Feeling Misunderstood? How To Have Fulfilling Relationships
Learning a language takes desire, dedication, commitment, and humility--it also takes a lifetime to master. This could be said about love as well. Have you ever felt like you are trying to express your love to someone close to you and they just don’t seem to appreciate it? Maybe it’s because you speak different love languages. Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the book "The 5 Love Languages”, writes about the art of learning to express love in a way that others receive it and vice versa. He explains that inside each of us exists an "invisible 'emotional love tank'" in need of filling. The way we fill the emotional love tank can be expressed in 5 different ways:
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
ACTS OF SERVICE
How do I discover my top love language(s)? Follow this link to take the free online test.
According to Dr. Chapman, ask yourself these questions:
- What makes you feel most loved by your spouse?
- What do you desire above all else?
- What have I most often requested from my spouse?
- How do you consciously express your love to your spouse?
What if I speak a different language of love from the person I am trying to show love or appreciation to?
In order for others to feel loved, we must first discover how they receive love best.
This can work for both romantic and platonic relationships, with children, spouses, colleauges and friends. (See Dr. Chapman’s other books.) For example, if you are trying to express your love by encouraging the other person with nice words, but their top love language is quality time, the words may seem empty unless you connect one-on-one with them.
Meeting the emotional need in your spouse is a choice, and by learning the love language of your spouse and speaking it frequently, they will continue to feel loved.
If this concept of 'Love Languages' is new to you, does it make sense? Can you identify your top love language? Or your spouse's or children’s? We will discuss each love language further in the following chapters.
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
Your Words Have Power To Heal Or Hurt
Words are powerful. They have the power to build up or destroy. Do you know the affect of your words on others? Learning to communicate and express yourself in a way the other person understands is key to any relationship. For some, a word of encouragement is the most meaningful thing to them. Words are one of the languages of love. According to Dr. Chapman, 'Words of Affirmation' includes any verbal or written expression of love. If you or your spouse can identify with this love language, then it is important to understand the different ways you can show/receive love. These could include the following as Dr. Chapman explains:
Simple, straightforward statements of affirmation.
Encourage means to ’inspire courage’. Perhaps your spouse has untapped potential awaiting your encouraging words to help them blossom.
This includes both the words used and the tone of voice to say them. Use kind words and say them in an honest, gentle, soft manner.
Making a request, not a demand, as equal, adult partners. A request gives guidance and includes the element of choice. A demand is an ultimatum and ultimately drives the spouse away.
Saying positive things about your spouse when they are not present, eventually it will come back to your spouse.
Lifting up your spouse in front of other people when they are present.
In all of these ways, think about this: "The object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love." -Dr. Gary Chapman
Words of affirmation are neither Patrik's nor my top love language, but we definitely can see the power our words have to affect one another. It's even more difficult considering our mother tongue's are different languages. I can be critical of Patrik's words or tones, but I need to remember (even though his English is fluent) that it is not his mother tongue, so his perspective is different. Patrik and I learned in marriage counseling, if either partner has a different mother tongue, it is important this person has an opportunity to express their appreciation in their native language, even if the other person doesn't understand the words--a lot is missed in tones and expression when it's a different language. I have experienced that when I speak Swedish, my personality changes because I can't express myself as naturally as I can in English. I personally am encouraged learning about words of affirmation so I can grow, and express appreciation to those around me.
If words of affirmation is not your primary love language but it is your spouse's, try keeping a notebook titled "Words of Affirmation." When you read a book or article or listen to a lecture or seminar on love, write down the encouraging phrases you hear. If you overhear others saying positive things about others, write them down and in time you will have a list of words to use when expressing love to your spouse. For one week, make an effort to compliment your spouse on one thing throughout the day. Once a month, write a note of encouragement or find a card from the store that expresses your love in words and give it to your spouse.
If words are your top love language, what makes you feel loved in this way? If words are your partner’s top love language, which ways have you found to encourage with words? If you and your spouse have different mother tongues, what do you do to make sure the other feels affirmed with words?
How To Affirm Your Partner With Your Time
Have you ever heard that time is money? For someone whose love language is 'quality time', they find it priceless when someone takes the time to be with them, no money could ever be worth that time spent. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, "quality time" means giving someone your undivided attention, looking at each other, talking, really seeing that person. Quality time often includes these 5 elements:
Togetherness means we are doing something together and giving our full attention to the other person. The activity is the vehicle that creates a sense of togetherness. The activity itself is not as important as the emotions that are created as a result of the time spent together.
