My husband and I are not the same. We’re actually not even that similar. He is American and I am British. He’s a Republican, and I’m a member of the Labour Party. He is a textbook extrovert; I am a fractal step away from developing my own hermit shell. He loves Boy Stuff; I like bubble baths and bookshops. We don’t sit and nerd out about the same stuff (I haven’t even read the “Game of Thrones” books, because I’m a “filthy casual”). We got into a relationship because we’re very happily infatuated with one another, for whatever-the-hell reason why. We got married because we’re good at making our differences work.
We’ve all heard the saying “opposites attract.” Perhaps this is true, perhaps it isn’t. To simply be attracted to someone is one thing; to sustain a relationship is another. It’s not difficult to be attracted to someone who’s your polar opposite, but the way you deal with this difference in the context of a relationship is the deal-breaker. This is the basic concept of “love languages.”
The five “love languages” are a concept brewed up by Gary Chapman, who describes them nice and succinctly as: “five ways to express love emotionally.” Each person has a primary love language—occasionally two, because some people are pesky psychological mavericks—that we must learn to “speak” if we want that person to feel loved. Understanding your own love language is relatively easy; we often learn such behaviours as we grow up (from parents or close relatives), or develop them as a response to the way we have been treated in the past. However, understanding the love languages of your partner, family and friends is the important bit. This is ultimately the secret to maintaining happy, healthy relationships.
The five love languages are broken down by Chapman as follows:
Words of Affirmation—To some people, actions don’t always speak louder than words. They love to be complimented and praised, and respond well to verbal affirmations. Saying “I love you” is very important to these people, as is giving positive feedback on tasks they fulfill, or telling them how much they mean to you.
Quality Time—If spending quality time is your love language, nothing is more important to you than undivided attention from someone you love. That means taking trips and going on dates, without distractions, and focusing only on one another.
Acts of Service—This is about easing the burden on the other person: For example, this might mean helping with chores, doing work for them, or offering to drive. These people keep their commitments and would hate to be described as “lazy;” it’s about trying to give something immaterial back to someone else.
Physical Touch—These people need hugs, kisses, and physical contact. They are tactile, perhaps playful; they sit close to people that they love and are inclined to give massages, pats on the back, affectionate nuzzles, and so on. In a relationship setting, sex would be of extra importance, as would giving plenty of hugs to friends.
Receiving Gifts—Not to be confused with being materialistic or shallow, for the gift-giver (and receiver), it is important to give thoughtful, personal gifts. These people love being surprised with pleasant pressies, and respect it when you remember important occasions—and, on the flip side, they would be more offended if you forgot these events.
What makes a relationship work is recognizing your partner’s love language and understanding them through it. It’s not as metaphorically monochromatic as only appreciating one of the five “languages,” but most of us can primarily identify with one or two particular themes that really get under our skin. There tends to be one or two that stand out more than the others, that we crave more than anything else in a relationship. You want your partner to recognize how to make you feel really wanted, special and loved—and you (hopefully!) want to understand how to make that go both ways.
Working out what your love language is is simple (start off by taking this quiz). Reflect on your behavior in your relationship: How do you often express love to others? What do you complain about most often, and what do you request? Sometimes it takes rather deep introspection. For example, after taking the quiz and psychologically scrutinizing myself a little bit, it was abundantly clear that my love language was gift-giving. I never thought of myself as a materialistic person, so I was pretty shocked. However, it made a lot of sense: I am deeply offended if someone forgets my birthday, and nothing makes me happier than giving and receiving very personal, thoughtful gifts. While I have many traits associated with other love languages—I am very tactile with my husband, and woe betide him if he gets his phone out and breaks the one-on-one time if we’re on a date—these aren’t ways that I demonstrate my love and devotion to people. It’s about identifying how you naturally gravitate towards showing your loved ones that they’re really loved.
Once you’ve identified the ways that you and your partner are each inclined to show your love—and what you’re each most likely to respond to—you can really level up your relationship. A truly successful relationship is a selfless and thoughtful relationship; if you know that your partner needs to spend more quality time with you, then you will make an effort to do that to show them that you love them as well as showing your love in a way that comes more naturally to you. Making the effort to reach out to your partner on a level that taps into their love language is vitally important to making them feel truly loved, secure and happy. Choose to treat your partner in the way that they will best respond to; if they are more of the “Physical Touch” language, while you’re a bit more prickly, it means teaching yourself to reach out and be more tactile with them, even if you’re not naturally inclined this way. It speaks volumes if you make the effort to try something new, simply because you know your partner will appreciate it.
Two people need not have the same love language in order to be “compatible,” because ultimately, while the five “love languages” may be different, there is one universal love language that speaks to everyone: the willingness to make the relationship work and the effort from both partners to make it happen. This is why differences need not be a problem in a relationship; you don’t have to like the same things, have the same views, or have similar personalities in order to make your relationship work. Differences need not be an obstacle as long as you’re in love, you’re loyal, and you make the effort to make each other feel loved. Love is an emotion, of course, but it is also an action. Falling in love is only the first chapter of the story—it’s wonderful while it lasts, but it doesn’t last forever; the real love story is more rational and volitional. The real love story begins when we understand what it takes to make our partner feel loved, and we act on that understanding. If we love someone, then showing them we love them through our actions and behavior is the only way to stimulate truly warm feelings in return.