(This post is part of an ongoing series, “Love is a Decision.” Check out part one here.)
I was required to take a world language class in high school. So, like most of my friends, I begrudgingly enrolled in Spanish. At the time, I had mixed emotions about the language. I appreciated that it had a fixed structure; once you understood all of the rules, you could apply them uniformly across the language. But, man, was it hard to understand, and native speakers talk way too fast.
It was so different from the language I grew up speaking. Spanish required me to restructure my thoughts and communicate in a way that I never had before. It was one of my most challenging classes because it felt so unnatural and took a lot of work. I practiced over and over to form new mental patterns. Fortunately those patterns eventually became habits, and I passed the class.
Years later, I met a nice girl (ironically a Spanish major) at Indiana University, and we began to date seriously. I remember thinking that we communicated well with each other, but when we had our first real disagreement (I don’t remember the specifics, but it was definitely my fault) I remember thinking that it felt like we were speaking different languages. I focused on communicating the intention behind my actions, while she focused more literally on what I said and did.
This disagreement marked the first time I stepped back and analyzed how differently my wife and I communicated. Through this difficult conversation we began to recognize the different relational and emotional needs we had. I believe there are three steps to loving well. They are simple as concepts but challenging to master.
Recognize the ways you and your partner are different from one another. You can’t begin to change and grow together if you don’t first acknowledge that you are different and have different wants and needs.
Learn your partner’s preferred way to receive love. Every person expresses and accepts love differently.
My amazing grandparents gave my wife and I a wedding gift in the form of a book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. We read it together on our honeymoon, which may be one of the best decisions we’ve made in our marriage. As we read this book we discovered that even though we’d just committed to loving each other forever and had the best intentions, we did not have all of the tools we needed to love each other completely .
It’s so important to learn your partner’s love language.
As Chapman suggests, there are five love languages we use to give and receive love: words of affirmation, acts of service, gift giving, quality time, and physical touch. He explains that it is rare for both partners to have the exact same love language. And I strongly suggest every couple read The Five Love Languages and read it together, if possible. It will teach you to recognize the best way to communicate and show love to your partner. Check out his website and take the free love languages quiz here.
As I read this book I discovered that my wife felt the most loved when I expressed words of affirmation and when we spent quality time together. At the time, I was focusing on showing her love through my love languages, acts of service and physical touch (I am a guy after all). We realized that even though we were working hard to show love to one another, we weren’t doing it in the ways that the other most needed. Thus, our efforts were less effective. There were times when we both felt that we needed more from each other.
Showing your partner the wrong type of love is kind of like giving an antibiotic to someone who has a viral infection.
Even though the antibiotic works for someone with a bacterial infection, it does not meet the needs of the sick person. Eventually the person might get better, but they would have gotten better quicker and more effectively with the right medicine. And I needed to give my wife the right medicine to keep her feeling loved well.
The last step
Act on what you’ve learned. Just like learning a foreign language, you need to develop new mental patterns and habits. It feels foreign and uncomfortable at first. But if your partner feels the most loved when you tell them they are beautiful (words of affirmation), you should make it a habit to speak variants of this sentiment on a regular basis. The first few times may feel forced and unnatural, but you’ll get used to it and it will make your partner feel great.
The cool thing is that when they feel loved they will naturally seek out ways to love you better. It is a beautiful cycle that ultimately leads to greater love and a happier life.
Be intentional about it.
By Mitch Reinholt with Ben Higgins
What is your love language? How can you love better today?