Emotions are hard! Despite tens of millions of years of evolution, our understanding of what we feel and how we express those feelings isn’t always clear. Take love for example; did you know that the Greeks described 7 different type for love? That might be another topic for another day, but for now let’s think about how you show your partner that you love them. Whether you’ve been in your relationship for 3 months or for 50 years, it is always important to show that you care. For most couples, it can be easy to assume that your partner ‘just knows’ how you feel and we become complacent in our relationship. That can cause some serious problems in your relationship, because positive demonstrations of caring have to outnumber the negative times (and there are always going to be negative times).
The psychologist and relationship scholar, Dr John Gottman, describes what he calls The Emotional Bank Account. Every relationship has one and the idea is very simple. Every time something positive is done or said, it’s like making a deposit into the account and every time something negative is done or said, it’s like taking a withdrawal from the account. Now, it doesn’t take a degree in high finance to see how important those deposits are in order to build an emotional ‘savings’ and the success of any relationship is based on the amount of savings over time.
Every couple is going to disagree. We can all be critical and sometimes a little defensive, so it is very important that we maintain those positives in order to keep that bank balance up there. The problem, though, is that everyone differs on what we think makes a deposit. What you might think is a demonstration that you care about your partner may not be the way in which your partner feels cared for. Think of it like trying to make deposits in different currencies. If you’re not on the same page, the currencies might not convert very well.
About 20 years ago, the anthropologist and theologian, Dr Gary Chapman wrote about what he called the 5 Love Languages in the book of the same name. In it he described five different acts that people use to describe what their partners do that make them feel loved. We often think that the best policy is to treat other people the way that we want to be treated. In a relationship, though, the opposite is true. It’s best to treat someone the way that they want to be treated. In our couples retreats we often talk to couples about how they as individuals tend to feel cared for and how they express that they care. It is amazing how often demonstrations of caring go unnoticed, because the deposit is not done in the other person’s currency.
Here are the five love languages that Dr Chapman describes in his 1995 bestseller, which was recently updated in 2015:
These don’t have to be large gifts. Sometimes it is nice to receive a new piece of jewelry or fancy new car, but more often than not some flowers or small trinket will suffice. The idea is that when you spend money on your partner, you are saying that you value them enough to pay a certain price for them. Gifts also demonstrate that you are thinking about them even when they aren’t with you.
Acts of Service
Why should you do the dishes or make the bed? Sometimes it isn’t just so that you can clean plates or a tidy bedroom. It can also show that you value your partner enough to spend time doing something that they then don’t have to do. There are those things in life that you want to do and the things in life that you have to do. There are also those things in life that your partner wants you to do and by doing it even if you don’t think it’s necessary, you put your own ego aside for a second and acknowledge that he or she has needs as well.
Words of Affirmation
For some people talk is cheap! It doesn’t matter what you say and matters instead what you do. For others, though, talk is exactly what they want to hear. Saying ‘I love you’ or ‘You are so special to me,’ as well as explaining why, can be exactly the way to get across those very ideas. Don’t underestimate the power of your own voice at times. It can be a direct way of getting across an important idea!
Remember when you first got together? What did you do together? It’s doubtful that you spent it filing your taxes or doing laundry every other day. Most people go out for dinner, catch a movie, see a band or just stay in and talk until the sun comes up. As life moves on, it can be harder to have that dedicated time to spend with each other doing little more than connecting. Relationships sometimes need that dedicated time in order to keep flourishing and date nights or family time can be just the thing that your partner needs in order to know that you care.
Whether a hug, a kiss, a massage or something a little more intimate, physical touch can be a great way of showing someone that you care. There are billions of nerves in body and when they are physically stimulated by someone we care about, a whole lot of great things start happening in the body. Most of us want to feel attractive to our partner (as well as attracted to our partner) and touching each other as only a partner can is a great non-verbal way to express that attraction.
Everyone is different regarding which of these 5 love languages are most important. The key idea here is to remember that if you are doing for your partner what you want them to do for you, then you could be wasting your time. You might want to consider completing the love languages questionnaire (a little quality time together perhaps?) to get a sense of what the two of you would prefer to see from the other person. The science behind the questionnaire is a bit lacking, to be honest (maybe there is a sixth or even seventh language that Dr Chapman hasn’t considered!), but it could be a great conversation starter. Our couples retreats could also help guide that conversation in order to figure out what is important to each of you in order to keep the bank account from depleting. We offer a range of services including marriage preparation retreats as well as couples therapy. Call us on 0333 123 2949 for more information.