Do You Know Your Partner's Love Language?

Deborah J Fox, MSW

  photo by Bob Jenkin (cc by 2.0)

photo by Bob Jenkin (cc by 2.0)

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman contains a real pearl of wisdom - what makes us each feel loved and cared for is not universal. Just as what floats your boat doesn't necessarily float mine, the same is true for how we express caring for our partners. Chapman identifies that you feel loved and cared for if your partner expresses her caring for you in your “love language”.

What commonly happens is, "you don't feel I love you? How’s that possible? I tell you all the time how much I love you!" Her response is, "well, I'd feel loved if you ever wanted to spend time with me - but you're always off doing something else!"

Do you ever think to ask, "what do you need from me that would let you know I love you?" More likely, you do unto your partner as you'd like him to do unto you. Herein lies the problem - you're speaking to her in your love language, not hers. Those things you say are nice, but she's still longing for that quality time with you. You're missing the target. 

What is your love language?

Read the descriptions of Chapman’s five languages to answer that question:

    Words of Affirmation. These people appreciate the spoken word:      

        “You sounded so smart today when you were talking today!”

        “You look so handsome in that suit!”

        “You are such an awesome mom!”

        “You threw a great dinner party!”

    Acts of Service. Actions speak louder than words. This means doing things you know your         partner would like you to do:

        Shop for and cook dinner

        Take the car in for service        

        Pick up the dry cleaning

        Make the vacation arrangements

    Physical Touch. This includes sex, but isn’t necessarily limited to sex: 

        Affectionate touch as you pass each other in the hall

        A long hug when you greet each other at the end of the workday

        An unexpected embrace with a passionate kiss

        Holding hands or an arm across her shoulder

    Quality Time. This means undivided attention, not just being in the same air space:

        An evening out to to a movie, concert, or some entertainment venue you both like

        A leisurely conversation outside on your porch with a glass of wine

        A fun activity you both enjoy, perhaps a long walk or bike ride

        Declaring device-free time at dinner and before bed

    Receiving Gifts. The kind that you can touch, perhaps wrapped up in a box with a bow!

When figuring out what your love language is, you may think you have two or three. While you may appreciate all of them, there usually is the top one, even if there is a close second. If you’re unsure, think to yourself, “If I don’t get THAT one, I feel deprived.” Or, “that's the one I long for, even if the other one(s) is really nice.

What is your partner’s love language?

The next step is to guess the love language of your partner first before asking. See how well you know each other! This should be very enlightening. If you do already know the other's language, do you speak to her in that language? People tend to forget. Here's a common one - "how can you think I don't love you, I always want to have sex with you!" The answer might be "well, you're the one who wants sex all the time, but I find it really sexy when you walk in the door and ask what can you do help - fix dinner or take the kids off my hands!”

The power of feeling loved

Couples have fewer problems when each person feels loved by the other. Simply doing or saying what makes the other feel loved quickly changes the entire atomosphere between you. Your tendency to feel defensive dissipates. Fights just don’t happen as much.  

Think of the opposite scenario. When you don’t feel appreciated or acknowledged, snarky comments just roll off your tongue. Sparks fly easily. Fights erupt over trivial things. The real source of all the acrimony often lies in the absence of feeling loved and cared for. 

This can solve the common frustration of feeling that your partner doesn’t really know you or knows what’s important to you. 

    “Could she just once understand that when she spends the entire evening with the kids, and once they're in bed, she's on Facebook I feel unimportant and unappreciated?”    

    “Do you think he could tell me I look great or that I did a great job hosting that event?”

Do these sentiments sound familiar? A little attention to what actually makes your partner feel loved goes a long way. If bringing your partner a cup of coffee without being asked is what speaks love to her, then you can take some pressure off yourself in trying to find the perfect gift every birthday. 

Knowing the love language of your partner is step one. Step two is the important one - speaking to her in her love language. When you speak to him consistently in his love language, it’s amazing what transformation can happen.