It’s possible you can love someone and they don’t feel it. Or vice versa. This can be hard to understand, and too often we find out years, decades, a whole lifetime too late.
The idea is captured in a popular book titled “Five Love Languages,” by author Gary Chapman. It’s a great tool for recognizing that people are very individual when it comes to how we show love.
If you haven’t read it, it basically boils down to this: your “love language” is the way you communicate loving feelings. It’s how you express love, but also how you recognize it in others. One person might give presents or compliments a lot, and they really like the same things in return. For another, a present may be very unimportant compared to spending quality time together or getting a hug. The book details five “love languages,” including physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and quality time.
Yes, it seems so obvious, but many of us tend to overlook the concept. Sometimes one person thinks they’re doing all they can to show their partner love, when it turns out it may be falling on deaf ears. Or our partner may be trying very, very hard to show us love but we don’t recognize it because it’s not our love language. And if you’re unaware that different people communicate love in very different ways, you might be hurt or confused, or both.
It Happened to Me
Let me give you an example. About 15 years into my marriage, I couldn’t think of a good birthday gift for my husband. I was out of ideas. My sister heard me mention that he wanted a particularly nice golf club, but that I didn’t want to get it for him. “Why not?,” she asked, confused as to why I wouldn’t get him the obvious thing he wanted. “Well because, it’s such a boring gift, and so expensive for what is basically a stick that hits a little ball.” Fortunately, she understood how much golfers like to golf, and pointed out that I might be wrong about how boring a gift it would be. Having run out of any other ideas, I decided to go ahead and get him the “boring” club.
I wasn’t very excited to give it to him on his birthday, having wished I found something better. Well, you’d have though I gave him a new car he was so happy with the club. He told his friends, he told his family, and he talked about that darn club whenever he golfed. He still mentions the gift now and then, almost ten years later.
I don’t think either of us can remember many details of other birthday gifts I’ve given him over the years. But when I took the leap of faith and listened to my sister (thanks Annie!), I wound up learning a very important lesson: give people what they really want. Don’t give them what you think they should want. And an important corollary: if people give you what you don’t really want, they may actually be showing you a lot of affection because they imagine you like it as much as they do.
Okay, I’m sure you are shaking your head at how slow I was to learn this lesson. I know I am. But then again, it’s clear to me that many, if not most couples, tend to automatically give love the way they want to receive it, never realizing that just a small shift in perspective could make a huge difference in how the other person feels.
I highly recommend the book, and learning what your own and your partner’s love language is, so you can start to communicate it in a way that can be appreciated and reinforced every day.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She provides couples and individual counseling in her office in Springfield, Illinois, and throughout the state by phone and web. Her love language is deep conversation, which for some reason is not listed in the book. But it’s on the list of books she’s been meaning to write.