Knowing your own and your partner’s love language is important. But what do you do if you and your partner speak different love languages? What about when you try to reach your partner in their preferred love language and they do not respond? Here are some thoughts on why knowing our own and our partner’s love language may not necessarily be enough.
Here is an example speaking a different love language than your partner: “I did not grow up in an emotionally expressive family and my spouse’s love language is Words of Affirmation. It is extremely difficult for me to affirm my partner verbally.”
The good news is that all of the five love languages can be learned, though it may require some intentional effort and commitment on your part. It is true that most of us grew up speaking only one or two love languages. These will be natural for us and will be relatively easy to express. The others must be learned. As with most learning, small steps make for big gains. If Words of Affirmation is your spouse’s language and you are not by nature a speaker of kind, affirming, emotionally expressive words, begin with simply paying attention to things you appreciate about your partner. Often we take each other for granted, and it is easy to overlook the things we value in our partner and in our relationship. Once you begin noticing what you appreciate, then translate that into a simple, affirming statement, like “I want you to know that I really do appreciate it when you bring me coffee in the morning/make sure my the oil gets changed in my car/spend time with my family even though I know it is not your favorite thing, etc.” Also, pay attention to what matters to your partner. If she gets a new hairstyle, notice it and compliment her. If your partner prides himself on being a good dad, notice that and affirm it. Make global statements, like “I really am glad you are my wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend”. From these smaller statements of affirmation, you can then branch out to more emotionally resonant conversations. The more you push yourself to pay attention to and then speak works of affirmation, the easier it becomes and the more your partner feels loved.
So, what is going on if you do make the effort to speak your partner’s love language and they do not respond? Several things could be at play here. Perhaps your partner is not used to you speaking to them in their preferred love language, therefore they are skeptical that this change is authentic. If this is the case, keep doing it until your partner begins to trust that this is not a ploy to placate them. This is particularly important when there is an entrenched pattern of distance or hostility in your relationship. Another reason may be that they grew up in a home where their love language was ignored or even worse, it was shamed, leaving them to believe that they do not deserve to be shown love in a meaningful way. Again, persistence is key. Also, doing therapy around “receiving love” may be in order.
When you speak your partner’s love language and they do not respond, attempt to engage them in a non-threathening, non blaming conversation to explore what is going on. If necessary, set a goal of six or nine or twelve months to consistently express love to your partner in a way that is meaningful to them, even if they do not respond or reciprocate. I know it can be frustrating to work so hard and feel you are getting nowhere. Work to shape your attitude to be “whatever their response, I’m going to love them in their love language over the long haul. If the relationship ends, I will know that I have worked hard to love them in a way that matters.” Also, you will have benefitted by stretching into a part of yourself that may be underdeveloped. There is ALWAYS personal benefit to be gained when we work to lean into our own growth edges. You will know that you CAN do things that may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar, which will be self-knowledge that you can use in future relationships.
And to add to the above, it may take more than just speaking your partners love language to transform a relationship that is breaking down or broken. But loving each other in meaningful ways will definitely be part of the solution.
Until next time, peace.