What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages
In my prior article, What Are the 5 Love Languages?, I began a discussion about Dr. Gary Chapman's book, The 5 Love Languages - The Secret to Love That Lasts, by identifying and defining the concept of love languages (see my article: Understanding Your Emotional Needs).
In the current article I'll be discussing how individuals in relationships give and receive love and what to do if your partner's love language is different from your own (see my articles: Love Maps: How Well Do You Know Your Partner? and Learning About Yourself in Your Relationship).
What Are the 5 Love Languages?
To summarize briefly from my prior article: Most people have a combination of the five love languages, but they usually have one that is primary, including:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation: If your primary way of feeling loved and appreciated is through words, you want to hear your partner tell you say "I love you." You also want to be complimented and hear other expressions of love.
- Quality Time: If quality time is most important to you, you want to spend time with your partner without distractions. You want your partner to be fully present, actively listening and attuned to your feelings.
- Acts of Service: Acts of service include things your partner does for you that make your life easier, like taking care of chores. For you, action speaks louder than words.
- Gifts: If your primary love language is gifts, you feel most loved when your partner makes the effort to give you gifts that are symbolic of their love for you.
- Physical Touch: When physical touch is your primary love language, you want to feel loved and appreciated with intimate touch that includes holding hands, hugs, cuddling, kisses and sex.
Communicating Your Emotional Needs to Your Partner
It's common for individuals to show their love in the way that's most meaningful to them but not necessarily meaningful to their partner.
So, for instance, for a husband whose primary love language is acts of service, he might show his love for his wife by mowing the lawn or doing the laundry. He probably assumes that since these acts are most meaningful to him, they are also primary to her.
But what if his wife's primary love language is words of affirmation? She might appreciate that he does these tasks, but she'll want to hear him tell her that he loves her. If he doesn't know this and she doesn't communicate it to him, she'll miss hearing these words from him, and the relationship could deteriorate (see my articles: Telltale Signs You're Growing Apart in Your Relationship and How to Get Closer If You've Grown Apart).
That's why it's so important for each individual in a relationship to be able to communicate his or her emotional needs. But in order to do this, each person needs to know how they feel most loved. That requires that each person take the time to reflect on their emotional needs (see my article: Understanding Your Emotional Needs).
It also requires that each person be able to see beyond what's most meaningful to him or herself to be attuned to their partner's needs. For example, if an individual notices that his partner comes alive when he hugs her, but she doesn't respond with as much enthusiasm when he does the dishes, he needs to change how he expresses his love.
Clinical Vignette: What to Do If You and Your Partner Have Different Love Languages
The following clinical vignette illustrates how a couple can makes changes in how they express love when their partner's love language is different from their own:
Amy and Ted
After 10 years of marriage, Amy and Ted realized they were drifting apart emotionally and sexually. They still loved each other, but they each felt emotionally disconnected from each other (see my article: Loneliness Within a Relationship).
As a way to rekindle their relationship, Amy suggested they go on vacation--just the two of them instead of their usual way of vacationing with friends.
Amy thought going away together would bring them closer, but after the initial excitement of being in the Bahamas for the first time, they were both bored, uncomfortable and disappointed in the experience. They started looking for other distractions to avoid being alone, including meeting and spending time with other couples (see my article: Understanding Sexual Boredom in Long Term Relationships).
By the time they got back from their vacation, both of them knew there was something wrong. Before the vacation, each of them had assumed that they weren't as close because their lives were so hectic and stressful, but when they had a chance to relax and spend time with each other, they didn't know how to relate to one another.
A few days after they were settled back home, Amy talked to Ted about the emotional distance she sensed between them. Although Ted usually wasn't as comfortable talking about emotional issues, he agreed that he also sensed the emotional distance and that he had been feeling it for quite some time, but he didn't know how to bring it up.
Their discussion didn't get far because neither of them knew what to say or do about their problem, so Amy suggested they go to couples counseling to try to work on their marriage (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT)?).
Their couples therapist told them their problem wasn't unusual for people who were married as long as they were. As she got to know them as individuals and a couple, the couples therapist realized that each of them had different ways they expressed and wanted to receive love. She also realized that each of them expressed love in the way that was personally meaningful but not meaningful to the other partner.
Amy learned in couples therapy that, even though she liked elements of all five love languages, she preferred to hear Ted tell her that he loved her. So, her love language was Words of Affirmation.
But Ted, whose own love language was physical touch, would try to be have sex with Amy before she felt turned on by hearing him tell her that he loved her.
