfully, really! And remember, it really ISN’T just the thought that counts. Actions speak!
Let’s chat about what each language entails.
Words of Affirmation:
This includes verbal or written words in text, or notes. These are to be compliments, encouraging, or appreciative statements made to your partner, about your partner. Say it genuinely and say it nicely. Telling someone thank you, while you have a scowl on your face or are gruff….ain’t gonna cut it. It doesn’t have the same effect as if you said it lovingly, with a smile or in a kind format. Feel free to sprinkle in a “babe”, “honey” or “schmoopie”. Whatever feels like a “you” thing to say.
Also - when someone says something nice to you, how do you respond? Repeat after me: “Thank you”. You don’t say “oh this old thing…”, or “oh, I got this on sale for…”. Do NOT minimize what your person just said. They are going out on a ledge here, and you graciously accept it. By you graciously accepting the praise/compliment you are validating and reinforcing them (and their hard work) AND the likelihood it will happen again. If someone brushes off every nice thing we say to them, we are likely to quit saying the things.
If your person doesn’t know what to say to you - what praise is important - TELL THEM.
I know, right?
Don’t give me the “but if they don’t know, I don’t want to have to tell them”. Why wouldn’t you? You tell everyone else what you need, why not here? And again, no one is a mind reader. I suggest creating a list entitled “These things make me feel good and how”... Do you like your partner to write you sweet texts throughout the day? Or compliment you on your clothes? Or how you look? Or the activities that you do? TELL THEM. Also - it is lovely to hear praise for the shit we “have” to do when we become adults - those mundane, routine tasks.
Finally - do you want to really score? Say the nice things about your partner IN FRONT OF OTHERS. This will really amplify the feel-good feeling - for both of you.
Acts of Service:
This is where you do the things your spouse would like you to do. This is where you seek to please your partner by “serving” them - to express your love by doing things for them. Now, many acts of service revolve around the house - inside or outside. Examples of acts of service could be: making lunch or coffee, cleaning out their car, completing a task they would normally do. It also can be doing something they would normally do - and you offer to do it. It can be things like laundry, meal prep, taking care of the cars’ needs etc. This one can be difficult - and extra meaningful for those who have difficulty asking for things.
This one can get a bit complex. And it is really key to listen here - it may become important to know what is an act of service for the person, or the task of maintaining the house. For instance - emptying the dishwasher (in our home) is not a specific person’s job, neither is cutting the grass - those are household jobs, the house needs it to be done - so doing those tasks would not be an act of service. I can’t say to Darrell, “I emptied the dishwasher for you” - because it isn’t for him. It is for the house. That is something I would do if I lived alone. That barometer may help differentiate for you: is it for the house/car/children or is it for your partner? Utilizing this proactively can prevent or reduce resentment that can occur over time and erode relationships. And alternatively, some people don’t actually care - because the task is just getting done. Woo hoo! The ideal here is that you ask your partner - if their primary love language is acts of service - what acts they need and want.
This language may be misinterpreted as materialistic and lots of people deny this as their language because it “feels yucky”. One does not want to feel or appear "greedy".
Gifts can range from simple to extravagant - what it really means to the recipient is “we weren’t together, but I was still thinking of you”. This one is my love language - and I felt like a selfish ass until I came across this book. I didn’t know it was a “thing”. I also noticed I liked to give gifts to others. It makes me feel pretty damn good to make people happy.
Gifts can be a book you thought of, or a shirt you saw. It can be a card in the mail or a bracelet. It can be a handwritten note on a scrap of paper put secretly into a pocket or a coffee grabbed on the way home. The receiving gifts love language is really a visual sign of love and care - it warms the receiver. If you are not inherently a “good gift giver” - ask your partner what types of things they like. Darrell knows I like shiny things, plants and anything that is personalized. There is a broad range of gift ideas to accompany days, seasons or budget. Remember, as much as the gift itself may seem like the act of love - it is the finding, purchasing and sharing the gift!
This one can be hard - Hello Pandemic - aren’t we all spending too much time together?
The secret is in the word "quality".
It is not just physically being together. So, having the tv on, while you’re both in the same room, yet sitting on your phones, is not quality time. Quality time is doing things the two of you enjoy, while enjoying each other primarily. Things like - going for a walk, or in the olden days, going out to meals or vacationing. I would even stretch it to say watching tv together - while you both have focused attention, and can interact about the show, is quality time. My rule of thumb is that if you’re not fully immersed in the experience or person, it ain’t quality time. For me personally, I struggle with this one; my secondary attachment style is dismissive/avoidant and I have ADHD. It can be a struggle for me to focus so it needs to be well timed. I need a head’s up so that I can fully be present, and this is well known, so it works for us. I suggest for some who are busy with work or children, that it is also communicated ahead of time.
Note: This DOES NOT kill the ‘romance’. The idea of having to plan things so that that thing can be most thoroughly enjoyed, is okay. We are grown ups. We need to recognize that things take work and effort.
The idea that we communicate love non-verbally, in a physical way, is not new. We’ve known this for decades through science which has demonstrated that babies need physical touch to attach and feel love. Physical touch involves not only sex, but hand holding, hugs, kisses and gentle touches. A loving touch when sad, or angry can be so meaningful, and when happy, can just communicate such a connection. This is Darrell’s primary love language. But not mine. So, I need to make an intentional effort for the casual touch. Not because I don’t love him, obviously, but because it just doesn’t come naturally to me. And that's okay. If your partner’s love language is touch - there is nothing more important than tuning into this and how they like to be touched. Some like public displays of affection, some do not. Ask your partner. If this is one-sided, it is important to be mindful of consensual/non-consensual touch. You do not need to provide physical touch to your partner if you’re uncomfortable with it, if it activates you or if it provokes any trauma responses. If this is the case, I would encourage you to speak with a therapist about this.
Remember this, you are under zero obligation to engage in this love language, regardless of if it is your partner’s primary language, if you’re uncomfortable with it.
Easy-Peasy Lemon Squeezy?
Not quite. However, The 5 Love Languages have literally saved marriages. They have re-bonded partners who have previously felt disconnected because of the slow erosion of life. Some may have had an inclination of knowing what they needed and couldn’t put their finger on it, some had no idea. The principle of finding what your partner needs and tuning into it can be so significant an act of love and appreciation that it really does change lives.
Sometimes, however, it isn’t enough.
Sometimes the erosion has such a depth and breadth to it that it needs a more comprehensive approach. I like to think I am a very realistic therapist - so when I say you can engage in at least one of the languages your partner needs at LEAST once a week - you know I am not talking shit. Some of them can be carried out literally daily. Love may be easy, but connection can be hard; this can be a reasonable place to start!
Amanda Hammond is a Registered Psychotherapist, Certified Addiction Counsellor and Registered Social Service Worker. She has over 18 years of experience and thrives on supporting women, working with substance use and helping couples reconnect - not in any particular order. While originally from Napanee, she has lived in Kingston, ON for the last 20 years. She loves receiving gifts, swearing, and has the useless superpower of stain removal.