Late last night, as little Nirvaan slept in his cot at the foot of our bed, my wife and I held hands and whisper-spoke for more than an hour. At one point, she said, ‘For me, this is love. Spending time alone with you and talking. Love is being able to share myself and know I am not being judged.’ We reminisced how, when we first met, we often spoke till dawn. Over the years, and especially after the birth of Nirvaan, this had tapered off.
I had not paid much attention to this lessening, but hearing her say that reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother and mentor GD last week. He told me he sometimes asked his clients during sessions about what love meant to them and the variety in the answers surprised him. One unnamed client, he said, told him she did not feel loved until the other person shared his deepest, darkest secret.
“Just imagine,” GD said to me, “a man could be showering her with affection and giving her diamonds and it wouldn’t really matter to her. Because her subconscious definition was that until he had shared his deepest, darkest secrets, it wasn’t really love. I realized during my sessions that most people don’t consciously know what love means for themselves or their partners. So they keep doing things for their partners according to their own definition of love, and then feel disappointed that their partner still doesn’t feel loved.”
As I read up further on this, I came across Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestseller ‘The Five Love Languages’. It says that most of us grow up learning the language of love of our parents, which becomes our native tongue. So if you speak Spanish and your partner speaks English, communication is impossible, comprendez? Chapman counts five broad languages of love:
Words of Affirmation
Unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten.
Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
This language is not about the value of the object but the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. The perfect gift or gesture shows that you are understood, cared for and prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures.
Acts of Service
Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter.
A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.
While these categories are useful, my guess is that the definition for each person doesn’t always neatly fall into them. For another client of his, GD said, love meant the other should be always present nearby. Because he had lost loved ones through death, travel or separation, the marker of love had become whether the person was physically present. Some people, GD suggested, had strict parents and as grown ups, a partner’s aggression could be a subconscious reminder of tough love.
I shared this with my wife as we lay silhouetted in bed. It turned out for me love is about receiving thoughtful gifts and acts of service. As we spoke, we realized that I often give my wife surprise gifts, but receive few in return because she never realizes how much they mean to me – it isn’t part of her definition of love. On the other hand, she makes time for mid-week lunch dates and quality time with me, which doesn’t have quite the same impact for me.
It’s so interesting that our definitions of love could be so varied and so important to us, yet remain unknown to ourselves and our partners all our lives. This simple missing bridge can create a huge chasm between the most sincere, loving couple.
As a support to everyone else reading this blog to find their own and their partners’ definition of love, I would really love to know what are your definitions of love in the Comments Section below. A quick and simple way to find out is to ask: How do I express love to others? What do I complain about the most? What do I request most often? Or simply when do I feel truly loved by my partner? I would love to find out what you discover about you.
Thank you and happy loving! 🙂
P.S. For those who would like to go deeper into discovering their own love language, on Gary Chapman’s website, there is a short Love Language Profile test.