As Valentine’s Day approaches you may be thinking of how to please your sweetheart on February 14th, the day the commercial world has designated to be the celebration of romantic love. But what about using this day to reflect on your year-round relationship? Now that we are back to our busy lives, hustle culture has us grinding away to make up for lost time. Everyone is working hard to recoup some of their pandemic losses, and many are also travelling and partying hard because they finally can. As for loving hard, this can easily take a back seat, especially for married couples who have fallen into a comfortable rhythm. Indian couples especially may not be inclined to think deeply about their relationship because our parents never did so; for them, a moderately peaceful union where both partners are upholding their duties equalled a great marriage, no fine tuning required.
Our generation, on the other hand, wants to go beyond the basics to enjoy a deeply fulfilling relationship. Fortunately for us, this goal is the subject of many excellent books, one of which is The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary Chapman, Ph.D. Delving into love and its many forms can be daunting, so Chapman developed this approach that categorises ways to show and receive love. Referring to these categories as “languages” is brilliant because it illustrates that while two people may both be expressing love, if they are expressing it in different languages, then the meaning may be lost in translation.
These 5 languages are:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Acts of Service
3. Giving Gifts
4. Quality Time
5. Physical Touch
And how exactly is this helpful? You may think that the fact that you love your partner is enough, because you show it to them in ways that come naturally to you. But Chapman posits that each person has his or her own primary love language, so the ways that you choose to express love may not be as impactful as you think. For example, my husband’s instinctive way to show affection is by giving gifts, which certainly isn’t a shabby love language to have! But over the years I expressed to him that my Leo self is far more moved by words of affirmation. He caught on quickly and was happy to pay me compliments rather than pay for more gifts! With some simple self-reflection (or by taking the handy quiz on 5lovelanguages.com), you and your partner can determine each other’s love languages and then make an effort to communicate your love in that specific way. Let’s take a closer look at each category and give you some ideas on how to do this.
Words of Affirmation
How do you feel when your partner tells you “I love you”, or that you look beautiful/handsome? If verbal expressions of affection fill you with warm fuzzies, then this may be your love language. This category includes all types of verbal affirmations, like encouragement when you’re having a hard day at work, compliments not just on looks but on your achievements, and thank yous for doing small tasks around the house. I understand that thanking your partner seems formal to some, and I’ve observed people bringing their spouses drinks or plates of food at parties, with the recipient barely acknowledging the gesture. But how much effort does it take to say those two little words with eye contact and smile? An occasional thank you can mean a lot to people with this love language, especially if you’re thanking them for something that they feel has been taken for granted. The best part is that technology has made words of affirmation even easier. If you’re not in the habit of whispering sweet nothings, try texting them! Sending them a “thinking of you” message with some heart emojis out of the blue will bring back the butterflies of the early courtship days. Sometimes I look at my WhatsApp chat with my husband and am embarrassed to see that it is nothing but an exchange of requests and updates regarding work and house upkeep matters. Marriage can easily change from a romantic partnership to a business once you get a family and home, and all it takes to bring the romance back is some loving words or texts. So if this is your partner’s love language, be happy that it is one that requires the least effort, and get to typing!
Acts of Service
Words are powerful, but for many people, actions speak louder. If your love language is acts of service, you feel most loved when your partner goes out of their way to make your life easier. Making you coffee in the morning, or volunteering to do the school drop so you can sleep in, or bringing you a tray when you’re sick in bed are all acts of service. Please note that I did not say “offering” to make you coffee, but actually doing it; the same people who value acts of service may say “no thanks” or “that’s okay, I’ll do it” when offered, but are touched when the service is provided without asking. In a traditional Indian marriage, acts of service is the wife’s purview, and a less blatant version of this continues even today. In such cases it is that much more impactful when the husband eschews these gender roles and performs some service that will ease his wife’s burden. Having children means you have a plethora of these opportunities, like ferrying them to one of the endless doctor’s appointments or birthday parties, or doing the bedtime routine. On the other hand, there are couples who share domestic duties equally or who are fortunate enough to have help at home. But if you’re feeling extra loving, try spontaneously doing something that your spouse usually does for themselves, or try making and bringing them coffee instead of having the maid do it, and observe the impact. Just as children prefer their parents to nannies, your partner will feel the love in your action and cherish it–even if the coffee doesn’t taste as good!
This is the most straightforward love language and one that is emphasised on holidays and anniversaries. Chapman calls gifts “visual symbols of love”. The recipient appreciates not only the gift, but the process of selection and presentation that went into it. Some people may value gifts for being expensive, but most are more concerned with the thought behind it, like that your partner was paying attention when you mentioned liking something. A gift could also be something that did not cost any money but time and effort, like a handmade card or scrapbook. If receiving gifts is your partner’s love language, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to wait for an occasion to give something. A just-because bouquet of flowers, or a spa voucher during a stressful time will be appreciated even more than a fancy bauble given on a birthday or anniversary.
While technology may make words of affirmation easier to express, it is a huge hindrance to quality time. Because we may be sitting right next to our loved one, but gazing into our smart phones instead of their eyes, or trying to have a conversation with them but getting distracted from every ping and ding notification. Quality time may be the sweetest and most earnest love language because this person doesn’t want anything from you but you! They just want to be with you and have your undivided attention. For the time to count as “quality”, it’s important to remove any distractions, to make eye contact, and to listen actively. With how busy our lives are today, don’t assume that opportunities for quality time will arise naturally. Use your Google calendar to schedule it in and treat it as important as you would a work meeting. That may not seem romantic, but for those with this love language, nothing says love like prioritising time together. So go ahead and schedule the QT, silence your phones, and give your kids extra screen time if it means that you and your beloved can sit together on the couch and connect uninterruptedly.
Finally, we come to body language! More specifically, physical touch, which ranges from holding hands to hugging to sex. Maintaining a fulfilling and active sex life over the course of a long marriage is a topic that has inspired countless articles and books alone, but that is only one example of physical touch. Even if that particular act is less than frequent, there are so many other ways to remain physically connected, and if this is your partner’s love language, it is imperative not to neglect them. Think of how many times a day you cuddle and kiss your child; are you doing the same for your spouse, or does it feel like you’ve outgrown that stage? Isn’t it a shame to think that only young people get to enjoy hugs and kisses? This of course is not true, so try to push past any such preconceived notions. Reach out and touch your partner when you pass by them. Stroke their hair or hold hands when watching TV. Go and find them in the house just to give them a deep, warm embrace. Touch can be a powerful emotional connector, and brings us back to feeling safe and loved as a child. If your spouse and you act more like roommates, you may not even be aware that this is their love language, so take the quiz together or have a conversation about it. This is one language that is super easy and enjoyable to “speak”!
I hope you are feeling inspired to determine both your love languages and to tailor your expression accordingly. It is so easy to take our partners for granted, and then wonder years later where the spark went. All it takes is some care and consistency to show your love in a way that most strongly resonates with them, and to communicate how you prefer to receive love. In this way you can elevate past a simply peaceful union to one that is deeply loving, fulfilling, and enduring.