It wasn't that Amy didn't want to have sex. It was more a matter that she needed to hear Ted tell her that he loved her before they were sexual, and if she didn't hear him say it, she didn't feel sexually turned on (see my article: Whereas Women Usually Need Emotional Connection to Connect Sexually, Men Often Need Sex to Connect Emotionally).
Ted was confused at first, "But Amy knows I love her. Why does she need to hear it?" But as he listened to Amy tell him how important it was for her to hear words that affirmed his love for her, he realized he needed to be more aware of what Amy needed and change his way of relating to her.
Ted learned that he also liked elements of all the five love languages, but his preference was physical touch. He spoke in couples therapy about how he was often disappointed that Amy almost never initiated sex and, worse still, when he tried to initiate sex, she didn't seem interested.
He said this left him feeling hurt and rejected, and this was why he was hesitant to initiate sex--even when they had more time than usual on their vacation. He felt even when Amy agreed to have sex, she was just "going through the motions" to appease him, which was a turn off for him.
As Amy and Ted listened to each other talk about how they felt most loved, they both realized that they needed to make changes in how they interacted with each other, and it might not be so easy.
Amy agreed with Ted that she often just "went through the motions" when he wanted to be sexual because she needed more time to get turned on than he did, especially if she had a stressful day, and he wasn't taking the time to get her turned on (see my articles: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).
She told Ted that she needed needed to feel relaxed first and ease into sex. She preferred to start by hearing him tell her that he loved her and spend time cuddling, but he often wanted to have intercourse without expressing affection and without much foreplay (see my articles: Rethinking Foreplay As More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse).
Ted thought about this, and then he said he would also like to cuddle, but he often felt apprehensive lately about approaching Amy sexually because he sensed she wasn't interested, so he would rush through sex by focusing on having an orgasm, "I guess I just try to get off as quickly as possible to get it over with" (see my articles: Sexual Wellness: What is Performative Sex? and Changing Your Sex Script).
He said he felt awkward, at this point in their marriage, telling her that he loved her because this wasn't his way of expressing love, but he wanted to improve their relationship, so he would make more of an effort.
Amy told Ted she remembered a time when she enjoyed sex with him more when they were both more verbally expressive about their love, so she was also willing to express her love for Ted with more physicality (see my article: Reviving Your Sex Life By Exploring Your Peak Erotic Experiences).
Their couples therapist suggested they set aside time at least once a week to practice these new ways of being together. At first, they each thought it felt artificial to have specific times to do this, but they soon discovered that if they didn't set aside the time, life would take over and they didn't do it. So, they both agreed that Friday night was a good time for each of them.
At first, they were awkward with each other. Ted, who wasn't someone who usually expressed his love in words, felt annoyed with himself for feeling like an awkward teenager when he tried to tell Amy that he loved her. Amy, who often bristled when Ted tried to touch her in a sexually playful way, also felt uncomfortable at first.
During their next couples therapy session, they talked about how they each felt like they were performing rather than actually feeling emotionally intimate with each other. But, over time, as they continued to practice each week, they each learned how to relax, look into each other's eyes, and say and do what their partner needed to feel loved. In turn, they learned to receive their partner's expression of love.
After a while, it felt natural again--similar to how it felt in the early days of their marriage (see my article: How Couples Therapy Can Help You to Form New Bonds of Love).
As time went on, Amy and Ted learned to develop the skills each of them needed to give and receive love (see my article: Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship).
As a relationship matures, it's not unusual for that initial stage of passion to diminish. Ideally, after that early stage of passion, love matures and deepens.
But sometimes couples get into a relationship rut. Whereas the new relationship energy carried them along at first, they might not be saying and doing the things that enabled their partner to feel loved and appreciated.
There might be so many other things that are competing for their attention, including raising children, stressful jobs, and caregiving responsibilities for older relatives, that they forget to do the things that nurtured their relationship.
The other possibility is that one or both people in the relationship might never have understood what their partner needed from them with regard to giving and receiving love, but the new relationship energy carried them along during the initial stage of the relationship.
The good news is that, with effort, people can learn to give and receive love in ways that are personally meaningful to each of them. Sometimes, when a couple is stuck, they benefit from working with a skilled couples therapist to help them develop these skills.
Psychological Trauma Can Affect the Ability to Give and Receive Love
In my next article, I'll discuss the impact of trauma on an individual's ability to express and receive love, how this can affect a relationship and how to overcome this problem.
Getting Help in Therapy
There are times when you might need help to overcome problems, especially if you've struggled on your own without success.
Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has the expertise to help you overcome your problems (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).
A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are holding you back from living the life you want and deserve.
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.
I work with individuals and couples.
To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.
To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.
Disclaimer: The postings on this blog are not meant to take the place of obtaining professional mental health services.
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