We tend to show our partner our idea of love based on how we like to receive love. And, how we like to receive love usually goes back to our earliest experiences in what we were taught about love.
However, it doesn’t always play out this way. If you’re lacking in self-awareness you may not recognize how you want to receive love. You might come across as indifferent, or unappreciative to your partner’s efforts, where it boils down to a limited understanding of yourself, rather than a lack of effort on your partner’s part.
To help guide couples in building awareness, Dr. Gary Chapman discusses 5 common “love languages” in his book, which help bridge an understanding of ourselves, our partner, and the type of love we prefer. The takeaway from the book is to recognize what love languages resonate with you and your partner to help empower you and strengthen your relationship.
First, there are five languages common in intimate relationships which include: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch, which help teach us what type of love we are attracted to, and how to recognize our partner’s love language.
Navigating Through The Differences
Because our earliest experiences are so influential, they impact our idea of what love represents. For example, as a child our parents may have hugged us to show us their love, or they may have included little notes in our lunchbox that they’re thinking of us. As we grow, we may be recognizing these types of behaviors as what love means to us.
On the flip-side, we may unconsciously seek out what we didn’t receive as children. For example, if we weren’t given much attention or praise growing up, we may seek out partners who praise us often or who give us undivided attention as ways of getting our unmet needs met, and as validation of our worth.
Or, if we lacked a sense of safety or comfort earlier in life, we may be drawn to partners that express physical touch freely such as giving us hugs, putting their arms around us, or holding our hand as we fall asleep where we gain a sense of protection or comfort.
Because not everyone is going to ‘speak’ the same language of love, our idea of love may not be the same as our partner’s, which can lead to being out of sync with what we need versus what our partner needs.
This is both the joy and the challenge of an intimate relationship because it pushes us to dig deeper in not only figuring ourselves out, but also in recognizing our partner’s needs along the way.
For example, maybe your partner tried cheering you up by making you dinner, when you told them about the disagreement you had with your friend — when all you really wanted was a back massage or for them to hold you. Or, maybe the script was flipped where they were stressed out from a rough day at the office and you tried massaging them when all they really wanted was to get some fresh air on a walk with you.
While these are amazing efforts on both partner’s parts, if the efforts aren’t hitting our sweet spot, they may go unnoticed or even unappreciated which can lead to tension and miscommunication in a relationship.
By building our self-awareness, we begin understanding why certain expressions of love resonate more with us than others which can shed light on what type of love language we most prefer. This can also lead us to an understanding of why certain expressions of love hit home deeper than others which can help build healthier communication between partners.
Recognizing The Warning Signs
Even the best of intentions can backfire when learning our own love language or wanting to learn our partner’s. Because some relationships are toxic, that means the intentions aren’t based on love, but on opportunity. Thus, if what was being learned in childhood was to use relationships to get their own needs met, this presents a limitation in learning about yours and your partner’s love language.
For example, let’s say your partner showers you with compliments — saying the best time of their life has been with you by their side, that they’re proud to call you theirs, or that you’re a queen they adore. While these may sound like simple Words of Affirmation, if you are in a toxic relationship, this is no longer about positive affirmations, but may be a red-flag of love-bombing.
And, that means that any “love” they offer you isn’t love, but self-serving.
Similarly, while Receiving Gifts and Acts of Service are two of the languages of love, when these resonate with a toxic relationship, it’s no longer about sending little love notes with you to work, or texting you throughout the day as gestures of love, these get flipped into being used as tools to manipulate and control.
When we open ourselves up to our partner, we become vulnerable where our preferred expression of love can be used against us, not only to “love-bomb” us, but to abuse us. For example, if Quality Time is your preferred love language, it can be used to ‘punish’ or hurt you by withholding time together, or Words of Affirmation may be used to verbally attack you instead of expressing positive regard.
There’s always two sides of every coin…
Yes, some people will misuse the best of intentions in a toxic way, for their own agenda. And, once their agenda has been filled, they can abandon you when your heart is on the line.
If you suspect you may be in a toxic situation, recognizing the micro-behaviors before the red-flags start waving, using your gut instinct, and walking away if it’s unhealthy will be in your best interests.
Strengthening Your Connection
If you’ve ruled out being in a toxic relationship, then my hope is for you to want to strengthen your bond with your partner.
There are some love languages that are naturally more in sync than others without needing much effort. For example, Words of Affirmation and Quality Time are two love languages that can easily complement each other, because as you’re spending quality time together, you can also be providing each other intimate conversation while strengthening your bond.
Other love languages may need a little fine-tuning and tweaking along the way to help empower your relationship. For example, if you or your partner have experienced trauma in the past, you may be shy or uncomfortable around physical touch. When a partner’s preferred love language is Physical Touch, this can present a serious issue in a relationship if one partner is touch-avoidant.
Open communication, authenticity and transparency with each other is best when discussing how to best meet each other’s needs, without overstepping each other’s boundaries.
Being loved in a way that resonates with the way you respond to love is important for any relationship, but crucial to the longevity of an intimate relationship. It’s important to recognize your needs as well as learning your partner’s, in order to express love in ways that are meaningful and significant to you both.
Be open about your needs, and let your partner express theirs. There may be a learning curve in becoming more familiar with what each of you require, but the effort given will be worth the payout received.