THE BLOG
09/29/2014 10:47 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Love Languages: Relationship Communication 101

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At the end of the day disappointment sets in. No gift, no card, only a verbal 'happy birthday' and a Facebook wall post.

I need more. I need symbols, signs. Call me materialistic but I learned something about myself in couples counseling a year and a half ago: my love language is my own and not everyone else shares my viewpoint.

In childhood, my family showed love by gift-giving, and I carried this viewpoint into my marriage. My ex came from a different background. As the youngest of five kids, there wasn't enough money to go around for extravagant gifts. So he learned from his mother that love was quality time spent together doing the things you both enjoy. Take those two different language and toss them into a marriage uninformed and you have a problem.

I had all but forgotten about that lesson until my birthday rolled around and I found myself once again speaking a different love language than my partner.

For those of you unfamiliar with Gary Chapman's work, there are five love languages:

  • Words of affirmation -- saying I love you, complimenting or praising your partner
  • Quality time - time spent together, even if you're doing nothing
  • Receiving gifts -- tokens of appreciation and affection
  • Acts of service -- doing something for the other person
  • Physical touch -- hand holding, kissing, sex
My top three love languages are quality time, receiving gifts, and acts of service. This is how I communicate my love. I do things with or for you and occasionally buy you things. My current partner's top two love languages are words of affirmation and touch. He tells me verbally that he loves me and that means everything to him; touch serves as a secondary reinforcer.

By speaking a different love language than my partner, I -- in some ways -- set us both up for failure. I am not as verbally communicative as he would like and he's not as much into the doing for, gift gifting, and being together as I would like.

So what do you do when you and your partner are speaking different love languages? Communication is the key -- and something I struggle with. In fact, I recently wrote a blog about this -- but here's what I've learned about communicating with your partner:

1) Figure out which language you speak and which language your partner speaks. Gary Chapman's book and website offer quizzes to help you figure it out if you don't already know.

2) Start showing your partner love in a way they understand. As my man is a 'words of affirmation' and 'physical touch' kind of guy, I need to get better at giving him what he needs in those two areas.

3) Communicate your needs to your partner -- as much as we think our partner should know us well enough to figure out what we want, they don't. Your partner is not a mind reader -- trust me on this one, it took me two decades to figure this out! You have to be specific about what you need to feel loved. But do so without denigrating your partner's love language or making him or her feel bad. So instead of saying, "You don't love me the way I want to be loved!" you could say something like, "I love that you are so expressive with your love for me. I like to show my love for you by doing little things for you, like making you your favorite dinner. (Fill in the blank with how you show love -- again your partner is not a mind reader. Walk them over the bridge here.) What I really would like more of is to just spend time with you -- not doing anything in particular, just enjoying each other's company. (Again fill in the blank with what you need.) Do you think we might be able to spend an evening together this coming week because I that would really make me feel loved?"

4) Rinse and repeat -- I wish I could wave my magic wand and fix all of your relationship communication problems overnight, but this takes practice. When you find yourself wishing your partner had done or said something different, redo this exercise. He or she was likely operating out of their love language and forgot that you don't speak the same language they do all the time. Truth be told, if that's the case, you might want to examine your own behaviors as well. Have you been communicating with them in their love language lately or have you fallen back into your own?

Good luck and let me know how it goes!