In my past romantic relationships, it was often a struggle to figure out how best to show my partner love. Was it paying for dinners out? Physical affection? Saying “I love you”? So much of my attention was focused on this rather than truly enjoying the relationship for what it was.
When I began dating Sarah, I became concerned with the fact that she didn’t say “I love you” as often as I did. I began questioning her love and noticing myself testing her. I would intentionally say “I love you,” and wait to see how she responded. And each time I didn’t get my sentiment returned, I dug myself into a deeper hole of doubting her love. At the same time, she was complaining that we watched too much TV together and didn’t have enough quality conversation. Little did I realize, she was doubting my love a bit, too.
Both of us had been aware of Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, but never really thought to apply it to our relationship. In two days I listened to the audiobook, and Sarah and I took the online test to identify each of our love languages. Chapman says that there are five primary ways people receive love, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch, and that each person has default ways they show and receive love.
All that doubting I mentioned above? It went away when we discovered that each of us receives love differently. At the top for me, scoring pretty equally, are Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation. This means that I feel loved when Sarah affirms me: says “I love you,” puts her arm around me or embraces me. Receiving a gift from Sarah, while thoughtful, does not carry the same meaning for me as when she tells me I mean a lot to her.
Sarah’s primary love language is Quality Time, with Acts of Service as a close second. So while it’s natural for me to show love to her by saying “I love you” frequently, that’s not the primary way she feels loved. Instead, uninterrupted conversation and date nights are most effective. As for Acts of Service, Sarah always recounts the time I helped her move into her apartment and install window shades. It was watching me standing on a chair screwing in brackets above her windows when Sarah fell head over heels for me.
When we’re reflecting on our relationship together, often we’ll ask ourselves how well we’ve been respecting each other’s love language. Have I been sure not to pull out my phone during a conversation with Sarah? Has Sarah been sure to make an effort to tell me she loves me? Knowing how to make your partner feel truly loved is like knowing a secret language that makes relationships a thousand times more meaningful. Chapman also has ways for parents to discern their child’s unique love language, so they can best help their child feel loved.
Sarah and I can forget and slip into our default ways of showing love, but most times we’re pretty attentive to each other’s love languages. I feel on top of the world when Sarah speaks encouraging words to me. The other day she left Kung Fu bunny with a note telling me how grateful she was to have married someone she felt “so spiritually connected to, physically attracted to, and at home in our friendship” with. Me? Head over heels. In public she’ll remember my other love language and be sure to hold my hand as we walk.
One of the ways I’m attentive to Sarah’s appreciation for acts of service is in making dinner for her. Since I’m often home before her, she’ll send me her ETA and I’ll time dinner so it’s ready when she arrives. She couldn’t stop talking about how great it was coming home from work the other day in the single-digit temperatures to a warm bowl of one of her favorite soups. And our weekly spirituality nights feed her Quality Time love language. There’s nothing more meaningful to her than intentional time of faith sharing and deep conversation.
So often, we go through motions in our relationships. We love only in certain ways and assume this is how everyone feels loved, and we wonder why they don’t. For some, love comes through a thoughtful gift. For others, it comes when another vacuums the house. Knowing this secret language of love helps in cultivating more attentive care for others. The 5 Love Languages has become one of the greatest gifts for our relationship. We no longer doubt the other’s love because we know that each of us loves and feels loved in different ways.