I have been thinking a lot lately about LOVE. What IS love, what does it mean to us, how does it affect us? I recently read the book The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman, who is an anthropologist and psychotherapist. This book really made me think… about LOVE. Chapman describes how he has learned through his 30 years as a marital therapist that there are 5 primary love languages. These languages are similar to English, French, etc…, in the sense that our primary love language will be the one we understand the best and feel the most comfortable with. He labels the five love languages as follows: Words of Affirmation (hearing loving and affirming words from others), Quality Time (this can be many things: interaction with eye contact, doing activities together, etc…), Gifts (receiving gifts), Acts of Service (people doing things for you to show love), and Physical Touch (this can mean anything from sexual intercourse to hugging/holding hands). Chapman explains further that within each individual love language, there are different “dialects” – so for someone whose primary language is “Physical Touch”, their specific dialect might be “hugging” as opposed to “sexual intercourse”. Essentially, his main point is that when others speak to us in our primary love language, then we will experience feelings of being loved (i.e. if your primary love language is “gifts”, then receiving a card or a flower will most likely spell out L-O-V-E). Chapman explains that what most often happens is that we speak to one another in love languages that we can’t understand, as though one was speaking English and the other Chinese. As a result, he describes how we end up feeling like our “love tank” is empty. Love it!
I think it is really interesting how we develop this primary love language very early in life. Although Dr. Chapman doesn’t offer HOW we learn our primary love language (as it is not learned from our parents), I can assume that there might be some innate quality to it. I have been bringing this book into my psychotherapy sessions with clients because it explains a lot of the issues that they are experiencing – i.e. their feeling of having “empty love tanks”. For the most part, I have observed that my clients often talk to me about longing to have some kind of emotional validation, but do not feel that they are getting it. Now this most often does not mean that their loved ones do not love them, but that they are not being communicated to through their primary love language – essentially, through acts that they will understand to mean “love”. For instance, I have one adult client who has suffered immensely because of her longing for words of affirmation (i.e. “I love you” and “I am proud of you”) from her parents. Although I have no doubt that her parents love her and communicate to her through other love languages (i.e. gift giving and acts of service), these do not make her “love tank” full. For this client, her “love tank” can only be filled through words of affirmation. Anything else is nice, but not fulfilling.
I think we need to, as Dr. Gary Chapman clearly states, learn to inform others of our primary love languages so that we can get the fuel to fill up our tanks. Essentially, what Chapman is talking about is EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE – we need to learn to connect with ourselves on an emotional level and then learn to communicate our emotional needs with others. For most of us, this is very difficult. We live life on a surface level, just trying to deal with our emotions (often by avoiding them) so that we can get through the day. We are often muscling through life low on the love fuel, without knowing how to fill up the tank. In many cases, communicating our specific needs for love to others results in getting our love tanks filled; however, in other cases, although we might communicate to others what we need, they are not capable of providing it for us. In the case with my client, she had tried to explain to her parents her need for verbal affirmation; however, they were not willing to learn to speak to her in her primary love language. So what happens when we can’t always get our “love” needs met by others?
It is essential for each of us to learn how to create our own fuel to fill up our love tanks. Just as important as it is to ask others for help, it is vital for us to know how to give ourselves love. This is not something that Dr. Chapman discussed in the book, but I think it is really important to take a look at. If your primary love language Is “quality time”, then learning self-care techniques, such as meditation and yoga, will likely be useful for you. This will provide you with an opportunity to spend time with yourself – to tune inward, to appreciate yourself, and to nourish your mind and body. On the other hand, if your primary love language is “acts of service”, then doing things for yourself – i.e. cleaning up your apartment, making a special dinner JUST for you, or taking the time to run yourself a bubbly hot bath – might be a way to show yourself love. Perhaps this sounds cheesy, but it’s a good way to keep that love tank from running out of fuel. We have to learn to love ourselves first before we can expect others to fill our tanks.
I was thinking a lot about my own love language, trying to figure out what my primary love language is. I came to the conclusion that it is “words of affirmation”. Honestly, I was amazed that in seven years of practicing psychotherapy, and almost five years of practicing yoga, I have NEVER thought about this! I enjoy quality time with others, I like gifts from time to time, I appreciate acts of service, and I long for physical touch – but for me words of affirmation = LOVE. A few weeks ago, I had an experience where I felt I was running low on the love gas. I had received a lot of criticism that week with no words of affirmation – a typical week for many of us. However, I had a really rough time, and now understand that this is because I was not getting those loving words of affirmation that keep my tank full. At the end of the week, I received an email from someone dear to me telling me that I was doing “a good job” and suddenly it was like fuel was being pumped into my love tank. Haha. Interestingly enough, I don’t often give MYSELF any words of affirmation and show love to myself. Like so many of us, I am always my worst critic. Let’s just say for the last week, I have been actively working toward giving myself more positive feedback and learning to create some of my own fuel for my love tank.
Feeling loved is about establishing meaningful connections with others. So, not only does this mean conveying our primary love language to others, it means learning to express love to others through their primary love languages (which also means learning what their primary love language is!). Dr. Gary Chapman talks about how many couples’ marriages fall apart because they are not speaking the same love language. He says that through learning one another’s primary love language, couples can keep their marriages loving and strong. For instance, if one partner’s primary language is “Gifts”, then receiving gifts (whether it be a flower, a gold bracelet, or a home-made cookie) will help to keep the love alive. If the other partner’s love language is “Acts of Service”, then his/her partner will have to do things for him/her (whether it be making dinner, vacuuming the carpet or washing the car) in order for the love to continue to sparkle. It is so important to find connection with others, and I am learning that to truly connect with someone else, we need to learn what makes them FEEL loved. Generally, as Chapman clearly explains, we tend to communicate love to others through our own primary love language (like for me, I am very good with giving words of affirmation because that is my primary love language), but this doesn’t always translate to others as “love”. It takes time, effort and effective communication to connect with someone else, but the results are priceless.
If you get the chance, read this book. It is inspiring and extremely useful. If you hear me referring to “love tanks” in random conversation, now you will understand. haha.
Have a great day!Share