What makes you feel the most loved? How do you communicate your love to your loved ones? When we have strong, loving feelings for those in our lives, we may convey them through a variety of methods depending on our personality and style of communication. Unfortunately, communication issues can undermine feelings of intimacy and connection with another, even in our closest relationships. At the most extreme, it’s almost like speaking convey an idea in an entirely different language—the idea may be clear and strong in our own minds, but if we are unable to communicate it in a way that another understands, then there is much that is lost in the process.
Imagine the following couple: Jerry and Elaine, who have been married for five years now, decide to attend counseling together after frequently falling into arguments about what they describe as a “distance” that has grown between them. As they explore this in their first session, Elaine voices discontent, explaining that she rarely feels as though Jerry still loves her. Jerry becomes frustrated and says “I don’t understand how you can feel that way when I work so hard to show you how important you are to me! I clean every Friday so you can come home to a clean house after work and relax! I run errands on Saturday morning so you can sleep in! And just last week, I agree to work an extra shift at work so that we have a day off for this appointment! What more can I do to show you I care?” Elaine begins to cry as she replies, “I know! And you’re right. You work really hard. But I miss you. We don’t talk anymore! When we’re together you’re never really there. You’re responding to emails or working on the house. It’s like you don’t want to spend time with me anymore.”
In these situations, the problem may simply be that the couple in question isn’t communicating their love in a way that is readily understood by the other person. In other words, the couple may not be speaking the same Love Language. In his book, The 5 Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman describes five main “languages” that we use to express our love to those to whom we are closest: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and the giving/receiving of gifts. He explains that every individual uses each of the “languages” or modes of communication to varying degrees, and that many have a primary language that they tend to favor over others. A good understanding of both you and your partner’s language “profile,” or the degree to which each method of expression feels particularly significant for you can allow you to begin looking at the areas where there may be a mismatch.
For Jerry and Elaine, above, their issue involves such a mismatch. Jerry’s primary method of expressing his love for Elaine involves acts of service, as evidenced by how hard he works to perform tasks that he feels might make her life easier. Elaine, however, seems to value quality time more. Because of this mismatch, Elaine may feel dismissed or unimportant when unable to spend quality time with Jerry, and Jerry may feel taken for granted, as though Elaine doesn’t appreciate all of his hard work.
These mismatches in love languages are bound to happen, but it doesn’t need to spell disaster for the couple. There is good news: you can learn to communicate your love in a way that can recharge the feelings of attachment in your relationship. Here’s where to start:
Understanding your own love language profile.
A good understanding of the love language that most resonates helps you understand not only the ways that you are most likely to express your love for another, but can also increase your awareness of the ways those ways that may lead to feelings of disconnectedness from a loved one. For example, if your primary love language is words of affirmation, then going without words of encouragement or support from your partner may be difficult. Additionally, insults, criticisms, or perceived rejections from your partner may cut especially deep. Knowing those things that most make you feel loved can help you communicate your needs to your partner in such a way that can bolster feelings of intimacy and connectedness.
Understanding your partner’s love language profile.
Similarly, a good understanding of your partner’s love language can help you to accept the ways in which they are showing their love for you. An individual whose primary language is physical touch may be saying “I love you” when they reach over to squeeze your hand while on the train, or when they pat you on the arm when passing you in the house. These little gestures that may otherwise go somewhat unnoticed can take on a more significant meaning when this love language is better understood. Furthermore, understanding your partner’s love language can help you communicate your own feelings in a way that may be more easily understood by them. Say your partner’s love language is quality time; what does that mean to them? What aspects of having quality time together do they most appreciate? Do they enjoy engaging in activities with you and completing projects? Or would they rather spend time with your undivided attention?
Communicate about where your styles for expressing love match up, and where they don’t.
When feelings of disconnectedness arise in your intimate relationship, pay attention to the times when you feel most loved by your partner, and consider how this plays into your love language profile. Ask your partner about when they feel closest to you, and when they feel most distant. When expressing your feelings, focus on making “I” statements. Mismatches in love languages are exceedingly common, but by understanding the ways that we communicate, we can begin to make changes to allow us to communicate in ways that our partners better understand. Learning to communicate in your partner’s love language isn’t always easy, and may feel forced or disingenuous at first, but will feel more natural the more you practice.
View mismatches as opportunities for growth.
Jerry and Elaine, our hypothetical couple above, are both understandably frustrated and discouraged because of the way communication barriers have made it difficult for them to maintain the intimacy and connectedness that they both desire. By recognizing these barriers for what they are, Jerry and Elaine can begin to explore other avenues by which they may express their love for each other, recharging their relationship by growing closer than before.
Ready to learn more about your Love Language profile? Take the free online quiz on Dr. Gary Chapman’s site here.
About the Author: Daniel graduated from Roosevelt with his masters in clinical psychology in 2016 and has practiced as a therapist under supervision for over a year. He has been writing for Bergen Counseling Center since 2016, and his areas of special interest include intimate and familial relationships, trauma, shame, grief and loss, and issues related to individuation and identity development.
Tips, Tricks, and Rules to Improve Relationship Communication
Listen generously. Reflect back what the person said accurately. Hear the person’s feeling. Tune in to what the other person wants and feel what’s underneath it. Listen with your third ear.
Speak unarguably. That means speaking in statements of fact that can’t be argued. For example, you may say to your partner: “I feel bad when you leave for work without saying good-bye.” You’re saying that you feed bad (a fact) when your partner does not say good-bye (also a fact), and that cannot be argued. This way of speaking places no blame and allows a conversation to happen without argument.
Focus on appreciation. It’s recommended a 5-1 ratio of appreciation to complaint. Focus on positive aspects of your partner and your relationship.
Turn your complaints into requests. For example, ask your partner: “If I make dinner, will you clean up?” Be committed to making clear agreements.
Shift from blame to wonder. Ask yourself how you might be contributing to a communication problem. Shift from your critical mind to your creative mind and, in turn, causes you to shift from being right to having a healthier relationship. Would you rather be right, or happy?
Ask for what you want. Most people don’t ask for what they want because they think they can’t get it. But the opposite is typically true. Most people are surprised to learn/to find out that they can get what they want simply by asking.
Show your partner what you want to receive. “In other words,”give your partner what you would like your partner to give you.”
Learn to negotiate. Relationships are give and take. For example — “Honey, I will cook dinner, if you will do the dishes afterward.”
Learn to modify what you want. “Ask yourself if what you want is really something you have to have.”
4 Rules for effective communication in conflict
- No Name Calling! While calling your partner a name may vent your frustration, it does nothing to communicate what you are actually thinking and feeling and immediately puts your partner on the defensive. This includes statements such as “You’re acting like a…”
- Don’t make “always” and “never” statements. These are ineffective because no one always or never does or says something. These statements immediately make your partner feel as they have to defend previous actions or statements and the argument usually shifts from the actual topic to whether or not someone always or never says or does something.
- Use “I” statements instead of “You” statements. In arguments, “you” statements tend to be attack oriented which shifts your partners likelihood to defending themselves instead of listening to what you are trying to say.
- Take a “time out” if you feel yourself getting too upset. Taking a time out from a heated argument can be an effective strategy to think about what you want to say before you say it. It is always easier to take some time and say something you really mean than blurt out something you will regret because you didn’t take the time to think about it. If you take a timeout in an argument, it is your responsibility to tell your partner when you will resume the discussion and it is also your responsibility to re-initiate the discussion. e.g. “I am going into the bedroom to cool off, I’ll come out in 15 minutes so we can talk this over.”