Remember when you and your partner first got together? The endless time, energy and attention for each other, plenty of affection, feeling like you’d do anything for one another… Well, according to US marriage counsellor Gary Chapman, you can get these things back in your relationship by learning to speak your partner’s love language.
It may sound a bit touchy-feely, but the idea is simple: each of us has a way that we like to give and receive love. Chapman identified five major “languages” – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch – and said that each of us has one major language then one or two secondary ones.
Queensland-based psychologist Dr Peta Stapleton says Chapman’s concept works and that it can help men and women understand each other. “Even if they have to try all five to get the right one, people can only benefit from learning their partner’s love language,” she says. “They’ll have a more loving, responsive partnership and understand each other better. Generally, it makes for a better relationship. And it doesn’t just have to be in your romantic relationship, you can get on with and better understand your sister, mate or boss, too,” she says.
There are a couple of ways to work out which love language your partner speaks. The first tactic is to try all five and see which gets the best response. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth the results (see below). If you want to take a more scientific approach, look closely at what your partner complains about. If they say, “You never listen to me,” maybe what they want is quality time. If they harass you for never helping out, they might be an acts-of-service speaker. If you get great kudos for a good Christmas present, then gifts might be the way forward. And if you can’t remember the last time you gave your partner a big hug or a compliment and things aren’t great in your relationship, you could take that as a clue that you need to learn to speak physical touch or words of affirmation.
Getting your own back
By the time you’ve worked out your partner’s love language, you’ll have a fair idea of which is yours. Chapman says that once you start speaking your partner’s love language, you’ll find that yours is also being fulfilled, even if it’s different to theirs. Dr Stapleton agrees, “It really does work. I’ve got non-believers to give it a go and they’ve been amazed with the change in their relationship. I’ve never come across a couple who had the same love language – after all, opposites attract.
“When we’re first dating, we tend to do all five love languages. We spend plenty of time devoted to each other, we give each other little gifts, help each other out with tasks or chores, have plenty of physical intimacy and say nice things. As time goes on, we slide into our primary love language, the one we’re most comfortable with, and the others drop away. We get comfortable and then there are the complaints. I know that my husband’s love language is quality time and I only have to spend one or two times a week doing this, then he’s on top of the world and will do anything for me, which is perfect because my love language is acts of service.”
Let’s look at the five love languages in more detail:
Words of affirmation
People who speak this language thrive on compliments and being told they’re appreciated. They want to hear you say they make the best roast dinner or how lucky you are to have a partner who helps out around the house.
Try a different form of compliment every day for a week and watch your partner fall in love all over again. Send a text message saying, “You look handsome this morning.” Write a poem or put a post-it note in their book with a simple “I love you”. Tell their friends and family how great they are, it will filter back eventually and you’ll get double points. Write a list of their strengths and stick them on the fridge.
For some people, nothing shows love more than quality time. And, no, watching TV together doesn’t count – quality time requires undivided attention with no distractions. That doesn’t mean you have to sit there staring into each other’s eyes, you can do something you both enjoy, but the activity is merely an excuse for being together.
Have a quality conversation – really listen to each other and ask questions to learn something, not for the sake of your own voice. Do something you know your partner loves, even if it is shopping or going to the rugby. Go for walks, try new restaurants, go through old photos together. Make space for quality time at least twice a week.
I know a man who buys his wife a card and a small gift to mark every week they spend together. The mind may boggle, but as Chapman points out, visual symbols of love are more important to some people than others. What it says to the receiver is, “He/she was thinking about me.”
You don’t need to spend up big to get great results: pick some flowers, buy an almond croissant of make a card to give along with other little trinkets. Be aware that birthday and Christmas presents are very important and must be well thought out. Try giving your partner a gift every day for a week and reap the benefits.
Acts of service
This means doing things you know your partner would like you to do. And here’s the hard bit: you have to do them out of love. If you make dinner because you feel you should, it’s a chore – but if you do it because you know it makes your partner happy, it becomes an act of love.
Wipe the toothpaste spots off the mirror, vacuum the floor or clean your partner’s car and leave a note saying, “just because I love you”. Ask your partner which acts of service would mean a lot to them and then do them as often as you can. Regularly ask your partner what you can do for them today.
For those who speak the language of “physical touch”, love is a very hands-on experience. One the one, err, hand you have sex and foreplay, but don’t underestimate the implicit touches such as a kiss on the head while your partner’s on the computer, holding hands or sitting really, really close together. These touches are all just as important.
Never leave your partner without a hug and a kiss. Be affectionate in public, even if it’s just a hand on the small of their back. Learn to give a good massage. Bathe and shower together occasionally. For every sexual encounter, aim to have two non-sexual touches.
You can learn more about this in The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. (Booktopia link)
Dare to share? Which love language do you, or your loved ones, speak?