You are about to up your relationship game, just by reading the next 1200 words.
Most of my writing in this space is focused on changing your thoughts, your perspective, your patterns, ultimately giving you permission to be you: straight up, unabashedly, authentically awesome you.
I believe wholeheartedly that when you get to that place of being (what Dr. Seuss might call) the you-est you, you are able to show up in the most beautiful, real, honest, and connected way in every relationship you have: as a friend, parent, sibling, employee, child, person in line at the grocery store, and as an intimate partner.
A huge part of being you is knowing what your needs are, and how to get them met, by yourself, and by the company you keep. Choose wisely, and your life feels pretty awesome and in flow. Choose poorly, and things start to feel out of whack, because the gears just keep grinding against each other, rather than work together for forward momentum. When you do feel that flow, you probably feel a true connection with people around you.
People talk about relationships being a lot of work. For most relationships, of any nature – and especially those of an intimate nature – “the work” really means achieving and maintaining the right connection, be it emotional, mental, spiritual, and with an intimate partner, physical.
Relationships – and the degree to which they are healthy or unhealthy – are a constant dance to find balance. The balance between being securely independent, and securely interdependent. Knowing how to depend on someone without being dependent on someone. The ability to share responsibility, without dividing and conquering into two separate entities.
A large part of what helps us find that balance, and what creates those enviable “I want what she’s having” relationships lies in our communication skills. Most of our connection is based on communication, and it’s the communication that becomes the work.
So if communication really is the key, how do we get better at it? How can we become a great partner?
Dr. Gary Chapman writes about this in his book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. And it’s amazing. Like give-it-as-a-wedding-gift amazing.
The idea is that when it comes to love, we all speak a unique language: touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, and quality time (you can find out yours here, in 20 questions and five minutes or less).
We have the tendency to communicate our love for another in the same way we best receive love.
For example, I speak English, so I am inclined to speak English to people around me. This is the way I best receive information, in English. When I learn that they speak French, I remain an English speaker myself, but switch to using French when I’m speaking to them. When I learn that someone speaks German, I have no idea what to say (or how to say it) to them, so I learn have to learn to communicate with them in a way they will understand.
When it comes to love, my primary language is touch, followed very closely by words of affirmation. (Oh yes my friends, I am most certainly bilingual when it comes to love.) Because I am inclined to show you affection by the exact way I need to receive it, I will do so by complimenting you, supporting you, listening to you and making it clear that I see and hear and love you – over and over. I will also reach for you, playfully tap your arm in conversation, rub your back or shoulder when I’m near you, hold your hand when we’re walking or driving, kiss you, and want to get down – a lot.
When I learn that your love language is gifts, I will do things like bring you flowers just because. I will order that album we were just talking about and leave it wrapped on the bed for you. (Hint hint.) Bring back your (questionably) favourite gum from the US because of the delight I know this will bring you.
When I learn that your love language is acts of service, I will make reservations for our dinner. Fill up your car with gas. Put in a load of laundry for you. Get your lunch ready. Do nice shit for you that I know you will appreciate as having made a difference in your day.
When I learn that your love language is quality time, I will not look at my phone when we’re out. I will clear my schedule to make time just with you, and give you my undivided attention doing something you’ve really been looking forward to. I will engage in a hobby or activity that is dear to you, just for the sake of togetherness.
And this of course goes both ways. As my partner, if you know that I need to be kissed and told I look pretty, that I need you to put your hands on my shoulder and tell me my writing was great today, that I need to look in my eyes and thank me for making this house feel cozy and and welcoming for adults and kids alike…you need to do so, if you want to be a great partner for me.
In the absence of that, I will feel unloved. You can fill up my car with gas, bring me flowers just because, make reservations for dinner or bring me back Thrills from your trip to the states, all in the name of love as you know it…but if you aren’t speaking my language, though I will appreciate your efforts through actions, I will not receive them as love.
Just as you could be saying the most wonderful, charming, delightful, mind bendingly erotic things to me in German (heck yes that’s a thing)…and OMG, I will not understand a damn thing, because I don’t speak effing German.
Does this still make sense?
Simply put, if you want to be a great partner, learn the language of love that your partner speaks, then learn to speak it.
When two people are communicating their love for each other in the way they both need to receive it, your relationship will be a beautiful thing. If you think of love being a vessel inside you that you fill, you will feel full by having a partner who speaks your language. Likewise, when you truly speak your partner’s language of love, they will feel so full, like you truly get them and appreciate them in their very essence.
This is a learning process, and requires both people to do the work. The work of learning, understanding, acting, communicating, and staying at it, it takes two. And when both people are willing and able to go through that process together, love continues to grow deeper and more connected than it was before, over and over.
Your homework? Do the quiz, learn your language, and if you’re partnered up, invite your sweetheart to do the quiz too, and learn what their language is. Read up on the qualities of each language and get a sense of how you can show up, as your best self, ready and able to do the true work of a relationship: communicate your love in a way that is most readily received by the person who needs it.