How do I know if I am doing a good job at meeting my wife’s love language, if mine is different?
Signed: Speaking Different Languages
Dear Speaking Different Languages,
Thirty years ago, Gary Chapman wrote his first Five Love Languages book. And ever since, couples have been using this tool to help them communicate better, especially with regard to how they show love and affection to one another. (It should be noted, Chapman went on to adapt his teachings to include strategies for children and teens; for military families; for workplace teams; etc.) By no means is this resource the only or even the best guideline for connection between partners. But it does provide some very easy to use, simple to read, accurate techniques that are helpful for many people. And therapists will often recommend this book as a bibliotherapy option.
Let me highlight a couple of key elements from this book that might help answer your question. Chapman explains that people give and receive love in 5 main ways: through gift giving (giving things to your partner to show them that you were thinking of them), acts of service (doing helpful things for your partner), physical displays of affection (being physically close and sharing touch moments with your partner), words of affirmation (saying supportive and loving things to/about your partner) and quality (meaningful) time spent together (enjoying whatever you are doing as a team).
Our personal love language preferences develop as a result of a number of factors. We are influenced by how we were raised and how we were shown (or not shown) love as children; by past adult relationships that were healthy or toxic and the influence those experiences still have on us now; and by our current state of mental wellness and what we are accepting or missing from our feelings of connection and belonging with the people closest to us.
It’s important to understand that each and every person has all 5 love language needs in them – some just may be louder or quieter, based on a combination of the personality we were born with and our current life experiences. And it is never just one love language that rises to the top with what we need from our partner (it’s usually a combination of 2 or 3 of the love language categories that we long for). The cravings we have for affection and connection will often change based on how well our needs are being met in each of the different ways. When we have been shown an abundance of appropriate physical affection, for example, we may find that we start to yearn more for verbal affirmation or acts of service. We don’t stay the exact same way all of our life.
And similarly, the act of expressing caring towards others is easier or harder for us depending upon our natural tendencies/personality style. We might have to initially work at making a more conscious effort to show affection in a way that our partner will appreciate the most, if our natural tendency is different than what they need. But with practice and the recognition of our efforts by our partner, it can become an easy habit in a short period of time.
Being able to give and receive love/affection is one of the fundamental necessities for the deepening of an intimate relationship, of any kind. A one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach to communicating love will never be enough. We must be able to try new things, read our partners signals/needs, and step out of our comfort zones to communicate our feelings of caring in ways that might be new or unfamiliar to us, if we know the desired intention is good (to show caring and feel closer to our partner).
The best way to know if we are succeeding is to have conversations with our partner – about their needs and preferences, about our own intentions and efforts, and about whether or not we are in sync with one another. Even if the end result (how we fulfill our partner’s love language) isn’t always perfect, our desire to try and our communication about it will create a strong connection regardless. It’s more about the process of listening to and understanding our partner’s needs/wants, rather than the guessing and getting lucky, that allows a couple to successfully grow closer together.
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