Improving Relationships by Speaking Each Other's Love Languages, Part I
Families, Inc. therapist Dr. Dana Watson has been featured regularly this spring on KFIN’s Breakfast Club to discuss maintaining a healthy mindset during the coronavirus pandemic. The following transcript is of her conversation with KFIN’s Brandon Baxter on June 17, 2020.
Q: I have heard of the 5 Love Languages! It’s how you understand your partner’s needs and they understand yours, right?
It is exciting stuff because it’s easy and quick to implement and to see results, even for the those folks who might not have studied relationships but want to do better—or hear they should be doing better!—and it’s great for people who want to take an honest inventory of how they’re doing and if they’re doing enough to show love in their relationships. And this week, we’ll kind of focus on romantic relationships, but the languages are important to speak to children, friends, parents and even coworkers. Gary Chapman, who wrote the books, has love languages for spouses, children and single people. They’re transferrable skills!
Q: Okay, so what are the languages of love?
The 5 Love Languages, according to Dr. Gary Chapman, are:
1. Words of Affirmation—focused on specifics about the other person’s strengths or traits.
2. Quality Time—real time spent together, focused on each other.
3. Acts of Service—doing for the other person what they would normally have to do for themselves.
4. Physical Touch—it’s a little of what you think it is and a whole lot more of the intimate connection.
5. Gifts—these can be small personal, thoughtful gifts; the value comes from the thought.
Most people have one or two primary ways they feel loved. Some people are multi-lingual—they can give and receive in many or all the languages, but even still, one or two are usually strongest.
Q: I think I can pick mine out from the list. I know what I like… but how do I know for sure what my wife or my son’s language is? How do I know what Kelly’s love language is? Or my guy friends?
You can oftentimes tell how individuals want to receive love by watching what they do, what they say, how they show love to others. You can also often tell their love language by what they complain about or what they criticize others for not doing enough of. Couples come into therapy all the time and one partner thinks they’re loving the other so well by buying gifts, setting up romantic dates nights—even paying the bills so the other doesn’t have to. The other has spent six years feeling unloved because their primary love language is words of affirmation! All that person knows is “He or she never tells me they’re proud of me, that I’m a hard worker, that they respect me.”
How do people even develop a love language?
Love languages have a lot to do with how we attached to our primary caregivers as children—what they taught us about love. Think about it: why does snuggling up to another person or holding hands make some of us blissfully happy and some of us not so much? Why do some of us use terms of endearment and others do not? Why do some of us work so hard to find the “right gift” when others of us send a gift card? How we were shown love is usually how we believe love is to be shown.
Q: What about people who were raised by absent or preoccupied caregivers who didn’t show much love?
Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with them, but they can often see the results of these experiences—or lack of love experiences—in their adult relationships. They might be really decent, good people who find it more challenging to understand and honor what their partner or child needs to feel loved when those aren’t things they need to feel loved. If your parents were neglectful, preoccupied, or even abusive, there is a chance that the things you didn’t get might not be of value to you. So, someone trying to love you by saying words or spending time or touching you may have much less meaning.
If your caregiver didn’t verbally express their loving or proud feelings for you, or make time to look at you and see you, there is a chance you don’t know to do it for others. You may think being in the room watching TV is quality time. Or scrolling on your phone when your partner is needing attention is okay. None of those things are bad until they leave the other partner feeling hurt and rejected.
Q: But can we also learn to do better in loving people even if we didn’t get loved like that?
Absolutely! Those folks can also decide “this is what I didn’t have, so this is what I now want to give my children and family.” And that’s amazing! Is it easy to learn? No, not immediately. But what I see is that when these people do love another person and they want to show it, they are invested in asking, “What do you need from me? Tell me how I can show you how I feel about you in a way that is meaningful to you.”
Q; That’s so encouraging. We know what the languages are, we can learn which ones we need and our loved ones need, and we can even learn how to do more to improve our relationships. Sign me up, Doc. I’m in!
I know, right? But hear my entire philosophy on love languages—they don’t fix everything. There are still so many valuable parts to therapy, like healing old wounds, communicating in healthy ways and learning ways to de-escalate conflict. Love languages is a favorite, though, because you can learn what these really are all about and you can begin to build love—fill up your partner’s love tank—and that’s an awesome start to a happy relationship.
Q: So, this is going to be a two-part series on love languages. This is an awesome taste of what we’re going to talk about. How can we all get started?
This week, I would challenge each listener to go online and take the Love Languages test to see what your love language is. And think about buying the book and really studying the ideas behind the languages and the languages themselves. I would challenge each listener to just start to be mindful of these expressions of love—and that there are different ways to express love—and to see if they are loving the people around them in some or several of these ways every day. In less than a minute you can speak words of affirmation to your significant other, children or co-worker. Even your boss! It’s so easy to get started.