I was in a greeting card store on Valentine’s Day last year and it was quite an experience. I was the only woman among a swarm of men sifting through rows of Valentine’s Day cards, picking one up in hopes it would be just right, and putting it back with disappointment. I asked a few of the men how it was going:
- “This day was made up just so the greeting card companies could sell more cards! It has nothing to do with love.”
- “I really resent being forced to prove my love like this. She should know I care by all I do for her.”
- “If I don’t get her a card and flowers, I might as well not come home.”
I can completely understand where these men were coming from. It never feels good to feel forced into showing love. On the other hand, I have had too many couples in my office in which one partner was in tears or retreated into angry silence because of disappointments on Valentine’s Day. As a couples therapist, I am completely behind the idea of openly, mindfully, and purposefully expressing love. Not just on Valentine’s Day, but steadily throughout the year. And not just using the old standbys of cards and flowers.
Using the Five Love Languages to Build Your Relationship
What really sets caring couples apart from the rest is whether loving feelings are expressed in ways that are right for your partner. The secret is finding out what your partner’s love languages are, and using those love languages to show your feelings. According to author Gary Chapman, there are five love languages
- Words of Affirmation. Words of affirmation are made up entirely of spoken or written words. These can be verbal compliments, such as “Your new hair cut looks good,” or words of appreciation, such as “Thanks for checking the air in the tires. You are always trying to make sure we are safe.” Another way to do this is to compliment your partner in public. Think of the reaction you might get if you said “He really is a great dad, isn’t he?” to your partner’s parents – while your partner was within earshot!
- Quality Time. Quality time can mean giving your partner five or 10 minutes of undivided attention when he or she comes home from work. Or initiating activities with your partner that you know he or she will enjoy, such as taking a walk, going to a football game or attending a classical music concert, and having a positive attitude even if it is not your favorite activity. Quality time often involves some friendly conversation. Often when we are doing things together we enjoy, we open up to each other the way we did in the beginning.
- Receiving Gifts. Receiving gifts is one of the most misunderstood of the love languages, in my opinion. Sometimes, as with the men in the card store on Valentine’s Day, people feel forced to give gifts because it is expected. If your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, however, keep in mind that gifts are really just visual reminders of loving feelings. Wedding rings are the best example of this. We think of our love bond when we look at them. Gifts can be funny, sexy, sentimental, or keyed to our partner’s interests, but they don’t have to be expensive. Picking a flower from the front yard or buying a special dessert can mean a lot.
- Acts of Service. Acts of service is a love language that’s all about doing things your partner would like you to do. It is showing you care by going out of your way. Acts of service can be expressed through all the routine things people do every day, like cooking, cleaning, taking care of the finances. It can also mean doing things that will please your partner, such as giving a shoulder rub to ease a stressful day, or putting away all the stuff left out in the spare bedroom so your partner doesn’t have to do it. Acts of service, big or small, involve some thought, planning, time, effort, and energy.
- Physical Touch. Physical touch is a love language that can include everything two people can do to give each other physical pleasure: a hug, a pat on the behind, holding hands, kissing, giving a massage, foreplay, or sexual intercourse. One important aspect of physical touch as a love language is that there are two kinds of touch: touch that gives, and touch that takes. When expressing love through physical touch, it is important to know if you are touching in a way that is aligned with what your partner welcomes and desires.
Figuring out Your Partner’s Love Languages
How can you tell what your partner’s love language is? Take a moment and ask yourself Is there anything your partner complains about over and over? The thing that hurts your partner the most can be a big hint about his or her love language. For example, if your partner complains that you work too much, it’s possible his or her love language is quality time. What has your partner often requested of you? It is probably what would make him or her feel loved. For example, your partner may have expressed how much he or she likes physical touch. This may be the love language. How does your partner regularly show love to you? Often, your partner’s ways of showing love are also what would make him or her feel loved. For example, if your partner often shows love through acts of service, perhaps he or she would feel loved through your acts of service, too. Of course, you can always just ask your partner. Show him or her a copy of this newsletter and ask: which of these five love languages makes you feel the most loved While using love languages will not solve all the problems in a relationship, it can be an effective tool for building positive feelings between you and your partner. With more positive feelings between you, it may be easier to discuss your problems and find solutions together.