One of the things that Carrie and I try to always keep in mind is each other’s needs. Everyone has needs. What we need out of various relationships differs. I don’t have the same needs from my relationship with my mother, for example, that I have from my relationship with Carrie.
I think one of the most important first steps is figuring out what your needs are. I know both Carrie and I have both been in relationships in the past where our needs were not met. Part of the problem was that back then, we did not really have a good working knowledge of what our own needs are. I am a fan of the concept of the Five Love Languages. Figuring out how it is that you both show and prefer to receive love is a good first step towards figuring out your relationship needs. Gary Chapman, the author of the original book, also has an informational website that is good. It has a definite Christian slant, which I usually try to avoid when it comes to relationship self help. In this case, however, I felt the information was universally applicable. You can access the quiz that will help you determine your “love language(s)” right there on the website. I’d recommend starting here.
The Five “Love Languages”
- Words of Affirmation- These can take the form of compliments on physical appearance or a compliment for something your significant other did that you genuinely appreciated. Some people just really like to hear what you appreciate about them or what they do.
- Quality Time- People who score high in quality time like to get your focused attention. They enjoy doing activities together or talking. The key is that they like to have your undivided attention.
- Receiving Gifts- This seems like it might smack of materialism, but really it’s not. For people who like to receive gifts, it’s about what the gift means; which is that you were thinking of them and care enough to get them something they wanted or needed.
- Acts of Service- These folks love it when you take care of things for them, that they would either rather not have to do or don’t have time for. It takes a load off of them and makes them feel like you really care about them.
- Physical Touch- These are the people who want to hug, kiss, and hold hands with you. And yes, these people also sometimes like a lot of sex in intimate partner relationships.
What are our Love Languages?
It might surprise a lot of people to learn that Carrie and I actually have some very different love languages. Carrie scores highest first in Acts of Service, with her second being Quality Time. Physical Touch and Receiving Gifts are both at the bottom, with Words of Affirmation scoring somewhere in the middle. As for me, I score highest by far in Physical Touch, with Quality Time being a close second. Words of Affirmation is in the middle, with Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts being down near the bottom.
The problem is that you tend to express love to another in the same way that you wish to receive it. With those kinds of scores, we have to deliberately be mindful of how we’re expressing love to each other. If we’re not mindful, I’m constantly kissing and hugging her when she wishes that I’d do some laundry (or some other chore that she hates doing). Or she’s busy working on completing some project for my benefit, when I really just wish she would come to bed and snuggle with me.
Being mindful of each other’s love language doesn’t always just mean that we’re deliberate in how we express love to each other, but also in how we interpret love. For example, Carrie knows that all my hugs, kisses, snuggles, and other attempts at being physically close to her are my expressions of love toward her. And I know that when Carrie, say, installs under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen, she’s telling me she loves me because that lighting benefits mainly me and I could not do it myself.
One language that we do have in common is enjoying Quality Time with each other. This is manifested in so many different ways in our relationship. We often set aside time with each other, just to talk. We both often express that we feel incredibly connected to each other after an evening of deep conversation. Our common love of travel is another way in which Quality time shows up in our relationship. We both immensely enjoy the adventures that we have with each other through our travels. Anyone who knows us also knows that we typically have lots of “projects” that we are constantly working on! Our constant projects are another manifestation of our love of Quality Time, as we most enjoy when we can mash our individual knowledge, skills, and talents together to complete these projects.
When you start to feel neglected
It happens. You’re going along in your relationship and one person begins to feel a little…. empty. Chapman talks a lot about your “love tank”, and I can see why he made that illustration. Without enough expressions of love from your partner, made in the way in which you most prefer it, you can start to feel a little neglected. This is especially true if you have continued to be mindful of addressing your partner’s needs, while yours go unaddressed. That means you continue to give, while getting little back in return. That builds resentment, which is an absolute relationship killer!
Enter: communication. Now that Carrie and I are much more both self aware AND aware of each other’s needs, all we need to do is say something if we get to feeling that we’re running on empty. That self awareness also helps to negate any feelings of defensiveness that might arise otherwise. For example, without self awareness, the conversation between her and I might go something like this:
S: “I’ve just been feeling really unloved lately”
C: “What?? I just fixed the windshield wipers on your car, built you an outdoor kitchen, and fixed the rain barrel! I don’t know what else you want from me!”
With better awareness, Carrie realizes that she’s been doing a lot of Acts of Service for me. While I appreciate these things, what I really want is a hug and snuggling. So she apologizes and we snuggle. Great! All is well with the world and with each other.