Quality time also includes quality conversation--a sympathetic dialogue where both are sharing their thoughts, experiences, feelings, and desires in a respectful, uninterrupted context. 'Quality conversation' is different from 'words of affirmation' in that it focuses on what one hears; whereas, 'words of affirmation' focus on what is said. The focus is drawing out the other person by sympathetically listening with a desire to understand thoughts, feelings, and desires.
ART OF LISTENING
A large part of conversation centers around sympathetic listening, with the aim to understand the other person's thoughts, feelings, and desires. We must be willing to give advice, but only when it is requested and never condescendingly. Here are some practical tips for listening:
- Maintain eye contact when your spouse is talking.
- Focus only on listening to your spouse, don't do something else at the same time.
- Listen for feelings and restate in your words what you hear your spouse saying.
- Observe body language and look for contradictions and clarification.
- Refuse to interrupt, defend, or correct, instead seek to discover their thoughts and feelings.
ART OF TALKING
Learning the art of talking includes self-revelation, sharing thoughts and feelings. In our daily lives we have thoughts, desires, and actions--the expression of that process is self-revelation. This may be challenging if you have been tought to deny your feelings.
The emphasis is on being together, doing things together in which one or both has an interest, giving each other undivided attention. The focus is not what you are doing but why--to experience something together. Quality activities provide a memory bank for the years ahead.
When I was first learning about the love languages, over 10 years ago, the free online test did not exist, and I always thought my first love language was 'acts of service.' Recently, I did the online test just for fun, and I discovered my main love language is actually quality time! (Only by 1 point though, so acts of service is still a close second, which we'll read about in another article.) Even though this is not Patrik's main love language, I can see it is a close second for him as well. Also for our son, I can see he needs quality time to feel loved and affirmed. When we first got married, one of the best ways we ensured quality time, was to have weekly date nights. This didn't mean we always had to go out, it simply meant we were together amidst busy schedules. Date nights are even more necessary after having our son. Again, this doesn't always mean we need to go out, sometimes we take the time after our son goes to sleep, to play a game and talk, other times we need to get out of the home. As a family, it has become important to eat dinner together, hopefully more nights than not in a week. Dinner is a time where we can connect over a good meal and share in conversation about our day, life, goals, joys, challenges, anything really. This means no phones/tablets at the dinner table. If we don't have time to connect at dinner, I find myself feeling disconnected as a family. I find we have to guard our time and manage it wisely in order for it to be quality.
The 'Daily Minimum Requirement' for a healthy marriage, according to Dr. Gary Chapman involves the couple to "establish a daily sharing time in which each of you will talk about three things that happened to you that day and how you feel about them." Try making a routine time and place to make this happen, perhaps at the dinner table. Try making time once a week to connect with each other, block it out in your schedules so nothing else takes priority. Plan special evenings together, maybe once a month, where you do get out of the home and away from every day life, to treat yourselves to each others' undivided attention.
If this is you or your spouse's love language, what do you find most helpful in sharing quality time with each other? What are the challenging aspects of this love language? Can you share any tips or ideas for showing love through quality time?
The Best Gift To Give Your Spouse
Who doesn't enjoy receiving a thoughtful gift? They key is thoughtful. One of the 5 Love Language according to Dr. Gary Chapman is that of 'Receiving Gifts'. A gift is something you can tangibly hold in your hand and remember that someone was thinking about you. You must be thinking of someone to give them a gift. The gift itself is a symbol of a thought. No matter if it costs money or not, what is important is that you were thinking of that person. Gifts are visual symbols of love. How do you give the perfect gift to your spouse?
HERE ARE SOME GENERAL GUIDELINES TO CONSIDER IN GIVING THE BEST GIFT TO YOUR PARTNER:
- Gifts can be purchased, found or made.
- Gifts do not need to be expensive.
- Think about what gifts your spouse has expressed excitement about receiving before.
- Recruit the help of family or friends who really know your spouse.
- Don't wait for a special occasion.
- Your presence can be the best gift to give at certain times.
GIFTS AND MONEY
Each of us has our own perspective regarding the purpose of money and different emotions associated with spending it. Some are savers, others are spenders. If you are in the first category, you may find it difficult to buy gifts for your spouse. It is important to realize that by saving and investing money you are buying emotional security and thus caring for your own emotional needs. If you can see that purchasing gifts is an investment into the relationship, you may have an easier time spending money.
