Psych Services: What makes you feel loved is not necessarily what makes your partner feel loved

Lisa Garmezy

Before you read on, answer this: What’s the worst thing your significant other does?

Does she put you down in front of friends? Reject your advances night after night? Ignore you but make time for others? “Forget” to take care of the simplest request?

Your answer may reveal how you speak The Five Love Languages. Gary Chapman’s huge bestseller taught us that when it comes to expressing love, sadly, partners seldom share the same language. What you resent most is a clue to whether your “language” is words, touch, deeds or some other form of communication.

Thirty years of counseling have convinced me that the women whose romantic husbands shower them with flowers and cards are the ones who wish that just once their spouses would clean up a little. Meanwhile, the women whose husbands are cooking, cleaning and caring for kids long for romantic gifts.

Is the point that women can’t be satisfied? Of course not. It’s that we blindly try to express love in ways that feel right to us, without figuring out what would feel best to our partners. Spouses say “I love you” in ways that don’t even show up on the other person’s radar.

In cultural diversity training, it’s called the Platinum Rule. Instead of “Treat others the way you would want to be treated,” you “Treat others the way they wish to be treated.”

Read about the love languages below, and decide which one or two you speak. Think harder about which ones matter most to your spouse.

The Countdown

Love Language Number One is Words of Affirmation. To speak this language, encourage and compliment your partner. Don’t disrespect your partner, ever. Our officers seem to crave this. Chapman, whose work is sprinkled with religious references, quotes King Solomon, saying, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

The second love language is Quality Time—giving someone your undivided attention. Just breathing the same air isn’t spending quality time together. Friendly, uninterrupted conversations are key here.

Next, Love Language Number Three is Gift-Giving. This group cares about symbols and might question love without physical tokens of it. If you freak out at the thought of taking your wedding band off – and I’ve had mine off only to get it re-sized and for CAT scans – this one’s important to you.

The gifts do not have to be expensive—a single flower, a cookie or a card will do. Once, when Shell was handing out rare cash bonuses, my husband wrote a note about something I did right and taped a quarter to it. I still carry my “cash award.”

Most marriages thrive on compliments, gifts and date nights. Not all. For some folks, “Actions speak louder than words.” Number Four is Acts of Service. This is your love language if you’re furious about your partner’s not doing the simple things, like turning out lights or running the vacuum cleaner.

Chapman told one puzzled husband, “Listen to me carefully: the love you feel when your wife expresses love by physical touch is the same love your wife feels when you do the laundry.” That’s why he sold 10 million books—because he gets across to people that what makes you feel loved is not necessarily what makes your partner feel loved. Failure to understand this makes for a stale marriage.

If your partner speaks the fifth language, Physical Touch, and it’s not happening, all the sweet gestures and words will seem like “Blah, blah, blah, I’m not paying attention.” To speak this love language, touch your partner as you go through a room, grab his hand as you’re walking together, or bump knees under a table. Or have sex—that works, too.

Flying Solo

I hope I’ve sparked enough curiosity that you’ll take the free quiz on the website, 5lovelanguages.com, or even buy the book. Online, you’ll learn your primary love language or languages in 10 minutes. See if your partner will do the same.

The great thing about Chapman’s approach is it takes one. Your partner doesn’t need to work on the relationship, or even agree that anything is wrong. (As you take the quiz, listen to Michael Jackson singing, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”)

The book tells the story of one woman whose husband refused to come to counseling. Chapman told her to express her love in her husband’s language, Physical Touch, consistently, for six months. Every month she asked him how she was doing and used the feedback to fine tune her response. After a while, he realized real change had taken place.

At that point, following the doctor’s instructions, she continued speaking “Physical Touch” but added a weekly request for Quality Time, her language. They started with Scrabble. The marriage healed and the husband, once he was clued in, called Chapman a miracle worker.

I can’t guarantee you that learning your spouse’s love language will turn your relationship around. And maybe you’re okay with a marriage that is . . . acceptable. But I certainly invite you to try Chapman’s experiment and report back to me.