Every now and again Bill and I go through a bumpy time in our relationship. After 16 years and two kids, it’s to be expected. Our uneven moments usually show up when his work and my work don’t comply with the Only One Stressed Partner at a Time Rule. Or when life throws us a curve ball, like when our younger son broke his leg last summer - right before my family’s biennial reunion. Or every year around tax time. And when our relationship isn’t smooth, we bicker, don’t give each other the benefit of the doubt, and feel disconnected from each other.
During one of our disconnected times, we got help from a couples counselor who recommended “The Five Love Languages,” a book by Dr. Gary Chapman and what we learned from Dr. Chapman’s work really helped. According to Dr. Chapman, each of us has a primary way that we give and receive love, what he calls our love language. There are five different love languages:
• Physical Touch
• Quality Time
• Words of Affirmation
• Acts of Service
When our partner speaks our love language, we feel more loved by them. But if our partner’s love language is different from our own, we can feel unsatisfied, unloved, and unhappy. See how this theory plays out in the following (mostly real life) scenarios.
Bill and I have a wonderful conversation at our weekly Friday morning date at Starbucks. On Saturday, we drop the kids off at my parents’ house and have a date with dinner and a movie. The next morning, after breakfast with my parents, we head off to the coast where Bill, the boys and I hike in the redwoods, share a picnic lunch, and spend a fun family Sunday together. I finish up the weekend with my love bank filled to overflowing with all this time shared with my family but, if there wasn’t much hand-holding, cuddling, or hugs mixed in over the weekend, Bill isn’t feeling the same.
Bill is on a deadline with a baby sign language project and he needs to spend the weekend working at his computer. He has to cancel our regular Friday date at Starbucks but gives me a big hug as he apologizes and he’s affectionate and sweetly physically demonstrative when we see each other over the course of the day. On Saturday night, the boys and I settle in on the couch to watch a movie and Bill wanders out of his home office to check in on us, sitting next to me on the couch and holding my hand. But he can’t linger because his deadline is looming and he heads back to his office to keep working. He comes to bed late that night and we cuddle and spoon but he’s up super early the next morning and back at his computer. I spend the family time on Sunday with just the boys and Bill takes a break at lunch and gives me a kiss, a big hug and an apology before heading back to his office. On Sunday night, he’s feeling pretty good about about us (and his deadline) but I feel like my love bank is depleted.
Bill’s primary love language is Physical Touch. He shows his love and affection for me with hugs, shoulder rubs, and holding hands. If I’m at the sink washing dishes, he will gently stroke my leg as a way to ask me to move out of the way so he can throw something in the trash under the sink. Even though we didn’t see much of each other in the Scenario Two weekend, there was much physical affection between the two of us, which helped him to feel connected, even though he was busy working.
My primary love language is Quality Time. So the Scenario One weekend filled up my love bank to overflowing and Scenario Two weekend left me unsatisfied. I feel loved when I am the recipient of Bill’s time and attention. We’ve found that when he has a weekend like Scenario Two, we need to find the time to reconnect later that week in a way that is meaningful for me. And I know that he feels loved by me in a way that goes deeper than words when I reach out to hold his hand, spend an extra few minutes in the morning snuggling before starting the day, and rest my hand on his shoulder while I’m looking at a document he wants me to edit that’s up on his computer screen.
To determine your own love language and your partner’s, notice what you find meaningful in how your spouse shows affection for you and by thinking about the ways that you show affection for your partner.
Physical Touch: A spouse whose love language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchie-feelie. Each morning, Bill will say to the boys, “Fill me up!” and both boys will give him huge hugs before they head off for school. Your Physical Touch partner gives hugs freely, likes to hold hands, and is an expert snuggler.
Quality Time: If your partner speaks Quality Time as her love language, you’ll notice that she makes spending time with you a priority. Your time together doesn’t need to be action packed, just full of your undivided attention.
Words of Affirmation: The best way to show affection to a Words of Affirmation partner is by bestowing unsolicited compliments like they’re gifts. Saying I love you - followed by a reason why - will strengthen your connection. If your partner is this love language type, you’ll know because she tells you - in person, in a text, and on a sticky note left on your bathroom mirror.
Acts of Service: In a recent talk of mine at Sequoia Hospital’s new mommy group, a mom said that her husband is always doing nice things for her, like making sure her car is filled up with gas and filling up the water glass that sits at the table where she breastfeeds her daughter. His love language is obviously Acts of Service. You know you have an Acts of Service partner when he shows his love as if he is answering the question, “What can I do for you?”
Gifts: I’m pretty sure my older sister’s love language is Gifts. It’s definitely not because she demands them, it’s because her gifts to me and my family are always so carefully chosen and thoughtfully given. It’s the meaning and thought behind the gift that truly matters to the partner who speaks this love language.
Knowing the love language of your partner - and the love languages of other people you care about - helps you to enjoy the ride, even when driving full speed over the many ruts in the road of your relationship.
Take a quick quiz on Gary Chapman’s website to determine your love language.
I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
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