We all want to be loved. By parents and siblings, friends and, of course, partners. But love is a feeling and we don't always have ready access to what another person is feeling... except in those rare and magical moments when you feel you glimpse deep into the soul of another. Most of the time, we're relying on each other's expressions, articulations and gestures to communicate what they're feeling.
Communication can be a messy thing. We've all experienced being misunderstood, even unintentionally hurting another's feelings. We crave certain words and gestures from others. But, most often, we don't simply tell them what we want to hear. It can mean that even when we believe we're loved, we often don't FEEL like we're getting what we need.
This is further complicated by the fact that we don't necessarily all crave the same kind of expression. Some people put a lot of stock in those three little words -- "I love you." Other people read true love in small gestures -- the man who will help you move, bring over soup when you're sick, buy flowers for no reason at all. Others still crave grander gestures; they want to be wooed, seduced, courted.
The five love languages
One of my favourite self-help-style books and one that I still think about every day is the The 5 Languages of Love. The book made me reflect on how I express love to those in my life, but also on all the ways people tell me that they love me too. The hard fact is you may not always get the expression of love that you want. But, what you might learn to do is to recognize and appreciate the other ways a person might be expressing their love. After all, isn't it sad to think that people are telling us they love us in ways we're too "deaf" to hear?!
The idea that we may not be speaking the same language with our significant other has been visited many times. Books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and even He's Just Not That Into You have touched on ideas that we may have different styles of communication -- usually drawn down gender lines. Even Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice had their troubles communicating (really... think about it: doesn't every rom-com ever written hinge on a miscommunication?)
For some people, the love language is Physical Touch. It's a gesture; laying a hand on the arm or the shoulder as they pass by or plenty of hugs and cuddles! For others, it's much more practical Acts of Service -- they're the ones who help you move or bring over soup when you're sick. For some, it's Receiving Gifts, whether regular small treats or big-ticket items. For others it's Words of Affirmation -- they need to say "I love you" plain and simple. Meanwhile, all some want is Quality Time. They want you to put down the BlackBerry, give them your full attention and carve out dedicated time and space for you.
Different ways of expressing ourselves
In a recent post, I touched on the different styles we all have of dealing with conflict. In many ways, Love Languages is the flip side of the same coin. It all boils down to one key fact: Even when we're all speaking the same language, there are forms of non-verbal communication and nuances in the words we use. The result can be that our message, which seems so clear to us, can be heard and understood very differently on the receiving end.
The 5 Languages of Love really makes me reflect on how I express affection to others, but also how I want to be told I'm loved. My love language is not just the one I use to express love to those in my life -- it's also the language you're most receptive to "hearing" when it's spoken to me. Somebody who needs to say "I love you" out loud every day, may not pick up on the fact that a partner taking out the garbage or walking the dog is just as much an expression of love as those three little words.
Thinking about all of this also made me realize how different we all are and how we shouldn't compare relationships: One boyfriend might shower you with big-ticket gifts but never give you the quality time you need. Another might hold your hand always, but find it more difficult to say "I love you" out loud. Still, the depth of feeling may be the same in each case. The book also helped me think about how my own behaviour might actually hurt somebody or make them feel unloved.
Focus on your own expression instead of "mind-reading"
In relationships, we tend to obsess over what's going on in the other person's head. But really, our energy would be better put into focusing on our own communication. Instead of trying to figure out what's going on inside the heads of others, focus more on GIVING and making that person feel loved. For instance, if you know a person really needs quality time, make that effort to carve out time for them. Or if they thrive off words of affirmation, muster the courage to say those words without waiting for them to prompt you.
That said, relationships are STILL a minefield of misread signals, crossed wires and subconscious nuance. I really believe (as with so many things) that openness and honesty are the most important characteristics to bring to ANY form of communication. If you work hard to say what you really mean, what you really want, you have better odds of getting an honest reaction. And if you're open to the individuality in other people, you'll learn to love and appreciate their unique style of communicating, even to treasure those differences.
Enlightening as these ideas are, I admit to still having moments when I really just wish somebody would tell me exactly what I want to hear -- that it could all just be so MUCH SIMPLER. But I'm learning that the mode of expression is not as important as what's actually being expressed. After all, the feeling and sense of security that comes from knowing somebody really does care for me is so much more valuable than the wrapping it comes in!