I know, I'm on kind of a love kick. With the state of the world where it is - increased violence everywhere, terror, clowns running our government both nationally and at the state and local levels, (sorry, not trying to get political, but WTF people? Is this the best we can come up with America?) and everyone angry about something, there is a comfort in knowing at the end of the day we get to shut out the world and spend quality time watching "Stranger Things" on Netflix with someone we love.
So everything sucks. The world sucks. The dinner I just made sucks. And it's November, cold and dark and watching Winona Ryder as "Joyce" is as stressful as reviewing my depleted bank account statement. Oh and the Kindle battery is dead. What to do?
Shuffling through my limited apartment library (Note to everyone: when I climb out of this temporary hole in the upside-down, my library is going to be pretty off the hook. Maybe not "Beast" library off the hook, which has always been my dream, but it's going to be good.), I found my copy of Gary Chapman's book, "The Five Love Languages." This book came recommended to me a long time ago by a lot of people who had gone through rough patches in their relationships and thought at that time, it could help me. Shocker, it didn't. Not because it isn't a good book with very helpful insights, but because at that time in my life, what I believed to be a rough patch was actually the eye of the shit-storm. Rediscovering why we "fell in love" and bringing that love back was NOT at the top of my priority list back then. I had other discoveries to make.
Nevertheless, something drew me back to this book and I'm glad I re-read it. It's about communication, something I always thought I was fairly adept at. But really, I'm good at talking and never shutting the hell up, as most people will tell you. Professionally and in the court room, I have the innate ability to know when I've made my point, should shut up and sit down. Personally, as we all know, I overshare and can chat your ear off. I know. That's a major flaw of mine and on the top of my "To Do List" for being less of an assh*le in life.
Communicating my needs in a relationship however, is something I have never been good at and the reason why goes back to overthinking (Should I say that? Will that make him mad at me? Is it too much? Will he think I'm being too needy or too selfish? Will he think I'm crazy? Does he even feel that way about me?) Sometimes I say way, way too much too soon. Other times, I don't say enough.
If I just relax and let relationships develop organically, probably a lot of the second guessing wouldn't happen. Reading about the 5 Love Languages was a helpful exercise, surprisingly. As described in the book, the 5 Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation (more than just saying I love you, giving compliments and encouragement, showing gratitude and appreciation); Quality Time (eliminating distractions and spending time doing things you both enjoy doing together and having meaningful conversations); Receiving Gifts (meaningful tokens and expressions of love, not necessarily jewelry or cars); Acts of Service (doing the things your partner needs and wants help doing like chores or child care); and Physical Touch (physical intimacy, hand holding, touching).
The kicker is realizing that your partner may not speak the same love language you do. For me, I appreciate all 5, but the two I need most to "fill me empty tank," as Chapman refers to it, according to his quiz are first Physical Touch followed by Words of Affirmation, and those make sense.
Intimacy is an important part of any relationship, certainly. Holding hands has more intimate meaning for me than sex. When someone wraps me in their arms and I can feel, touch and smell them, there is a magical feeling I get, like electricity. Not with anyone, obviously, but without wandering into TMI territory, when Benjamin holds me, everything that was ever wrong with me, with him or with us, is just right. Just watching TV with his hand on my knee brings me a peace that I don't believe I have ever experienced before. It's special, it's real, it's safe, and it feels like home. It's a reassurance of his love. No words, just a feeling.
Words of Affirmation also makes perfect sense for me. My greatest complaint in any relationship I have had is not feeling appreciated and feeling I was being taken for granted. Saying thank you for something someone is doing or has done for us should not be so difficult and yet, some people just can't get to a point where they can say, "Hey, that thing you did for me that you didn't have to do, thank you."
As I was reading this portion of the book, I started reflecting on all the times I had been disappointed in a relationship because I would do, do, do and receive no acknowledgement whatsoever. It led to resentment and the breakdown of the relationship. I felt invisible, like an employee or a roommate. And for whatever reason, reaching for someone's hand and having them not take mine is as hurtful as telling me they don't love me.
So what if you do all those things, hold hands, have intimate moments, tell each other "thank you" for all the things we appreciate and the other person still isn't happy? Chapman says it's because we're not speaking the same love language. What one of us needs to fill the empty tank may be different than what someone else needs and we need to discover that other language to revive the love that began at the outset of the relationship.
Chapman reminds us that the first year of a relationship is about "falling in love" and it's fleeting. It's not what real love is. We are so busy trying to get to know the other person and letting them "check all of our love boxes" that we just fall into them. It's exciting - we do everything we can to impress them and we create a chemistry through activities that bond us to one another. But once life and reality begins to set in, those falling in love feelings dissipate, which is the natural course. And that's when relationships worth keeping reveal themselves, but they take work - hard work.
Part of this hard work is recognizing and respecting the other person's language of love and then learning to speak it. What every person needs is different and saying "we're too different, I can't give you what you need" is too easy if a relationship is worth holding on to and growing. But we have to want to open communication with the other person.
Sadly, some people are just too selfish or even narcissistic to ever truly want to or try to give themselves to another person and give that person what they need too. But thinking about the people who recommended this book to me, many of whom were facing divorce, affairs and general misery in their marriages, I realize that the insights in this book are worth considering. Figuring out your own love language and letting your partner know what it is apparently repaired at least three relationships of which I am aware. They're better than ever, in fact.
When we meet someone and start dating them, we don't always fall head over heels in love. Even me! Shocking, I know. But when we do, there is something special there and something worth saving. Communicating how we feel seems to be one of the greatest tools we have to keep the love flower alive and blooming.
For Gary Champman's quiz on Discovering Your Love Language, visit here: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/couples/.