Learning the Love Languages
The loop between relationship satisfaction and effective communication can be either a vicious cycle or a virtuous one.
Research supports what is probably obvious to most of us: individuals in a relationship communicate more effectively if they are satisfied with that relationship than if they are unhappy. This likely also works in the reverse; people in relationships where there is good communication are typically more satisfied. Therefore, it’s important to get off to a good start in communicating with a new partner, as the success of the relationship could depend on it.
Even if you’re in a long-term relationship, evaluate the communication between your partner and yourself. While some techniques for good communication involve common sense, others aren’t so obvious, as everyone communicates in a unique and different way.
General best practices
Some techniques for better communication include focusing on your partner and the topic at hand, practicing empathy and admitting when you’re at fault.
While perhaps an obvious behavior, make sure you’re honing in on what your partner is really saying during a discussion. Besides just listening, pay attention to their body language, expressions and tone. Instead of thinking how to respond, make sure you continue to hear what they’re saying before you respond.
When you do formulate a response, put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Use “I” or “I feel” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, “I feel hurt when I cook the meal and you don’t clean the dishes,” as opposed to, “You never clean the dishes!” Doing so avoids putting your partner on the defensive and can prevent the escalation of an argument. Even better is communicating in positive terms, such as, “I really appreciate when you do the dishes after I cook. It makes me feel appreciated.”
If an argument does arise and you’re wrong, don’t be afraid to admit it. Taking ownership in a fight by saying “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” can let your partner know that while you may have disagreed on something, you ultimately value your partner more than you value winning the argument. If you can express a sense of understanding of their feelings—“I can see where that might have sounded critical” or “I know you don’t like it when I use that tone; I’m sorry”—that can be even more effective.
While common-sense practices can be enough for some partnerships, knowing the love language through which you and your partner communicate also can improve your ability to connect.
The concept of the “five love languages” was introduced in 1992 by Dr. Gary Chapman in his New York Times bestseller of the same name. The basic premise of his book is that every person gives and receives love differently. Chapman suggested that for a relationship to be successful, partners have to show affection according to their love languages.
Each individual has an affinity for one or two major love languages among these five:
- Words of affirmation. The type of people who favor this love language defy the common belief that actions speak louder than words. For them, words are essential, and they need reassurance and kind words from their partner to feel loved.
- Receiving gifts. Don't mistakenly think that the people with this love language are greedy or materialistic. They do not necessarily want expensive gifts; rather, any token of affection can demonstrate love and show that the giver is paying attention.
- Acts of service. For individuals with this type of love language, actions do speak louder than words. These partners will feel loved and cherished when their partner performs actions, such as carrying out common household chores without being asked, that make their life easier and better.
- Physical touch. Physical touch may involve sex, but that is just one example of how you can show your partner love. It may also mean giving long hugs, cuddling or even holding hands.
- Quality time. For people who prefer this love language, time together is a gift, and the quality of the time is the biggest factor. For example, put aside your phone or computer, ditch all distractions and focus solely on your partner. You also might display your love by insisting on regular date nights and planning weekend getaways together.
Finding out what style of communication is most receptive for both you and your partner can put you on a good path to a happy and long-lasting relationship. It’s easy to assume that your way of receiving love is the same as your partner’s, but that is not always the case.
Don’t be afraid to ask your partner if your current style of communication is productive or could use improvement. Though fights and conflicts are inevitable in a relationship, knowing what your partner needs, and what you need in return, can prevent potential problems.