Are you “starving” for something in your intimate relationship(s) but don’t know what it is? I find Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages to be a helpful way to look at relationship patterns and interactions. Most people use more or all of these “love languages” when they first meet and are excited about each other. Then, after some passage of time, people kind of collapse into their own basic one or two modes of interaction. Problem is, these may not match with the partner’s basic modes. The value of Chapman’s work is that he noticed these patterns and figured out a way to help other people notice them too, and then to “translate” their affection into languages that the other person could understand.
Some people may be confused when they first meet this concept. My way of helping them get clarification is to ask them (1) “what are you hungry for that you’re not getting?” and (2) “how do you show that you care for your partner(s)?”
Chapman’s book was a poignant discovery during problems in my own longest term relationships. In both cases I was not matched up with “quality time” people like myself. One person was definitely a Physical Touch/Acts of Service kind of guy and the other was a Words of Affirmation/Physical Touch person. I did my best to meet the needs of each, but without Quality Time, my heart and body became less interested in sex and most of the time I felt as if I was lonely and starving in each of the relationships. For the one partner, Words of Affirmation became harder to conjure up and delivery with sincerity, but I could still perform Acts of Service for the other. How hurt I was though when I discovered that my habit of getting up to make coffee in the morning, to give my partner a few extra minutes of time in bed, was not actually that appreciated after all! Thinking back, I should have spent those few extra minutes cuddling with him (his primary language) and let him make the coffee! So I suppose I am a Quality Time/Acts of Service person when you get down to it.
So think about your habitual patterns of interaction. If you are in a situation where you need to “woo” your partner(s) again, after a time of strife, see if you get better results when you woo them in their language (if it is different from your own). And see if there are ways that you can make your language more explicit–tell them what really thrills you to the core.
If I’d been able to verbalize to either of the men I’ve referred to in this article, I would have said, “Without us spending time together and doing special things now and then, I have no interest in sex with you. It feels like a chore to me, then, something to appease you and keep you in a decent mood, since you clearly have no interest in me for anything other than that.” You can imagine how resentment can grow, in both sides, in such a situation. Both partners feel starved for a connection they’re not getting and begin to wonder why in the world they are still involved.
For me, one partner’s choice to stay online constantly–rather than connect and do something with me–became extraordinarily hurtful. But he was there on Facebook because he was reaping constant “Words of Affirmation” from people who believed him to be a hero. He was always tickled when a new person (especially a woman) asked to be his friend. Usually they had plenty of nice things to say to him, whereas I was turning into a complainer, trying to get him to recognize my needs. Was I showering him with praise? Not as much as I used to do at the beginning of the relationship, when I too thought him a hero!
I am always sad when I see good people struggling in this way, when the “fix” could be easier than they think. Try to set aside sources of resentment and focus instead on steps that you could take to communicate in your lover’s primary languages. Then, when things have been sweetened between you again, and you are able to create emotional safety for each other, then perhaps you can chip away at the more pressing problems without opening the old wounds completely.
Some relationships are abusive, and many of us know those “red flags,” danger signals, and descriptions of cycles of abuse. What’s less easily recognized are the relationships that started out great, but that have become corrosive and dismissive. I think Gary Chapman’s simple ideas can help a great number of people to restore emotional and sexual intimacy, come back together again, assuming both (or all) partners have the will to do so.
Sometimes I’ve even used these languages in my hypnosis sessions with clients, to reinforce ideas of how they can use them in their relationships. And that can be a wonderfully effective “boost” to the process.