THE GIFT OF PRESENCE
In times of need, physical presence is the most powerful gift you can give if your spouse's primary love language is receiving gifts. Being there when your spouse needs you speaks loudly of your love. Your body becomes the symbol of your love. If the physical presence of your spouse is important, let your spouse know. Don't expect them to read your mind. If your spouse requests your presence, take it seriously. Dr. Chapman writes, "Almost everything ever written on the subject of love indicates that at the heart of love is the spirit of giving."
This is an interesting one for us because Patrik dislikes spending money on flowers for me, but he does it because he knows I enjoy the tangible display of his love visible to me throughout the week. But what is important to realise is it is not about the money!! It is about the thought that goes into the gift. I am quite picky when it comes to gifts and I do enjoy receiving gifts, though it is not on the top of my list. I still remember my first birthday after we were married. We were exploring the mountains in southern France, and we found the most gorgeous turquoise lake called Lac de Castillon. I was in heaven! And on the beach at the lake, Patrik gave me a gift. What could top this moment? Imagine my disappointment when I open his present, a plastic cell phone cover. I was not impressed. I was disappointed actually. We were in France, and all you could find was a phone cover?! After that, Patrik learned to get tips for future gifts. He had me pick out some items from my favourite jewellery catalogue (and I thought he had forgotten about it) until our anniversary and I was pleasantly surprised to find jewelry I loved! So you can learn to speak another language of love!
If your love language is not receiving gifts and it is your spouse's love language, ask your spouse what they would like to receive during the day and the week to feel loved. Write it down on a list so you have ideas of what you can give them. If they would appreciate flowers, get them flowers once a week. If it's bringing home takeout food for dinner once a week, make it happen. You can also have them go through a catalogue of items and circle gift ideas for bigger celebrations. Set a reminder in your phone 1 month prior to their birthday, Christmas or Valentine's Day to start planning a gift for them.
If you can identify with receiving gifts as your primary love language, what are small, inexpensive ways your spouse can show you love? If you are proficient in gift giving, can you share ideas of how to give thoughtful gifts to your spouse or children? If you are a saver, how do you overcome the thought of spending money?
Acts of Service
How To Love Your Spouse Through Your Actions
Washing the laundry is not very sexy in and of itself, but for the one whose top love language is 'Acts of Service', that is one of the most loving things their spouse could do to express love to them. (For a brief introduction to the 5 Love Languages, read this article, or to take the free online test, follow this link). According to Dr. Gary Chapman, 'acts of service' include doing things you know your spouse would like you to do. This means you desire to express your love by serving your spouse. Acts of service could be grocery shopping, cooking meals, cleaning dishes, removing hair from the shower drain, doing the laundry, vacuuming, getting the car washed, changing diapers, the list is as endless as the tasks.
The challenge with acts of service is a matter of expectations and demands. If acts of service is your love language, it is important to remember, no one likes to be forced to do anything. Love cannot be demanded. Love is always freely given. As with all the other love languages, you cannot expect your spouse to read your mind and understand what they must do to express their love. It is important to express your needs in the form of a request. Requests begin with 'I wish' or 'I would like' rather than 'you must' or 'why haven't you'. As Dr. Chapman writes, "requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love."
Here are some things to keep in mind if acts of service is either you or your spouse's love language:
- What we do for each other while we are dating is usually not how it will be after marriage. Before marriage we are in the obsessed love stage. After marriage we revert back to the people we were before. Our actions are influenced by the model of our parents, our personality, our perception of love, our emotions, needs, and desires.
- Love is a choice and cannot be coerced. Criticism and demands tend to drive a wedge. You can give guidance to love by making a request, but you cannot create the will to love. Acts of service are not expressions of love when done out of fear, guilt, manipulation or resentment. Do not allow yourself to be a doormat for others to treat as an object.
- People tend to criticize their spouse in the area where they have the most emotional need. Criticism is an ineffective way of pleading for love. If your spouse tends to criticize, try asking for clarification to understand why it is important. Doing so may turn the criticism from a demand to a request.
- Be aware of stereotypes around marital roles. Whatever your perceptions, chances are you and your spouse perceives marital roles differently. Both must have a willingness to examine and change stereotypes if necessary.
Acts of service is one of my top love languages. I thought it was my top love language until I took the online test and discovered my top love language is actually quality time. But Acts of service is a close second. You can give love and receive love in different ways. I know, it's complex. Often they are the same, but sometimes they are different. In my case I often show love through serving others. A challenge I have found is that when my acts are not appreciated, how do I feel then. I feel used. Taken advantage of. I feel like a servant. Patrik often says he likes to show me love by doing the dishes for me. The challenge with showing love through acts of service is, what is the difference between showing love and doing your part in household duties? I still haven't quite figured that out for myself yet.
