Years ago, my husband and I read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Before we started, we took a quiz that revealed which of the five—words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts—made us feel the most loved by the other person. Guess what? Our top two were not the same. Not even close. Believe it or not, that surprised me, even after a decade of marriage.
I discovered a lot about my husband in the pages of that book and even more about myself. I also stumbled upon a truth I wish I’d known from day one—that people tend to love each other the way they want to be loved, which doesn’t always work. In fact, sometimes it has the opposite effect. Think about it this way. If my number one love language isn’t my spouse’s number one love language, then I always want something he doesn’t realize he needs to give. And he’s always giving something I don’t really want. For example, my husband feels loved through acts of service. Based on that, he unloads the dishwasher, does the laundry, or cooks dinner for me multiple times during the week. I feel loved through quality time. Based on that, I often sit with him after dinner and engage him about his day. All good things. Except for none of what we’re doing registers on each other’s love radar—because we don’t feel loved by the same things.
I don’t feel loved by piles of clean laundry. He doesn’t feel loved by intimate talks. After weeks or months or even years of this, we’re frustrated that our needs aren’t being met and that our efforts to please the other person are wasted and unrecognized. That frustration can turn into bitterness or anger. And those are not good things. But it doesn’t have to be that way—even if you can’t get your spouse to read Gary Chapman’s book. Because there’s another simple fix. We can learn to love our spouse the way they want to be loved—by paying attention to the way they love us. If my husband is loving me the way he wants to be loved, I just have to take the time and energy to pick up on that and mirror it back.
Using the love languages as a guide, here are five practical ways to do just that.
1. Words of Affirmation
Listen to how your spouse speaks to you. Is her tone positive? Does he compliment you? Does she brag on you to her friends or yours? Does he encourage you when you’re having a bad day? Validate your feelings when life isn’t quite going your way? Tell you she loves you? Mention how important you are to him? If you answered yes to any of the above, then those things make your spouse feel loved. Look for ways to compliment her back. Don’t miss opportunities to build him up. Sometimes we think good things about our spouse that we forget to say. Make it a point to share those words of affirmation.
2. Quality Time
Keep track of how much time your spouse spends with you. Remember what he likes to do or where she chooses to go when you’re together. It could be reading side by side quietly, gaming, romantic dinners in or out, traveling, taking walks, or long conversations on the patio. If being alone with you is a priority, carve out those moments often because your spouse feels loved through quality time.
3. Physical Touch
Pay attention to when and how your spouse touches you. When you go out to eat, does she scoot into the booth next to you? Does he sit shoulder-to-shoulder when you’re watching TV in bed or on the couch? Cuddle up to you as you fall asleep? Hold your hand? Does she rub your feet? Does he run his fingers through your hair? Look for times to make the first move. Grab her hand before she reaches for yours. Lean into his touch. Because if your spouse is constantly touching you, you can be sure your spouse feels loved by being touched in return.
4. Acts of Service
Notice the little things your spouse does for you. Does she clean up after dinner? Does he pick up the mess you left in the bathroom? Does she go out of her way to stop at the store for your favorite ice cream on her way home? Does he take your car in for an oil change? Fix the items on your to-do list without being asked? Surprise you by doing jobs you’d already agreed to take on? Then your spouse will feel loved when you reciprocate those acts of service.
5. Receiving Gifts
What kind of gift-giver is your spouse? Think about the last few holidays. Does she put a lot of thought into the presents she chooses for you? Does he make your birthday a grand affair? Does she remember things you’ve mentioned you’d like and buy them for you just because? Are the things he picks out for you rooted in effort and thought? If your spouse likes to give in this way, then receiving like for like will make your spouse feel loved.
While it comes more naturally to love someone else the way you want to be loved, you can learn to make the switch. Once you recognize your spouse’s acts of love for what they are, it will be easier to see how to love them back. And if you’re having trouble figuring out exactly what your spouse needs, you can always ask. The five love languages are a great place to start, but you don’t have to stop there. People love each other in all kinds of ways. And that’s part of what makes our marriages unique.
Lord, give me a great desire to love my spouse the way they want to be loved, not the way I want to love them. Show me what I don’t see. Let what’s important to them become important to me. When loving becomes hard, give me Your grace and help me to see my spouse in a new way. Thank you for my marriage and the person you put into my life to love and be loved by.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Nattakorn Maneerat
Lori Freeland, an encourager at heart, believes everyone has a story to tell and wants to help make those stories as strong as possible. An author, editor, and writing coach, she holds a BA in psychology from The University of Wisconsin and currently lives in the Dallas area. She’s presented multiple workshops at conferences across the country, has experience in developmental and copy edits in various genres, and writes nonfiction, novels, and everything in between. When she’s not curled up with her husband drinking too much coffee and worrying about her kids, she loves to mess with the lives of the imaginary people living in her head. You can find her inspirational blog and writing tips at lafreeland.com.