Languages Of Love

As you’ve probably picked up, I’m a great advocate of honest and empathic communication. When I get my communication sorted out, so many things are more enjoyable and peaceful in my life.

One area of my life I struggled with over the years has been my intimate relationships. I guess I’m not the only one! I’ve found them a source of great joy, growth and inspiration (plus 2 lovely daughters!) and also a huge challenge and headache. I’ve learned from the many mistakes I made and I’d like to say I’ve now hit on a magic solution for success in relationships.

But I haven’t.

One thing I have picked up is the importance of how I communicate love in a relationship.

‘I love you’

I guess most people are quite aware that communication happens on many different levels and in a multitude of ways.

No-one knows precisely how many spoken languages there are (the 15th edition of the Enthnologue catalogues 6,912), nor how much exactly we communicate through our words. I’ve read that only up to 10% of our messages are communicated in words (with the remainder through the quality of our voice and our body language).

I used to rely pretty heavily on the standard ‘I love you’ to communicate love. Just to add some variety I’d occasionally vary the emphasis:

I love you’

‘I love you’

‘I love you

Even so, three variations on a theme didn’t really convey the depth that lay under those words, so from time to time I’d choose another language to say it. German, French, Italian, Polish and Romanian is my limit, but that now gives 18 possible variations on the theme! I doubt my brain could remember ‘I love you’ in all 6,912 languages, but could be something to aim for! (BTW the first picture is ‘I love you’ in Japanese. I hope!).

Even this is kind of superficial and lacks the real variety that might be helpful to support a relationship.

Five Love Languages

A couple of years ago I discovered ‘The Five Love Languages‘ by Gary Chapman which gave me a new dimension on how I express love. Since reading it, I’ve found it really helpful to understand the ways in which I like to receive love and express it. More important is how my preferences complement those of my partner, or not!

I wish I’d learned about this some years ago, as it might have saved some misunderstandings! I’m sure there are other ways of looking at this, just I found this one helped explain a lot for myself.

Here are the five love languages, in my own order of preference from least to most:

1   Receiving gifts

These are visual or tangible symbols of love (presents and gifts). Gifts may or may not involve spending money, though this language is much loved by the retail industry!

I always had a hard time choosing gifts and usually there was an element of obligation in it. Realising this is my least preferred way of communicating love has really helped me relax at Christmas and birthdays!

2   Acts of service

Doing things for the other such as chores or other caring acts performed out of love not duty.

From time to time the mood takes me to prepare a really nice meal (and clean up afterwards). I tend to regard chores as mainly an obligation, but there are times when it’s a real pleasure for me to express love in this way.

3   Quality time

Focusing energy and attention on the other through conversation and showing interest in each other.

This is in the middle for me. Important, yes, and I do enjoy moments of really deep connection with my partner. But so is quality time with myself as an expression of self love.

4   Words of affirmation

Expressing love through compliments, praise and encouragement.

I still enjoy saying and hearing ‘I love you‘ and other words of tenderness. It’s not the most important for me, but I do notice I start to feel a little insecure if I don’t hear some words of affirmation on a regular basis. Maybe it explains why I get a buzz every time I see a comment here!

5   Physical touch

Not only sex but holding hands, stroking, hugging, sitting next to each other.

I spend hours and hours stroking my partner’s feet, hugging and caressing. The greatest pleasure for me, and expression of love, is having my back stroked. That’s really all I need!

Do we match?

Here’s a quick exercise you can do with your partner. It doesn’t have to be an intimate partner – anyone where there is a ‘love relationship’. That could be between friends, family members – even work colleagues (sure, why not?).

  • write down your personal order of preference (I find it helps to be clear about number 1 and 5 and not worry too much about the ones in between)
  • write down your best guess about your partner’s order of preference
  • compare lists and see what emerges!

Some of these questions may be helpful.

  • do your preferences complement each other? or clash?
  • how well do you know the preferences of your partner? and they of you?
  • does this help explain some past or ongoing ’situations’?
  • how can you use this to improve the expression of love between you?

One Response to Languages Of Love

  1. Sanja on July 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Ian, i like the article and thank you:) I have hard time making priority list.. i enjoy all of it and appreciate when there is a balance and diversity of expression…I have to read the book:)

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