If 'acts of service' is your love language, try making a 'Request List' where you write down the top 4 things your spouse can do that would make you feel loved. Be concrete and specific. Make sure they seem reasonable to your spouse.
- Put your dirty clothes in the hamper every morning.
- Do the dishes if I have cooked.
- Vacuum once a week.
- Make dinner/order take-out once a week.
If your spouse's love language is 'acts of service' it is important to understand that your actions are an act of love towards your spouse. Ask your spouse to make a request list so you know how they will feel emotionally cared for.
After you try the action step, please share how it affected your relationship in the weeks after. What did you find to be the most surprising reality after getting married? Have you changed any of your stereotypes about marital roles since getting married?
What's The Big Deal With Sex? Expressing Love Through Touch
Physical touch can either make or break a relationship. It can communicate hate or love, acceptance or rejection. With children, physical contact is vital to nurturing. Research shows that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop better emotionally. In times of crisis, hugging communicates empathy and support. At work, a hand shake communicates a friendly greeting. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, one of the 5 love languages is that of physical touch, which is a powerful vehicle for communicating marital love.
If you or your spouse's love language is physical touch, you feel loved and secure through physical touch such as holding hands, kissing, embracing, or sexual intercourse. According to Dr. Chapman, there are different types of touch that require different amounts of time and energy: explicit and implicit physical touch. It is also important to point out unloving physical touch that must be avoided to maintain a healthy relationship.
EXPLICIT PHYSICAL TOUCH
- Requires your full attention.
- Takes more time and understanding.
- Back rub or massage.
- Making out.
- Sexual foreplay.
IMPLICIT PHYSICAL TOUCH
- Takes only a moment.
- Requires little time, but much thought.
- Putting your hand on their shoulder while pouring a cup of coffee.
- Rubbing against them as you pass by in the kitchen.
- Putting your arm around their waist when walking down the street.
- Holding hands while grocery shopping.
- Hugging or kissing before leaving for or coming home from work.
- 'Under the table' touch.
UNLOVING PHYSICIAL TOUCH
- Abusive or hurtful.
- Irritating or uncomfortable.
- Unwelcomed or unwanted.
- Demanding it be in your time and your way.
LEARNING TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF PHYSICAL TOUCH
In marriage, the touch of love may take on many forms. As Dr. Chapman writes, "once you discover that physical touch is the primary love language of your spouse, you are limited only by your imagination on ways to express love." Your best instructor is your spouse, only they know best what they consider a loving touch. It is important to communicate when certain touch is uncomfortable and for the other spouse to reciprocate with respect. Remember that what you find pleasurable, may not be pleasurable to your spouse. Not all touches are created equal. Try new touches in new places and let your spouse give you feedback. Respect their desires. You are learning to speak your spouse's language.
To be perfectly honest, this is not a huge need of mine, in fact, it is the least of all 5 of the love languages. Guess what is my husband's top love language? It is physical touch. This is the area I need to work on the most in order to make my husband feel 'seen', appreciated, and loved. I need to be mindful and aware, to consciously make an effort to initiate physical contact. I need to linger in a hug longer until he lets go. I need to grab his hand first when we're out for a walk. I need to show him that I want him through my touch. I need to be willing to initiate sexual intimacy as well.
I have found that a lot of these things are a lot harder for me to do since having a child. Especially when our son was a baby and not walking, I had what felt like constant physical contact, because I had a baby on the hip, nursing or giving lots of affection to. It is normal that when a woman is nursing, libido goes down, so that has not helped me either. It helps knowing that there are different seasons even in a couple's sex life. I think my husband would agree that although sexual intimacy is important, the physical touch throughout a day is equally as important. I need to remember to seize the moment with small or quick implicit types of physical contact--rubbing his neck or back, stroking his arm, grabbing his butt, giving kisses--all these don't require a lot of time, but much more conscious thought. These little things will make a big difference in our relationship, overall. I need to take an action step listed below to help me stay mindful of meeting my husband's needs.
If physical touch is your spouse's love language, but it does not come naturally to you, ask your spouse what kind of touch is meaningful to them. Start by showing implicit acts of love throughout the day. Kiss them before they go to work. Give them a long hug when they get home from work, and don't let go until they let go. At least once a week, make time for, and be the one to initiate, explicit physical touch.
If physical touch is your love language, what are meaningful expressions of love that help you feel loved? If this is your spouse's love language, what ways have worked for you to express love to your spouse? What ways can you express love to children through physical touch?