What if you only spoke Mandarin, and your partner only spoke Spanish? How difficult would it be to communicate, let alone build a robust, lasting relationship?
When someone speaks to us in a language that is not our own, it is lost on us. No matter how loudly the person speaks or how badly we want to understand, we don’t have a clue what they’re saying! It means nothing to us. Unfortunately, something similar can happen in our romantic relationships.
José loves Sara and shows her by writing her little love notes every morning. He is frustrated when it seems like Sara is constantly questioning his love when he comes home from work late and doesn’t have time to hang out with her. “Of course I love you! I tell you every day!”.
Saba’s birthday is approaching, so her wife Amy cleans the entire house and plans a date night for them. Amy thinks she should be winning Wife of the Year, but after she admits she forgot to get Saba a present, she finds her crying in the bathroom.
Latoya feels like she has tried everything to show Tyrell she cares. She irons his shirts in the morning, is intentional about spending time with him, and gives him shoulder rubs after work. She is shocked when Tyrell tells her he’s been having an emotional affair. In an effort to come clean, he shows Latoya all the communication with the other woman. Latoya is expecting raunchy, sexual texts and is confused to see that most of it consists of the woman complimenting Tyrell.
These partners are trying to show they care, but they are speaking in a language their partner doesn’t understand.
Love Languages are a simple relationship tool created by Dr. Gary Chapman. The idea is that we all have one or two ways that we primarily receive love - these are our “Love Languages”. When someone speaks to us in our language(s), we feel loved, valued, and cared for. There are five love languages in total, which means that partners often have different love languages.
When partners have different love languages, they often begin to feel less and less satisfied in the relationship. They don’t feel loved or cared for by their partner, and their “love tank” (a term coined by Chapman) feels empty. Sometimes we’re not even aware of what would fill our love tank - we just know it’s dry.
Why are love tanks important? Obviously feeling loved by our partner is important in itself. However, having full love tanks also helps us fair better when the inevitable hard moments come. I often tell couples that having full love tanks is like having a strong, stable bridge over a creek. When a storm comes, it may scratch the bridge or poke a hole in it, but overall the bridge is going to be okay. But if you’ve got empty love tanks, it’s like having an old, rickety bridge that’s barely hanging on. When that storm comes, that bridge may not survive.
What Can We Do?
Does this mean we’re destined to have empty love tanks and be speaking past each other our whole lives?
Nope! Just like we can learn a new language, we can learn to speak our partner’s love language. Of course, learning a new language isn’t easy; it takes a lot of effort, time, and practice. But if we want our partnerships to succeed, we need to be willing to put in the work.
To get you started with love languages, I’m providing some resources I often use with my couples in therapy. I recommend tackling them in this order with your partner:
You and your partner can take a simple quiz to identify your love languages.
Once the quiz has identified your top 1-2 languages, check this summary to see if your quiz results seem correct. Now that you have more of an understanding of what each language entails, you should be pretty confident in which 1-2 fit you best. If you’re struggling, ask yourself “Which of these do I notice the most when they’re missing?” and “When I’ve felt loved in the past (in this relationship or another one), which of these contributed the most to that feeling?”.
Share your top love languages with your partner and have them share theirs with you. Write down your partner’s love languages so you don’t forget!
Check out this chart that gives some ideas of what to do and what not to do to help your partner feel loved. Pay special attention to the rows that match your partner’s language(s). This is where you will want to focus your energy.
Practice makes...better! (I hate the phrase “practice makes perfect”.) Start trying to speak in your partner’s language! If you’re at a loss, ask your partner what you can do that would be meaningful. There are also lots of resources online with ideas on how to speak in each language.
Now as you probably know, learning a new language is not easy. You will stumble. You will forget the words. You will slip into your own language because it’s easier. But trust me: if you can practice this new language and begin to fill your partner’s love tank, it will all be worth it!
If you’re looking for extra help with love languages and/or your romantic relationship, consider seeing a Marriage and Family Therapist. MFTs are specifically trained to work with couples and can walk with you on the path toward a happier, healthier relationship.