Most people have heard the expression “Love Language” when referring to relationships and are familiar with the book Gary Chapman authored on this topic.  A question that remains for most people however is “How does knowing my or my partners love language impact my relationship?”  Love Languages are certainly an important aspect of our communication and can lead to understanding one another’s needs.  More importantly, however, we must learn to understand how these love languages impact the skills that according to Dr. John Gottman, lead to relationship success.

First, let’s define the five love languages: Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gift Giving, and Physical Touch.  The love languages certainly influence our communication with one another, especially in our intimate relationships, however, communication is not the crux by which good relationships evolve.  Communication is certainly imperative to a relationship, in fact we find that many couples who seek counseling often identify this as their core issue.  Through Dr. Gottman’s research on relationships and through my own experience working with couples, what we find beneath the issues of communication is much more relevant to identifying the actual issue. This is where we begin the work with a couple.

Let me explain.  If my main love language is Acts of Service and my partner’s is Physical Touch – I may not naturally engage in affection with my partner as this is not how I speak “love.”  My partner will not necessarily interpret the Acts of Service I do engage in, as an act of love.  Vice versa, I will inevitably misinterpret his physical affection as perhaps a selfish act as opposed to an act of love because I would more likely recognize the language I understand– Acts of Service.  At the core of these struggles, according to Dr. Gottman’s research, along with not interpreting the “language” of our partner, we are missing bids for connection. This results in a failure to turn towards our partners bids, or we may be turning against them.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we often do for our partner what we would enjoy or find great joy in.  We can easily forget what it is that our significant other interprets as an act of love.  For example, the husband who buys his wife an expensive bracelet thinks this surely is something she will feel loved by, as he saw his father do the same for his mother growing up and can remember the sheer excitement on his mother’s face.  However, he notices his wife’s disappointment as she tries to put on a smile and give thanks, but it’s apparent to him something is wrong.  He feels disappointed by her reaction, especially after going to 4 different stores to find the perfect bracelet.  An argument ensues.  He feels unappreciated for his efforts and she feels unknown, especially since in her “language” what may have been more important to her was receiving a love letter.

Let’s break down what occurred.  Both partners had positive intent. He wanted to find the perfect bracelet so he could see the same look on her face that he remembered seeing on his mothers. She tried to show excitement despite her disappointment.  In essence, he did an act of service, especially if he does not enjoy going to stores or shopping. But more importantly, he was on a mission to find what he felt his wife would love.  Behind the bracelet (content) we find an Act of Service (the process), and it’s actually quite chivalrous.  How often do you miss your partners intentions, miss their bids for connection, and turn away or against?  If the couple in our example had updated love maps, the very foundation of Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory, she would have seen his positive intent because she would have been aware of his dad’s extravagant gift giving every Valentine’s Day, as well as his mom’s joy in receiving it. If he knew her love language, he might have shared a card with the bracelet and along with it, a handwritten note explaining how he searched for the perfect bracelet.

Love Languages are certainly important.  However, when it comes to communication, what is more important is the process (shopping at 4 different stores, which he despises, but does it willingly, because he is doing it for her) and not the content (the bracelet) involved.  To understand the process, we must understand one another.  To understand one another we need to share with our partner the intricacies of our world.  To successfully turn toward our partners, which according to Dr. Gottman was found to be of utmost importance in relationships that succeed, we must know our partners in ways no one else does.  Missing your partners bids is more often out of one’s mindlessness not out of malice.

Download our Bids of Connection Guide to learn more about how to turn toward your partner and identify bids so they won’t be missed.  For more information watch our video on How to Say “Yes” while saying “No.”