One of the hardest parts of any relationship, platonic or romantic, is communication. Part of that involves making sure we are speaking the same language in regards to showing each other love. (And yes, there are more kinds of love than just romantic love. But that’s another note for another time.) If I do something to show them love, but they don’t understand me, they may not feel loved at all.
For example, my cat Muffin likes to nip my hand sometimes. I used to get really annoyed by this and I’d try to make her stop it. But then I read an article explaining how cats often do this to show love. They bite each other playfully all the time to show affection and to get attention, and she would often follow or precede the biting with head butting or purring. Now that I understand her love language better, our interactions have improved. I’m less irritated with her because I know she’s just showing love the best way she knows how, and she feels loved in return because her affection isn’t being rejected anymore (which must have been rather confusing and hurtful for her). People aren’t much different.
(She’s so much happier now that she can bite me without being smacked away. lol)
There are many ways to analyze how humans show love to each other, and many methods for improving communication. This is just one of many, but it’s a really good one that has improved many of my relationships in the past and it helps me a lot to remember it in my current interactions. Like many things in my life it’s a concept that I learned when I was religious, but the basic principles apply very well outside of religion. (Just a heads up in case you go to their website and there’s a lot of extra religious stuff there; you gotta eat the meat and spit out the bones with this one. If anyone finds a similar thing that’s not religious please let me know.)
The Five Love Languages (Without the religious stuff)
This is one of my top love languages. I need to spend time with the people I care about in order for me to feel loved, and I show love by trying to spend time with them. Quality time will mean different things to different people, and it will also depend on what kind of relationship you have with them. For me, it means not having to compete with other people (or their phones) for their attention and emotional energy while they’re with me. Quality time and group social time can often overlap, but not always. If it’s family or platonic friends, group stuff is great. But even then, sometimes you need alone time with them to really connect in a deeper way.
If I’m dating someone, I generally prefer to be alone with them in order to have real quality time, partly because physical touch is very important to me (see next love language). It’s hard to do that if I’m mostly seeing a partner in group settings. I also like being alone with them because I can relax more around the few people I trust the most; I’m always a bit more guarded in groups, especially larger ones. Ideally, the bulk of my time with a romantic intimate partner would be one on one, and group setting stuff would be extra. That’s not always possible logistically, but that’s my ideal scenario.
This is my other top love language. I show love by cuddling, hugging, sex (if it’s that kind of relationship), holding hands, kissing- and I receive love this way too. If someone regularly shows me physical affection and then stops or greatly reduces it without warning, it can feel very hurtful and scary for me because it feels like their affection for me has disappeared too.
Acts of Service
This one isn’t a huge deal for me, but it is for a lot of people. And this is where conflict can easily come in. One of my ex-husband’s love languages was acts of service. He wanted me to clean and take initiative with stuff as acts of love, and when I failed at those things (thanks to untreated ADD and depression) he felt unloved and unappreciated. I, on the other hand, was trying to show him love through my own love languages, physical touch and quality time. I didn’t understand why he felt unloved, because I thought I was showing it to him constantly. And he didn’t understand why I felt unloved because he was doing acts of service for me when what I really wanted was more cuddling and hand holding. I wasn’t interpreting his acts of service as love, he wasn’t interpreting my physical affection and time as love, and neither of us were getting our needs met. (Eventually we did work this out, though there were other issues that were unresolvable in the end unfortunately.)
Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation will differ from person to person. It can be saying that we appreciate them, we love them, we want them in our life, they make us happy, they’re a good person, they’re sexy and smart, they’re doing the right thing, etc. This one is important to me too, largely because of anxiety and trust issues stemming from many hurts inflicted on me by others. It takes a lot for me to trust and open up to people now, and even when I do trust them I sometimes need to hear them reaffirm how much I mean to them, or that they want me in their life. And change is often hard for me (anxiety really sucks), so if there are changes happening I often need a little extra verbal affirmation in order to feel safe and loved. If I’m dealing with anxiety or depression flareups, words of affirmation can help a lot because I’m not always open to hugs or being around people in those moments unless I’m extremely comfortable and trusting with them, and even with those people I occasionally need space.
This one isn’t a big deal for me either. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when someone takes the time to pick out a thoughtful gift and I would absolutely feel loved and appreciated, but I don’t need gifts in order to feel loved. Some people do, though. If they don’t get flowers or chocolates regularly, or if they get the wrong gift on a special occasion, it can make them feel unloved because they feel that their loved one has not been paying attention to what they really want or need. And if they take a lot of time to pick out an amazing gift and their partner just blows it off, it can be devastating because that was a deep expression of love for them.
When I was still religious, I remember hearing about the pastor’s wife and her attitude towards her husband’s gifts. He got her a set of dishes for Christmas, and she got very upset and put it out on the porch because it wasn’t what she wanted. His gift was unacceptable to her, so she rejected it. I don’t understand that. Even if I didn’t particularly like a gift, the fact that someone took the time to get it for me means a lot. Material things just aren’t that important to me.
It’s pretty much impossible to go through life without needing to speak other “love languages”. Whether it’s family or friends or a partner, people all show and receive love in different ways. Some people really screw with your head and show love differently than they receive it. But none of them are wrong, it’s just a matter of learning how we each communicate and show affection and appreciation.
We not only need to learn to show love in ways that they can understand and accept, but we also have to learn to accept love as they show it. Like with Muffin. I can’t make her change how she shows love, but I can accept her love as she offers it. Now when she nips my hand I feel warm fuzzy feelings instead of irritation. Our relationship has improved not because either of us had been doing something wrong, but because we just weren’t understanding each other.