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Understanding Your Partner's Primary Love Language
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Feb 05, 2005
Do you know anyone who just doesn't get along with his or her significant other? Here is an important question for him or her to consider:
Of the following five choices, which one makes you feel most loved and cared about?
- Kind words - when your partner speaks kindly to you, encourages you, gives you an unexpected and genuine compliment, or tells you that he or she cares about you.
- Quality time - when you and your partner spend quality time together, enjoying a meaningful conversation or just having a fun date.
- Gifts - when your partner surprises you with a gift. The cost of the gift is irrelevant. You feel cared about because he or she spent time thinking about you and what you might like.
- Acts of service - when your significant other does things that makes your life less stressful or more enjoyable. Like the feeling you get when you're tired and hungry after a long day, only to be pleasantly surprised to find that the dishes are already washed, the lawn is mowed, or there is a nice meal waiting for you.
- Physical affection - when you and your partner hold hands, hug, and share physical contact that reflects deeply caring about each other.
In his book, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman discusses how each of us are geared towards having a primary love language. Whichever option you chose to the question above is your primary love language - the way in which you most feel loved and cared about.
What's interesting is that your significant other's primary love language may be completely different from yours. Not recognizing this key potential difference can leave even the best of people sad and confused about why they just can't seem to have a happy relationship.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to work with a super nice couple who were very discouraged about the chronic tension that surrounded their marriage. Both John and Susan are just about the most pleasant and genuine people you could meet - the kind of people who you would almost never hear a bad word about, except from each other.
After understanding what each was unhappy about, it was clear that they just didn't know what each could do to make the other feel loved.
John is a super dad to their children, a hard working person with a lot of skills, and a respected person in their community. It's just not in his wiring to share his emotions with Susan, nor is it easy or natural for him to be physically affectionate.
I bet you have already guessed that Susan really needs emotional sharing and physical affection to feel loved and cared about. John is almost the complete package, but the one area that isn't natural to him is the area that is most important to Susan for a healthy and loving relationship.
On the other side, Susan is a successful and driven businesswoman, a loving mom, and well liked and respected in their community. Sometimes, her energy and drive make it natural for her to forget John's requests to keep things a certain way around the house, like putting recycling items in the recycling bin and not in the garbage can.
Can you imagine how bewildered Susan is when John explodes about finding a newspaper in the trash can? For John, his anger is not about recycling. It's about feeling that Susan doesn't give a hoot about him. If she did, then surely she could fulfill such a small and reasonable request. And since Susan has not realized that fulfilling small requests - acts of service - is one of the main ways that John feels cared about, it's perfectly normal for her to think that exploding over recycling is ridiculous.
I'm guessing that Susan would be more attentive to John's requests if she felt more cared about by him. Without consistently sharing thoughts, emotions and physical affection, what motivation can anyone expect her to have to tend to John's requests?
If you and your significant other can relate to John and Susan in being sad, confused, and maybe even hopeless about your relationship, I encourage you to take the following steps:
- Together, read over the five languages of love listed above. Share with each other which language(s) are most important for you to feel cared about.
- Write a list of three things that you wish your partner would consistently strive to do or not do. Come up with reasonable requests that you believe your partner is capable of fulfilling, and that would go a long way to helping your overall sense of well-being.
- Carefully consider your partner's three requests. Do your best not to laugh out loud, snort, or get crab eyes. If you think that one or more are ridiculous, kindly ask your partner why it is important to him or her. Once you understand why it is important to your partner, strive to make it just as important to you.
- Share with each other any key words or statements that the other uses during heated moments that hurt you in the worst way. Once you know what these words and phrases are for your partner, do everything that you can to never utter them again.
- When you mess up, tell your partner that you messed up. But don't do this until you really feel sorry from your heart. Lasting forgiveness doesn't come from the mind, it comes from the heart. And it is much easier for your partner to forgive you if he or she can really feel that you are genuinely sorry. If you do not really feel sorry in your heart, perhaps it would be worthwhile for you to remember that as hurt as you feel, your partner probably feels just as hurt. A nice principle to try to live by is to consider your partner's feelings just as much as you would want your child's partner (or future partner) to consider your child's feelings.
Why do any of the above?
My experiences have led me to believe that being chronically unhappy in your closest relationships is one of the greatest risk factors you have of developing real physical health problems. Not only does a rocky relationship cause hormonal imbalances via the mind-body connection, it also causes many people to drown their sorrows and anger in poor food and lifestyle choices.
You can learn everything you really need to know about healthy foods, optimal sleep, and exercise in a few hours. But all of this knowledge loses much of its power and relevance when you feel hurt or uncared about.
The emotional sharing that is needed to understand your partner's needs and to develop a great relationship requires that you expose your soft and vulnerable underbelly, which is easily squashed by insensitive elephants.
Taking this risk with a willing and well-intentioned partner could lead to your very best health.
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