“I feel taken for granted, unappreciated.”
“I don’t feel close to my partner any more.”
“It seems like we’re bickering roommates… there’s no affection.”
These are some of the more common complaints that I hear from couples during their first counseling session. They’re not feeling the love and they’re looking for tools to bridge the gap. My usual response? “You guys are normal. Staying close and lovey-dovey as a couple is challenging, especially after introducing kids into the picture. Let’s dive in and talk about ideas for reconnecting.”
Invariably, our discussion leads us to the classic relationship guide, The Five Love Languages. As Dr. Gary Chapman explains in his decades-old book, most individuals have specific preferences when it comes to expressing and receiving love and affection. These preferences fall into five separate categories:
Words of Affirmation – Examples: Compliments, praise, acknowledgement, sweet messages written in a card or on a sticky note, nomination for “Parent of the Year” Award.
Acts of Service – Examples: Chores, home repairs, errands, shaving the hair on your partner’s back, anything on the To-Do List.
Receiving Gifts – Examples: As simple as a flower handpicked from the garden or as luxurious as a new BMW sitting in the driveway. (The latter being a tad over the top, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to plant a seed!)
Quality Time – Examples: Watching a favorite TV show together, chatting over coffee, going out on a date, talking on the phone, spending the day together running errands or wandering aimlessly at IKEA.
Physical Touch – Examples: Hugs & kisses, back rubs, casual touches, cuddling, gettin’ busy.
If you know your preferred love languages and those of your partner, you can request and express affection and appreciation in a way that feels like a fit. The tricky thing? Often the way that your partner prefers to show love is not necessarily what makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and vice versa. At times, couples feel like they need a translator to understand each other’s behavior.
Mind if I give you some examples from my own relationship? (I apologize in advance for any TMI.) My husband grew up in a home with two working parents and a much older brother. He remembers feeling lonely and bored as a young child. As an adult, he feels the most loved and connected when he gets Quality Time or Physical Touch. If he wants to express affection, he will offer a hug, suggest we head to the bedroom or ask me to watch a movie with him on the couch.
I, on the other hand, grew up as an over-achieving first-born in a crowded, chaotic house. I have two little boys hanging all over me on most days. Instead of Quality Time or Touch, I yearn for Words of Affirmation and Acts of Service. Tell me that I am a good mom or paint that bedroom wall I’ve been whining about and I am putty in your hands.
Here’s the rub: If I only make pots of coffee for my husband and never initiate a kiss or a date night, I’m not operating with his lingo. If he only squeezes my butt, but neglects to give me verbal or written compliments, he is not communicating in my dialect. The trick to truly connecting with our partner is offering them affection and appreciation in a way that feels the most impactful to them. All five of the love languages feel loving, but tuning in to each other’s preferences will help you to feel more connected than ever.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take The Love Language Quiz with your partner and discuss the results. (Select the PDF version if you are short for time.) If you want more on the subject, pick up the book – it’s a great read for couples who want to strengthen their relationship. And then make an effort to speak your partner’s language on a regular basis. Life will feel more loving when you are both on the same page.
Here’s to sanity and butt squeezes,