How Do We Love Well?

How Do We Love Well?


Finding ways to be a loving partner is usually easy during the getting to know you or dating stages of partnerships. Unfortunately, this “in love” stage of relationship does not last. Research by Dr. Dorothy Tennov shows that the average length of this stage is about 2 years. Living at this time in our culture, with the everyday stressors of life (and your everyday stressors may be huge with work and children or stepchildren or even grandchildren or elderly parents or boomerang kids or financial challenges or…) and the impact of little focused quality time together results in less energy to accept the differences between partners. Then loving does not seem quite as natural and must become more planned and deliberate.

We have talked about the importance of the marital friendship to weather life storms, in another article. In this article, we are going to talk about languages of love. Like all communication processes, we can learn to be effective communicators of our love. As Virginia Satir found in her communication work with couples and families, we have a universal yearning to feel loved. In fact, as relational beings, we yearn for the knowledge that we are found lovable, to find a safe place in relationship with our partners – this is at the core of our desires. Learning to communicate our love in ways that our spouses (our kids too!) understand is of highest priority in a fulfilling relationship.

In my practice, I notice that a prevailing complaint  in relationships is around the experience of not feeling loved. One partner makes the complaint and the other denies and tries to reassure their partner that they DO love them. They will give examples of the loving things they have done and their partner will respond with a “yes but” and retain their look and feelings of aloneness and doubt in the validity of their spouse’s declaration of love.

Their stories sound something like this. Bob likes it when his wife does things especially for him. He wants to show her his love and so on cold winter mornings he goes out and starts her car as a sign of his love. She appreciates what he does but does not feel moved or heartened by the gesture. She longs for him to be affectionate, to hold her hand or to cuddle on the couch. She does some of this with Bob as she tries to show her love to him and he will either be too busy or perhaps misread her signals as wanting to have sex. They are crossing paths in their efforts to love each other.

Dr. Gary Chapman has been a marital counsellor for 30 years and addresses this issue in a very helpful book called, “The Five Love languages”. I often recommend it to my clients. He reports that despite the many articles written, such as 50 ways to love your lover or other titles like these, there are basically five languages of love. He describes them as words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and receiving gifts. We all enjoy all of these acts of love but there is usually one that particularly touches our heart.

Words of affirmation are words that build your partner up, they are encouraging, perhaps complimentary, kind words, I love you words. One notices one’s partner’s strengths and the efforts they make in their own and other’s lives and make comments about those.

Quality time is described as focused attention on your partner, doing things as a couple, having quality conversations (drawing each other out, taking time to understand each other). Here couples treat the marriage as a relationship where their natural tendency to solve is put aside for an understanding ear. It is focused, exclusive attention, not sharing our attention with the news or…other demands on our attention.

Acts of Service are described as doing something you know that your partner likes having done. The act takes time, planning and effort and represents love to your partner. It is not just doing anything, but the important things that are identified by your partner.

Physical touch includes many facets of touching such as back rubs, cuddles, putting your hand on his shoulder, holding your partner. These are all expression of love. Making love is also a part of this category.

Gift giving as a language of love is described as something that is tangible and represents the fact that your loved one has been thinking of you. It is a symbol that can be held and seen and represents love to your partner. Your physical presence in a time of crises or important events can also be a gift of love.

The above are simplified forms of the languages of love. Dr. Chapman describes different dialects in each of these languages that make each language unique to the individual. For instance, in the area of physical touch, sexual intercourse may be the way that your partner feels loved and gains a sense of security in his/her partner’s love. For another, tender touch and cuddling gives this same sense.

Knowing this information can make a meaningful difference in your relationship. Meeting your partner’s yearnings for love is a choice worth making.  This simple knowledge merits spending time learning and knowing … and doing!

Please DO buy Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages!! It is a skinny book that makes a big difference. There are some tests at the back that help you if you are stuck in knowing what your personal language of love is or your partner’s language of love. How great is that!