“You don’t really love me!” How many times have you heard your spouse make that proclamation? “How could it be?” you ask, as you list all of the myriad ways in which you express your love. What many couples don’t realize is that the way we show love to our spouse is not necessarily the way our spouse needs to feel loved.
I came across this discovery when working with a couple many years ago and see it reoccur time and again with the couples I counsel. The “mushy” husband loved to express his feelings for his wife repeatedly in our sessions. It was clear he was crazy about her and was devoted to her forever. That’s why it was bizarre when she admitted that she didn’t feel loved.
Her explanation was rather revealing. Words didn’t do it for her. She liked when her husband bought her gifts, even chocolates. That is how she felt loved. She, herself, was not that expressive and hardly ever said, “I love you” to her husband. He also felt unloved, and she was surprised he did not notice all of the work she did around the house, taking care of the kids, and making meals. Those were her demonstrations of her love for her husband.
This was a monumental breakthrough. Couples could give and give but continue to miss the mark. They could feel unappreciated and resentful, and helpless about ever pleasing their spouse. If they could only speak to their spouse in their spouse’s love language, their spouse would actually feel loved.
As I learned more about Dr Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages, I began to see how couples have opposite love languages. This connected with my belief that marriage is the ultimate growth opportunity. Instead of focusing on ourselves and what makes us feel loved, we need to focus on the other and what makes them feel loved. Learning to love the way our partner feels loved gives us an opportunity to grow into a more balanced person. So if you are not that verbally expressive, your spouse’s need for words of affirmation will compel you to be more communicative of your feelings.
Here are the five love languages:
Words of affirmation: While everyone enjoys a good word, some of us need more affirmation than others. How often do you tell your husband you love and appreciate him? When was the last time you told your wife you liked her outfit or that she looked nice? For those who need words of affirmation, their absence can lead to feelings of resentment. While you may be thinking or feeling good thoughts about your spouse, try verbalizing them and see the power of your words.
Quality time: While you may be the type that feels connected to your spouse, even when you are thousands of miles away, many spouses need to go out on a date or take a vacation to feel valued. You may be working so hard to provide for the family that you don’t even spend time with your spouse. Quality time with your spouse is a great way to show that they are a priority in your life.
Receiving gifts: If you are the type that doesn’t need anything, it may be hard for you to give gifts. I remember when I was getting engaged and heard about all of the gifts I was expected to give, a bracelet, an engagement ring… Coming from a family of all boys, it was hard for me to appreciate why anyone would want jewelry but I realized the positive message of love and care that my soon-to-be wife would feel. Even if you wouldn’t want someone to spend money on you, focus on the feeling that the receiver will have and give with a full heart.
Acts of service: As the wife in the story above, some of us show and feel loved through giving of ourselves. Whether it is washing the dishes, helping out with the kids, or driving carpool, when our spouse performs acts of service we may feel more loved than if we received even the kindest word or gift.
Physical Touch: Some people crave physical affection more than others to feel loved. I have had many couples whose key complaint was that their spouse was not physical enough. While giving a hug for no particular reason may have been difficult for their spouse, this was precisely what was needed for them to feel cared for. If touch is the way to show your spouse your love, make an extra effort to initiate contact. A simple hug, kiss, or even touch on the arm can go a long way.
There are three main questions you can ask yourself to discover your love language. How do you most often express your love to others? If you are always doing community service, that may be a good hint to how you express your care for others.
What do you complain about most often? If you constantly tell your spouse that they never take you out anywhere, you probably need more quality time to feel loved.
What do you request most often? If you are asking for more hugs and kisses, physical touch is likely the language that speaks to you. While it is possible to have more than one love language, there is usually one that is primary.
Begin to learn how you and your spouse feel loved and put this into practice. You will be amazed how years of frustration can dramatically shift. Even if you are experiencing conflict, the breath of fresh air of speaking each other’s love language will cut through a lot of the negativity and bring you to a better and more constructive place from which to work on your marriage. When you finally hit the mark, you will experience renewed love and appreciation for your spouse.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin’s book, Is My Marriage Over: The Five Step Action Plan to Saving Your Marriage