I read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages about a year after my divorce. Chapman proposes that we each have a primary love language that we are best able to receive: acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, quality time and physical touch. I read the book with one eye on the past, analyzing patterns in my marriage and one eye on the future, looking for current applications of the book.
Both perspectives proved to be interesting.
With my ex, I had to learn how to give and receive physical affection, as that love language was important to him. It’s strange that he was my teacher in that language: I came from an affectionate family and he came from a “hands off” environment. I guess that goes to show that nature can override nurture! Apart from physical touch, we were pretty balanced on love languages. I don’t think either one of us had one stand out more than another and I don’t think either of us ever felt like we couldn’t understand the language of the other. Our issue was that he didn’t reveal the truth. His love languages said one thing while concealing his actions, which said something quite different.
The book had more to say about my developing relationship with Brock. He didn’t do so well with physical touch and I had trouble at times reading his other gestures. The book helped to give me perspective and to look for his expressions of love in other ways. They were there all along, I just didn’t always see them. His love languages may have been a whisper to me, but mine were an overwhelming shout to him. I had to learn to tone it down while he had to learn to dial it up. We have found a balance and it has had more to do with the recognition of how the other expresses love and the understanding of how it is received than of trying to change the languages we each speak.
I like using the concept of love languages like I use other labels: as sticky notes, temporary shorthand used until I have gained full understanding. The love languages are simplistic by design, reducing our complexities into rather small categories. Although you probably identify more strongly with one or two of the languages, you can most likely relate to all of them at times. They can be useful, especially in newer relationships, as you try to understand how your partner communicates and receives love.
But eventually, the sticky notes should be removed so that you can see your partner for all of who he/she is and not just as a love language. And that’s when the sixth love language develops – the one that is unique to your relationship. That language is formed from the shared history, the private words, the successes and even the pitfalls. Its vocabulary is built from experiences; its syntax comes from understanding and compromise. As it is a new language, there will be errors in grammar or diction. It’s okay. Keep trying; the language will continue to develop and grow along with the relationship. It is a language that no one else can speak. If the relationship dies, the dialect dies with it.
As you move into a new relationship, one of the challenges is forgetting your former love language and clearing the slate for a new tongue. Be patient. It takes time to get to know someone and even more time to create a language together (there is no Rosetta Stone for love languages!).
Be sure to listen. Don’t be afraid to try. And remember to laugh when you make mistakes. It takes time to learn a new language but it’s always worth it:)