To love and be loved is to fulfill the most primary emotion we have as beings. It’s an emotion shared between spouses and within families – with our children, friends, and even with our family pet. Who loves you more (without rules) than your dog or cat? So why do people have so many problems in relationships, especially with the people they love the most? Many experts believe that it’s about communication – or lack of communication rather than a lack of caring.
Patients often ask me for help with relationships that are having an undesirable influence on their health. Since good relationships are healthy for us – and health is my area of expertise – I want to share some things I’ve learned throughout the years along with the basic concepts from a best-selling book that recently caught my attention.
The highly acclaimed marriage counselor Dr. Gary D. Chapman wrote, “The Five Love Languages,” a hands-on book filled with case scenarios. Several years ago, I received this book as a gift but at the time I only glanced through it. When I took a closer look, I realized that the ideas contained in this small, easy to read book were worthy of presenting at this year’s Valentine’s Day workshop on February 14th. In fact, Dr. Chapman credits these very simple, straightforward concepts for transforming a great number of relationships.
According to Dr. Chapman, whirlwind romances either change into a constant balmy breeze – or an arctic blast. Brrrr!!!! However, the difference between these two drastically different outcomes has less to do with the compatibility of the couples involved than their ability, or shall we say inability, to understand and interpret each other’s needs. Many great relationships disintegrate when partners are unable to effectively communicate their own needs and/or are unable to decipher the needs of their partner.
Another important term introduced in the book is what’s called, “an emotional love tank.” Love tanks are important because if you want to be really happy in a relationship, these tanks need to stay full! An emotional love tank in a relationship is analogous to the gas tank in a car. If the gas tank is empty, we can’t expect the car to run. If it’s on the low side, we know it’s time to fill up soon. All relationships benefit from doing the things that fill up the emotional love tanks of those we care about.
There are five specific languages of love described in the book in detail. They include: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.
The first love language, Words of Affirmation, has to do with complimenting one another. For most people, a kind word of appreciation goes a long way. For some of us with European backgrounds, this is harder because the thought process was that if you’re not being reprimanded then you’re doing ok. This isn’t a good plan; you’ll be farther ahead in your relationships to let significant others know they are appreciated.
The second love language, Quality Time, means that when you’re with someone, make sure you are actually with them. For guys, this means that if the television is on, don’t pretend to hold a conversation and watch at the same time. People may not say it but they are offended when something else takes attention away from them when they are trying to communicate with you.
The third love language is Receiving Gifts. I personally love getting little wrapped-up gifts that don’t have to be extravagant, just well-meant. For example, even a thoughtful, handwritten note on a scrap of paper is a gift that may be cherished and appreciated for years to come. Children love giving little things they have made, and girls of every age seem to universally love getting flowers. These are little things with big rewards that feed the heart.
The forth love language is Acts of Service which is about doing something for someone else. It may be your job to take out the trash, wash the dishes or vacuum, but when someone else steps up and does it for you, it’s a pleasant surprise that can do more than you could ever imagine – especially if this is their love language. Remember, it may not be what’s important to you but it’s not about you; you’re filling their emotional love tank.
The fifth love language is Physical Touch. As social beings, we require various amounts of physical touch. Touch exchanges energy between beings which is very important because it’s one of the ways we keep each other healthy. Most people are happy with appropriate touch between one another and as with all things this varies according to whether we’re talking about significant others, children, or friends. Dr. Chapman’s book is a must read to understand this most important and basic of needs, which is to feel loved.
An additional aspect of understanding the five love languages relates to priorities. When we figure out and respond to the love languages that are most important to our loved ones, we help them feel loved in a very personal way. For example, the husband may prefer a back scratch (Physical Touch) while his wife may prefer help with the dishes (Acts of Service). While attention given to each other through any of the five love languages shows love, paying attention to what they want most is even better!
Another expert in relationships is American philosopher Hubbard. He explains how affinity for one another depends on the ability to fully communicate on subjects where you have agreements, known as shared reality. To learn more about this very interesting subject of communication, come to my FREE Workshop, “How to Improve Communication for Happier & Healthier Relationships,” February 14, 7pm, at the Livonia Civic Center Library. Register: 734-425-8220.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Dr. Karl