“Psychologists have concluded that the need to feel loved in a primary human emotional need. For love, we will climb mountains, cross seas, traverse desert sands, and endure untold hardships. Without love, mountains become unclimbable, seas uncrossable, deserts unbearable, and hardship our lot in life.”
— Dr. Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
Time and again, I return to the idea that our lives are defined by the meaningful relationships we cultivate. Call me a sap if you want to, but I believe it deeply. Both in times of despair and in moments of joy, I’ve always had one consistent underlying feeling: gratitude for the people I love, and for the people who love me.
Good, loving relationships require conscious work, and work can be hard. There are times you may not feel like making the effort — especially when your friend, partner or colleague doesn’t seem to be trying either. But when both parties become disengaged or resentful, whose job is it to put in the work then? It can become a vicious cycle, driving both people further and further apart.
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, creator of “The 5 Love Languages”, we should all be taking responsibility for making an effort to communicate with compassion. When love is expressed and understood clearly by both parties, the cycle can be reversed.
If you ask me, there are two main obstacles to success when it comes to sustaining a strong, compassionate relationship. The first is stubbornness. Dr. Chapman doesn’t really address this with his theory, but I think it’s worth addressing. My advice? It’s not worth it to stubbornly withhold affection just to make a point that it’s “not your fault”. If you truly care about making a relationship work, then that relationship still deserves the extra effort.
The second obstacle is unclear communication. In his practical and personal (although sadly heteronormative) book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Chapman wisely presents the idea that each of us naturally expresses and understands love most clearly in a particular “language”.
“Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English,” Chapman writes. “No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse only understands Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other.” He continues: “Being sincere is not enough. We must be willing to learn our spouse’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.”
Communication is essential to a thriving relationship. And as with linguistics, we all have a primary “love language” — but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of learning to speak others. Below is a list of the 5 love languages. Take a minute to reflect: Which one(s) do you speak most easily? Which one(s) do you understand?
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
People whose language is “words of affirmation” appreciate encouraging and kind words, compliments, and handwritten notes: any heartfelt verbal or written acknowledgment of love and compassion.
ACTS OF SERVICE
Those who value action tend to speak the language of “acts of service.” When their partner helps with chores or errands or offers assistance without being prompted, these people feel most appreciated.
The language of “receiving gifts” is more than just something superficial. Physical symbols of love, “thinking-of-you” gifts, the gift of self, and the gift of time can all make these people feel valued.
Some people feel most loved when someone devotes dedicated time to them. The language of “quality time” includes providing focused attention, learning to listen, and engaging in down-to-earth conversation or quality activities.
Finally, the language of “physical touch” is important for some people. Whether it’s a high five, an embrace, sexual touch, or an encouraging pat on the back, physical affection is what makes these people feel loved.
Now that you’ve thought about your personal love language (and it’s okay to relate to more than one!), think about the people close to you. What do you think makes them feel most loved? Are you making an effort to express your love in the right way, or is your message getting lost in translation?
This theory doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships. Maybe it’s something you can apply to your friendships, in your workplace, with your roommates, or with your family. All it takes is a little extra effort on someone’s part, and then the positive cycle of communicating compassion begins. When one person’s love is communicated clearly, the other feels happier, and then it becomes easier for them to express their love.
Child psychiatrist Dr. Ross Campbell created a helpful metaphor to understand this. “Inside every child is an ‘emotional tank’ waiting to be filled with love,” he said. “When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally, but when the love tank is empty, the child will misbehave. Much of the misbehavior of children is motivated by the cravings of an empty ‘love tank.’”
Imagine how easy it would be to express loving-kindness to others if your own love tank was always overflowing. We could all use a little more love in this world — so let’s all learn a new love language and start to speak it.
Curious to learn more about the 5 love languages? Discover yours here: www.5lovelanguages.com.