Chances are, you've heard people talking about love languages. But what do people mean when they ask "What is your love language?" Simply, they are asking "How do you receive love?"
It's important to know what makes us feeling loved, and it's equally important we understand how our partner experiences love. Gary Chapman, in his book "The Five Love Languages," breaks it down into the following categories, which are often referred to in conversations about love languages:
Words of affirmation ("I love you," "I am proud of you")
Quality time (taking the evening off to spend time together)
Physical touch (hugs, kisses, holding hands)
Acts of service (doing laundry, picking up your parents from the airport)
Receiving gifts (a bouquet of flowers, the sweater you've been looking at)
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Although this list can be an incredibly helpful tool, don't be scared if you don't see vocabulary that resonates with you. Maybe you feel loved when someone respects your boundaries, when they are honest, when they appreciate your uniqueness, when they share your sense of humor, or when they have your back in social situations.
It can be easier for your partner to fulfill your needs if they know how you feel loved, which helps build deeper intimacy. Equally, we need to be aware of how our partner feels loved (it's not always the same as how we receive love). The error we often make is we try to show our partner love in the same way we receive it. For example, if you like gifts, it could be easy to assume your partner would appreciate a fancy watch for their birthday. But maybe all they want is to spend the whole day with you at the beach, or they prefer a romantic letter describing why you fell in love with them. If your love languages don't "match," it just means you need to be more intentional and aware, but it doesn't mean the relationship can't work.
And although I am talking within the context of a romantic relationships, the same principles apply in platonic or familial dynamics.
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We all have overlapping love languages, but the priority of these languages – the hierarchy of them – will vary. Just because someone may like words of affirmation does not mean they won't appreciate a good hug or for you to wash dishes after dinner.
If you and your partner have different love languages ...
Check in. Once a week, reflect on how you showed up in the relationship. Were you intentional about giving your partner love in a way they prefer to be loved? What can you adjust for the following week? Depending on the nature of the relationship, it can be fun to ask your partner, "When did you feel the most loved this week?" Lastly, keep in mind that your love languages can change with time (just like your partner's). Make sure to keep the line of communication open.
Communicate. If you are starting to feel your love language isn't being met, it can be helpful to talk to your partner about it. Maybe you're craving more physical intimacy or need to have more alone time with them without your kids. Before the need turns into resentment, it can be helpful to tell your partner how you are feeling.
Be open to feedback. I had someone say something to the effect of: "I know my partner loved me, but not in a way that I could feel it. It was like they were the sun shining brightly, but I was behind a wall that kept me in the cold shade." So, if someone tells you they don't feel loved – even if you are offering love – it might be worth exploring their feedback. Of course, there have to be limitations to people's demands. (And please note, I am not talking about abusive relationship dynamics).
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Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at SKuburic@gannett.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Love languages: What if you and your partner aren't on the same page?