By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
According to author Gary Chapman, couples will communicate more effectively and feel happier if they gain insight into their primary way of desiring expressions of love. They can also ask their partner to demonstrate love in this fashion. He explains that deep inside every hurting couple exists an invisible “emotional love tank” which has its gauge on empty. Chapman explains that the miscommunication, criticism, harsh words, and withdrawal that goes on between couples occurs because of one or both of their empty love tanks.
In order to keep your “emotional love tank” full, Chapman believes you need to identify your primary love language. First, ask yourself: what does my spouse do or fail to do that hurts me most deeply? The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love language. Then, ask yourself: what have I most often requested from my partner? For example, if you are most likely to request time with him or her, your love language is most likely “Quality Time.”
Finally, your method of expressing love is an indication of what will make you feel loved in return. In The Five Languages of Love, Chapman explains that people have a tendency to desire and express love in one of five ways:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
Chapman suggests that spouses need more sensitivity so they can help to keep their partners “emotional love tank” full. For instance, Tim has learned to ask Laura for a hug. His primary love language is “Physical Touch,” and this brings him satisfaction. Laura has become aware of his strong desire for affection, and she’s actively trying to be more receptive to his physical gestures and even spontaneously embraces him or holds his hand when they take a walk around their neighborhood.
Likewise, since Laura’s primary love language is “Acts of Service,” she likes to prepare food for Tim and also appreciates it when he offers to repair her car or things that break around their home. These are wonderful gestures that they can both do to show love to each other.
Quality time with a partner can become a ritual for couples. Examples are eating meals together or going for a daily walk. All of these things cement positive communication. Comments such as “I appreciate how thoughtful you were when you made me dinner” are ways to express love to partners who desire “Words of affirmation.” Finally, gifts can include small tokens of appreciation such as notes, flowers, and handmade crafts.
Honoring Your Love Language Through Physical Touch
Physical touch is a powerful way to promote positive communication and to show your love and affection to your partner. It’s important for couples to connect through touch that is non-sexual on a daily basis. A loving touch is completely different from a sexual touch, and when people confuse the two, it can be detrimental to a marriage. For example, if a couple isn’t getting along and a partner attempts to have sex, it is like saying, “I don’t like you, but I want to have sex with you to satisfy my needs.” Yet, when partners frequently touch each other in non-sexual ways, it conveys tenderness and love.
Further, “Physical Reconnect” can enhance sexual intimacy and also communicate love. When you give an intimate kiss to your partner, it’s not just about the meeting of your lips. It usually involves touching with other parts of your bodies, hand on cheek; hand on hair, offering an embrace. Having an additional point of contact during a kiss with your partner creates a deeper sense of emotional attunement and intimacy.
In this scenario, Tim comes home and Laura is watching a TV show and she invites him to cuddle on the couch. They share a loving, intimate moment when they kiss and embrace briefly. Then, Tim runs into the kitchen and makes himself a snack. Then Laura mutes the TV, tells Tim that her show is almost over, and invites him to go for a power walk before they pick up his daughters at gymnastics. Tim has never objected to Laura watching her 4pm talk show. Since she works at home, Laura’s need to take a break is not a problem and by itself does not negatively affect their relationship.
The underlying message that Laura is communicating to Tim in this scenario when she turns toward Tim and invites him to go for a walk, is that she is interested in him but just wants to watch the end of her TV show. Due to his strong need for physical touch and experiencing a difficult day, Tim’s feelings are raw and he feels satisfied by Laura’s offer to cuddle and go for a walk. With some sensitivity to each other’s different love languages and personalities, Tim and Laura are learning to communicate more effectively and this will help to prevent huge misunderstandings or rifts in their degree of love and intimacy.
I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. To find out more about her research, order her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Long-Lasting Relationship.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.