Recently, I read a book that I found unexpectedly potent so I thought I’d share it with you. I’d heard the term “love language” but didn’t really have much context. Then, while visiting a friend’s cabin this summer, I ran into the book. It’s called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This edition was subtitled How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. You may have seen it as it’s been around since ’92 in various editions.
The basic idea is that there are several “languages” of love. Each of us understands and expects expressions of love in a certain primary form. If we don’t receive it that way, we won’t recognize it as such and our emotional “tank” will drain. We’ll cease feeling loved and respond accordingly. Same with our partner. Unfortunately, most of this happens unconsciously. But if we know our “love language”, we can ask our partner to support us in that way and we can support them through their language. Our tanks become filled and we will have lots to share.
We’re talking about the love that emerges after the “in love” infatuation phase passes and we move into a more mature relationship. How we are in instinctive courtship does not reflect how we’ll be in long-term relationship. The different stages come from different parts of ourselves.
Of course, what we’re describing here is emotional love. We’re talking about how to support our partners emotions as best we can. In older posts, I’ve spoken about the differences between emotional love and eternal Love. I’ve also observed that we can’t really find love “out there” in another. If we’re going to Find Love, we’re only really going to find it inside ourselves. Only then will we have it to give in a real way.
That said, when in relationship we need to understand how our partner understands emotional love and we want to offer it accordingly. When we’re spiritually connected and rested enough, we’ll feel the love and energy flow directly between us. But in day-to-day life, we also need to refresh our partner every day emotionally in a way that connects, however we both are.
Our partners “language” is often not the same as our own. It may not even be a familiar or comfortable language for us to express.
Dr. Chapman describes 5 Love Languages:
1 – Words of Affirmation
2 – Quality Time
3 – Receiving Gifts
4 – Acts of Service
5 – Physical Touch (not to be confused with sex drive)
Each language has various “dialects” or forms a person may favour. He explored each language with a number of examples. The trick is in finding the primary language so we can consciously nourish emotionally. For example, most of us will enjoy receiving gifts, even if they aren’t our primary language. But if we lack our primary language, eventually our “tank” empties. Gifts will then have no meaning. But if gifts are our primary language, they may have more importance to us than our partner recognizes.
I was surprised at this process. At first I thought mine was obvious. Then I realized it was an adopted one from my upbringing. Something that worked for me for giving in the past. My actual language I had resistance to and had once rejected. This is why the process was so potent for me. But I had to be open to how I was feeling during the process. Sticking to a story would have failed me.
It also became much clearer how a past relationship had ended. I was not able to identify and she didn’t know how to express what she needed. The language I did express actually conflicted with what she wanted.
Understanding what you need to feel emotionally supported in a relationship is a big deal. Only by being conscious of it will you be able to ask for it. Otherwise, your relationship is running on default behaviours that can drain you emotionally and end the relationship. It’s normal for someone to change and accidentally stop meeting your needs if they’re not apparent.
He made some other important points. We may have to relearn how to notice and express our feelings, otherwise we’re just reacting. He also reminds us that love is a choice. We cannot demand it but we can request it in the form we favour. He observed that for men, sex is a biological need whereas for women, desire is rooted in the emotions. Unless there’s an emotional connection, women can feel like sex-objects supplying a need. Thus sexual problems in a relationship are usually emotionally based.
Because many of us have experienced its lack, sometimes it’s easier to find our language in our deepest hurts. For example, criticism hits more deeply if our language is Words. Inversely, negative behaviour like nagging can be an expression of what we’re asking for. We may also demonstrate what we want by what we give. It can be very frustrating when everyone is working hard at giving but nothing meets anyones needs. The book goes through a number of ways to find and understand your and your mates primary emotional language. (see below)
And of course, our children, our co-workers, and our friends will also have an emotional language. In fact, I noticed how we’ll see it anywhere we’re making major decisions; anywhere our emotions are at play. He further explains how love supports our emotional sense of security, self-worth, and significance. Being conscious of something this fundamental is thus quite important to our well-being.
You probably won’t find everything in the book a happy read. You’ll see reflections of your own mistakes and weaknesses there. But also a means to keep both your mate and yourself happy in relationship, if you choose to.
The book is now available in various editions, including children’s, mens, singles, and so forth.
After writing this article, I discovered Dr. Chapman’s website. Funny to consider the first book came out before the web. The site includes an assessment tool; a little quiz to find your own “language”. It’s the kind of quiz where you need to be emotionally honest in your answers. If you give them your email address, they’ll send you the assessment. If you Skip that, you get the results on the web site anyway.
Further, the web site also mentions the 5 Languages of Apology. If you have trouble getting past mistakes with your partner, that may be illuminating.
Love is the way. What is the path?