The older I get, the more I appreciate the complexity of love. It’s a beautiful sentiment to think about how I love the people around me and what it means to do that properly. To each of us, love is something different. It’s something personal, possibly quite simple or small; expressed in the things we say, do or give, the way we centre our time and mindlessly touch one another. Simply put, love is a language, and as with every dialect, it’s unique to interpretation.
2020 forced a lot of us into the stillness required to put our relationships into perspective. Whether that be with your partner, family or friends, the cracks cloaked by hectic everyday schedules were laid bare, and the only option was to deal. And while I’m all for intentionality, I faced a lot of hard truths. I honed in the dissatisfactions in my life to realise they mostly stemmed from speaking different languages.
For a long time, I felt embarrassingly lonely despite an outpour of love from family and friends. Even though I knew they had love for me, I consistently found myself questioning the validity of it. I didn’t understand how love could feel so empty or burdensome. As I wasn’t receiving it in the right languages, it felt fallacious or shallow, but still not easy to walk away from. The slippery slope of not knowing if someone is really down for you or just ever-present for God knows why.
What made it weird was not knowing well enough to know what was missing. But mid-pandemic, socially distanced from all potential distractions, it became almost impossible to forge meaningful connections without understanding my love languages. So, as we head into another virtual year, it only makes sense to unpack loving someone with different love languages to yours. Bare with me, it should all make sense by the end.
Identify your love language
According to Dr Gary Chapman, the five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service and receiving gifts. Granted, they all mean something different to each of us, understanding what your love language is makes it easier to teach someone how to love you.
I never thought they were relevant on a daily basis until a conversation I had that made me question all the ways I receive love. So, I did the test and in all honestly, it was quite different from what I had expected. I always put acts of service first, but in reality, my order was words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service and receiving gifts.
In my mind, the decision that I made to be abstinent automatically eliminated physical touch, but in reality, there are few things that I find as warm as a hug or even hand-holding. This put it into perspective that sometimes we aren’t as self-aware as we believe. How could I expect love from someone else in the right way if I wasn’t completely sure how to do it myself? If one thing is sure, it’s that we’re constantly on the path of evolution, so I recommend frequently taking the quiz to monitor exactly where everything falls in line and how that changes as you do.
Figure out your partner’s love language
Even though I felt unfilled beyond the surface in certain relationships, I was also subconsciously pushing my ideals of love on those around me. Instead of taking the time to learn what they desired, I expressed myself in the ways I knew how and expected it to be appreciated the way I would.
Let me be the first to say that that state of mind is problematic. With love, ego should never be involved. Anything done should be to the pleasure of the recipient, and for nothing in exchange – not even gratitude. With this in mind, I can confidently say that your girl was most lovingly just missing the mark. My intentions should have been set on figuring out what love meant to my partner and how they receive it.
As with most things, I believe love languages all come down to what was (or wasn’t) received in childhood. That’s a whole thing in itself, but let me put it this way, nothing will teach you “catch flights, not feelings” like growing up the child of a pilot. Not that I use that as a form of avoidance, but my dad constantly being away taught me to value quality time like nothing else.
For some people, that seems like a no-brainer, right? If you’re dating someone, it makes sense to spend time with them, but if your person works odds hours or is gone for days at a time, getting that time in can be difficult. Even more so, when they don’t understand your need for it. Their idea of wooing you could be lavish gifts, and suddenly, you’re living out the My Love Don’t Cost a Thing video.
This is where intentionality becomes everything. Paying attention to your person is an act of love. Even though we’re hell-bent on boxing it up to feelings, love is an action. It’s a conscious decision you have to make constantly. So the questions become how much of your time are you giving them? How thoughtful are your gifts or touches? In what ways do you affirm them with your words or service so they feel valued?
Tapping into someone’s love language does more for them than it does you, and in doing so, you nourish the healthy parts of your spirit. This might seem difficult, like how do you find out what these are if you’re not one to just ask, but there are several cute ways to do this regardless of where you are in your relationship.
If you’re big on internet dating or zoom dates, you could just throw it into the mix. Play a game like 21 questions or buy the Love Language card game and swap answers. Not only does that create a bonding moment, but you’re getting the insight that you need. It’s also a major shout to watch them with their inner circle. It’ll be easier to understand what they’re into with the people around them, seeing how they respond to things and what they accept or reject.
Communication is key
When it comes to my relationships, it’s seeing someone try for me! I understand that I can be difficult to uncover so the intentionality and purity in that speak volumes. Sometimes, you have to kick back and just appreciate what people are trying to do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in expectation and ego, and when you let go of appreciation, it becomes a very bumpy ride.
I’ve learnt over time that a major key for this is communication. After trying something, it’s most definitely worth talking it out. Throwing in a few questions to figure out what they did or didn’t like builds a solid basis for next time. On the receiving end, go out of your way to let them know you value their time and effort. If they don’t ask, let them know especially what your favourite part was, how it made you feel and why.
Even when you need to communicate what isn’t working, or something you dislike, remember to do that in love. Be respectful, be kind and be open to what they have to say. Keep it in mind that they may be trying their best and it takes time to unlearn and regenerate patterns, but don’t be afraid to express yourself.
And most importantly, as you practise loving them, make sure you’re doing the same for yourself. Taking care of you the same way you would take care of them is part of your journey to a healthy dynamic. Just keep in consideration:
How do you receive love?
How do you communicate your love to the people around you?
What does love mean to your partner?
What are their love languages?
In what ways do they make you feel loved and valued?
How do you both show appreciation for each others’ effort?
Remember: Have fun with it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t over plan things. Just follow your instinct and give your gut the credit it deserves.