Linda: I would like to honor Gary Chapman for his wonderful book The 5 Love Languages where he does an elegant job of describing the five most common ways that people like to have love shown: words of affirmation, acts of service, touch, gifts, and the way you spend leisure time together. Knowing each other’s love languages and asking to have love shown the way we truly desire, is a royal road to happiness. Declaring our desire is likely to encourage receiving love in the way that is nourishing. When we are aware of our partner’s style, we can consistently surprise them with the delights that make a relationship sweet. The longings that people have for how they want love shown go beyond these five styles.
Many years ago when I sat with my beloved Charlie and asked “How may I best love you?” I was surprised to hear him say ‘let go’. What he wanted most from me was more solitude. Since I’m such a connection person and spending lots of time together is my way of receiving love, it was rather shocking to me to hear his request. Because I love him so much, and desire for him to be happy, I stretched into his world. We had a series of conversations in which I got clear that Charlie’s desire for solitude was not a personal rejection of me but an expression of his personal need for privacy.
Out of these conversations and my practice of letting go, I learned to trust that it’s only his style of being in the world, quite different from mine as a connector. I came to realize that it certainly doesn’t mean that he loved me any less. I vowed to him to be the guardian of his solitude and to encourage him to take at least few days every month for the quiet time that is restorative to him. Over time, it has become easy for me to respect his desire for solitude, and to give it as my gift.
Another example is from Joseph who admits that he is a sensitive man. His wife Cynthia comes from a family that is coarse when expressing dissatisfaction. He describes Cynthia as having had a stinging tongue. It felt like a painful bite when her unhappiness came out in a sharply critical way, her sarcasm and tone of voice deeply wounding him. He repeatedly reported to her the pain caused by her critical words, tone, facial expressions and body language.
Cynthia really did love Joseph and made a commitment to show her love for him in the way that he desired. It was a process that took many months of effort on her part to change. She had to risk disloyalty to her family of origin and interrupt behaviors that had been present for generations. Cynthia was able to erase all traces of her scorpion tongue. The relationship that they enjoy today hardly resembles that painful one of their early years. Cynthia learned how to speak her truth with a respectful tone and gentler words, showing the love that she feels for Joseph in the way that he most desires it to be shown.
Another example comes from Margaret who described the love notes that her husband left around the house, under her pillow, in her cookbooks, and stuck between the pages of the novel that she was reading. She had women friends who wished their husbands would be so thoughtful. But she didn’t like the notes because they reminded her about the time years ago that dishonesty characterized their relationship. Her deepest heart’s desire was to feel love was through full disclosure: no secrets; no lies; no withholds, and no cover-ups. Once they were able to establish this level of openness, the repair from the former dishonesty took place, and Margaret felt love in the way that she most desired.
There may be resistance to tell ourselves the truth about the ways that we most want to be loved, for fear of asking and being refused. And we might not feel worthy of being completely loved in the specific ways that we desire. But until we tell ourselves the truth and assert ourselves by being vulnerable to ask our partner to show love in the form that we truly desire, our relationship is curtailed. Once we take the risk of letting each other know how much it means to us to be shown love in these particular ways, only then can our relationship flourish.
These are just a few examples of the many different languages of love that are available to any couple seeking to deepen the quality of connection. There are more that you will discover in your quest for a truly optimal relationship.
This practice will not be difficult for couples if a high degree of trust and respect is already present. In those cases where the trust is low, it might be necessary to begin with practices designed to rebuild broken trust.
There are ALWAYS steps that can be taken that will enhance the quality of connection provided there is willingness on the parts of both partners.
Here is a fun exercise you may enjoy: When you consider the five most popular ways to express love, which one is your favorite? If you have a partner, which is your partner’s favorite? Are your favorites outside the five most popular ones? Now that you know, go for the joy!