Sometimes, words aren’t enough. They come out all wrong, they’re cliché, or they miss the point you’re trying to make — and you end up sounding like a bad soap opera character, reciting a reused script.
Luckily, there are other ways to show your loved one exactly what you mean.
According to “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” by Dr. Gary Chapman, we all have different natural ways of expressing love, as well as unique preferences when it comes to receiving it. Some prefer physical shows of devotion, while others respond to affirming language.
No wonder couples so commonly find themselves in communication deadlock. Not recognizing your partner’s love language — or knowing and communicating your own, for that matter — can make you and your partner feel misunderstood, unappreciated, and ultimately dissatisfied in the relationship.
So here’s the lowdown on love languages. Take notes, and start strengthening your relationship as you discover the communication style that’s right for you:
Words of Affirmation
If your partner responds best to loving, encouraging words, be expressive about her accomplishments, both big and small. If she just passed a test, tell her how proud you are. If she’s been patient, kind, and supportive, tell her you appreciate these qualities, and remind her how good they make you feel. Even in busy or long-distance relationships, partners who respond to this love language will feel connected if you reach out and send them an encouraging message or give them a call.
Acts of Service
Some people respond better to actions than words. They would love to receive practical support — like help with the dishes — or some time off from their usual daily tasks. And you don’t have to be a mind reader to work out what needs doing. Simply ask your partner to make you a list of the top 10 things she struggles with or would love help with, and try to complete one of those things every week or every day. Just the fact that you’ve asked for this list will show your partner how much you care.
Contrary to popular belief, gifts and gestures don’t have to include roses, plane tickets, jewelry, or lingerie to be impressive. If your partner responds best to this love language, any thoughtful gesture could make her feel wanted and loved. You could leave a cute note on her dashboard or pick up her favorite chocolate bar from the store on your way home — gifts like these are perfect for showing your partner that you think about her often.
This is a popular love language. Many people simply want to spend time alone with their partner. They find that this time helps them to feel closer, more appreciated, and more loving themselves. Quality time doesn’t have to involve a lavish date or an escape to the country, though. Just spending the afternoon together, working out, seeing a movie, or trying to eat your meals together every day can really strengthen your bond.
Physical touch isn’t limited to sex; it can be any physical gesture of affection, like a massage, a hug, a kiss, or a little hand squeeze that says, “I love you!” If your partner responds best to this love language, make a point to hold her hand when you walk from place to place, and try to remember to always give her a hug or a kiss when you say goodbye. And make sure to find out what kinds of touch your partner likes best. (Some people hate foot rubs!)
Put It Into Practice
While it’s true that we tend to like all of these things, understanding the five love languages isn’t necessarily about mastering all of them. Rather, it’s about asking your partner what her main love language is and utilizing it to enhance your relationship.
For example, Heather and Marlon have been together for 10 years. They love each other, have a physically loving relationship, and aren’t shy about praising each other. But Heather feels that she bears the brunt of the housework and childcare, which can make her feel a little neglected.
Because acts of service are a way she both expresses and receives love, taking care of business comes naturally to her; without any reciprocity, however, she feels overloaded. On the other hand, while acts of service don’t come naturally to Marlon, he realizes that Heather would feel more loved if he contributed more. So they work together to pinpoint where Marlon could pick up some slack.
His acts of service don’t have to be grand gestures by any means. Rather, Marlon can simply pick up groceries on his way home from work on Thursdays or take out the garbage on Monday nights. By simply taking on a few household duties, Heather and Marlon’s relationship is healthier.
Give and take is an important part of every relationship; it’s not all about you, and it’s not all about her, either. By discovering which love languages work best for you and your partner and adjusting your communication style toward each other’s preferred language, you can enjoy more effective communication and a more satisfying partnership.
How do you respond to your partner’s love language?
Catherine Hoke is the founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that serves people with criminal histories nationally. Defy “transforms street hustle” by providing entrepreneurship training, executive mentoring, startup funding, career development, and job placement. Defy hosts “Shark Tank-style” business plan competitions in which people compete for $100,000 in startup funding. Defy is currently enrolling its next class of entrepreneurs. To find out more about how Defy Ventures can help you or someone you love, click here.