There comes a point in a relationship or marriage when it dawns on you that your partner is actually much different from you. This realization often comes when you begin living together in domestic bliss…or maybe…scratch the bliss part. I remember when my husband and I got our first tiny one-bedroom apartment together and our newly married cloud of contentment suddenly became a fog of little arguments over where the silverware drawer should go and whether or not he or I had too many clothes or shoes. However, the real kicker that helped me see the true colors of spousal differentiation arrived one day when I was innocently taking a shower to get ready for the morning. As I was showering, I heard the door open and my husband enter. I stopped shampooing my hair and silently wondered what he was doing in my zone of personal toiletry space (note that I grew up in a very private family and we never entered the bathroom when someone else was in there). When all of a sudden, I heard the unmistakable sounds and smelled the unmentionable smell of someone pooping…yes, pooping…about one foot away from me, hidden only by a thin layer of plastic and fabric.
“What are you doing?” I screeched. “You cannot seriously be pooping while I am in the bathroom with you!” My husband nonchalantly and very logically said, “Uh, yeah, I am, I had to go and we only have one bathroom.” My eyes popped, my mouth dropped open, and I covered my ears to hide the sounds of male defecation while I urged him to get out as quickly as possible and yelled that this was definitely crossing a boundary line!
Eight years of marriage and two kids later and I have definitely moved past my snobbish notions of bathroom personal time (although I do still draw the line of spousal bowel movements while I am in the bathroom). However, since that very abrupt and shocking encounter with my husband all those years ago, I have come to the realization again and again that we are very different people. Along with the differences in personalities and gender that cause frustrated sighs, eye rolls, or the occasional heated argument, it is important to understand and recognize a more positive way in which our spouses differ from us, namely, how they love and want to be loved by us.
Enter the Five Love Languages book by Gary Chapman. In it, he discusses the unique ways in which individuals feel and express love. Chapman uses the analogy of a “love tank”, which much like a gas tank when it is running low, the vehicle, or in this case the person, starts to decompress, fall apart, and cannot run with their usual gusto and topnotch performance. A person’s love tank is filled when they are uniquely loved through a partner’s use of their individual love language. Champman depicts the following five love languages and suggests that individuals identify their top two or three.
- Words of Affirmation – These include verbal affirmations of a job well done, compliments on a new haircut or outfit, and uplifting and encouraging statements.
- Quality Time – Examples are going on a date, turning off the TV and other electronic devices and talking to each other about your day, or going on a walk together.
- Physical Touch – This does not just mean sex, it can also refer to holding hands, giving hugs, playing with your partner’s hair, giving them a massage, etc.
- Receiving Gifts – Someone with a love language for receiving gifts loves heartfelt gifts or mementos that tells them that their partner cares and is thinking of them. The gifts don’t need to be expensive or fancy, but they do need to be given with purpose and thought to the receiver.
- Acts of Service – This love language is an expression of love through action. It can involve doing something for your partner that he or she would normally do – i.e. cleaning the dishes, cooking a meal, taking out the garbage, walking the dog, or it may be giving them a massage or driving to get them ice cream when they have a late night craving.
Chapman’s book does a much more detailed job of describing the love languages as well as provide assessments to help you identify what are your top two or three. Although I do recommend buying or renting the book, an easy way to identify what are your love languages are is to think about what fills up your metaphorical love tank. Like, when my partner does ________, then I feel loved, appreciated or that I could touch the stars. Whatever you used to fill in that blank, see where it fits in the love languages category. Is it physical touch? Is it an act of service? Or maybe it’s a gift.
The tricky piece to all of this is that whatever your love language is, know that your partner’s is most likely different. For example, my love languages are words of affirmation and acts of service. My husband’s are quality time and physical touch. Since ours our different, this means that we most likely are not naturally going to offer up our partner’s love languages to each other and therefore we need to go out of our way, or go above and beyond what comes natural to us, to help our partner feel loved and to keep their “tanks” full. So since I tend to be more on the independent and private side of things (hence the bathroom story above), I need to remember to be giving in terms of physical touch to my husband. A hug and kiss before work, a back rub while he is in the kitchen, or holding hands and snuggling at night while we watch TV all go a long way to help him stay full of love and positive energy for the next day.
I encourage you to check out Chapman’s book and discover what are your’s, your partner’s or even your children’s love languages (note that he also wrote a book specifically geared to understanding and connecting with your child). You and your partner are different in so many ways and sometimes we need to move out of our comfort zone in order to help our loved ones feel appreciated and more connected to us within our relationship.