How was your Valentine’s Day? Full of affection, hearts, and chocolate? Wine, cheese, and chick flicks (or sci-fantasy, whatever floats your boat!)? Whether you look forward to the holiday or view it as just another money-maker for greeting card companies, I hope it was a happy day for you.
Although the holiday has passed now, it does highlight something that I think is worth thinking about all 365 days of the year: love! This will be the first of a two-part miniseries in which we explore what love actually look like. Today, we will look at love in romantic and platonic relationships. In Part 2, we will look at what it means to love ourselves.
How full is your love tank?
In the book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman focuses on three key concepts. First, there are five core ways to show and receive love, and we each identify with one or two as our primary languages. Second, your satisfaction in a romantic or even platonic relationship is strongly influenced by how full your “gas tank of love” is (hey, don’t look at me - I didn’t pick that analogy). And third, your best relationships will be those in which your friends or partner willingly and enthusiastically speak your primary love language.
There are two aspects of this that I want to talk about today: how much your partners and loved ones contribute to your tank being full or empty, and how much you can fill or empty your tank. Single or partnered, we all have social ties that can either make our lives better or bring us pain. And we all walk around with ourselves in our own heads 24/7. So let’s take a look at how you and your loved ones impact your love tank.
Love language: Words of Affirmation
Chapman defines this love language as “using words to build up [another] person.” This includes verbal praise, compliments, expressions of appreciation, and encouraging phrases. In a loving friendship or romantic partnership, your partner might express this by telling you how great you look as you get ready for a date - or hang around the house in your comfy sweats and messy sock bun. You might speak this language by telling a friend how much you appreciate their support and encouragement.
If your primary love language is Words of Affirmation, you’ll also notice its absence in relationships that are toxic or unhealthy. Disparaging remarks, insults, name-calling, backhanded “compliments,” and accusations will all cut deeply. Sarcasm and condescension from a loved one can be especially hurtful for those who speak Words of Affirmation.
Love language: Gifts
Gifts can be anything given or purchased for you specifically because someone thought of you. A gift may be an expensive piece of jewelry or a pretty flower picked along the side of the road. The focus is not the size of the gift, but the intention - to give something you anticipate will bring joy to another person. A friend or partner may speak your language of Gifts by giving you meaningful things of any size. Souvenirs from a trip, flowers when you’re feeling down, or a little “thinking of you” trinket are all Gifts. A caring romantic partner may give special attention to gift-giving holidays such as Christmas or birthdays, to ensure that you feel special and acknowledged.
In narcissistic relationships, gifts may be used to manipulate. If someone says “my love language is gifts” and then proceeds to use gifts as leverage, they are not truly speaking this language. Money, clothing, expensive items, and even favors may be used to pressure the recipient into doing what the narcissist wants. This is not in the spirit of speaking the language of Gifts, which are given with no strings attached.
Love language: Acts of Service
An Act of Service is an action or behavior that you do because you know that it will please your loved one. Some examples of acts of service could include changing the oil in your wife’s car, taking care of the laundry pile that’s been growing in the corner, or mowing your friend’s lawn for them when they’re overwhelmed with new parenthood. If this is your language, it may be especially meaningful that your partner takes out the trash or empties the litter box every week so that you don’t have to. You may speak this language to someone else by taking on a task they find onerous, because you know they will truly appreciate not having to do it themselves.
In an unhealthy relationship, a toxic loved one may twist Acts of Service by guilt-tripping after the fact. They may perform an Act of Service but will never let you forget that they did it - and will expect something in return. Usually that something is compliance, submission, uneven repayment, or undying loyalty. While all healthy relationships involve a level of reciprocity, doing something explicitly to obtain a return should not be the motivation.
Love language: Quality Time
When you speak the language of Quality time, you give your undivided attention to another person. So not Netflix and chill - more like having a conversation without cell phone distractions. Going out to dinner and soaking up the time spent together. Taking a walk where you don’t even have to say anything - you can just enjoy each other’s presence. Many people mistake time spent around each other for quality time. The difference lies in both intention and attention.
In a narcissistic relationship, a narcissist may substitute an excess of together time for quality time. There is such a thing as too much time together. Families who spend too much time together don't have the opportunity to develop as individuals. Enmeshed families may spend nearly all their free time together, but quantity is not the same as quality.
Love language: Physical Touch
Last but not least, Physical Touch is an expression of love through any form of physical contact. Touch may be sexual or nonsexual, and should convey care and affection. Hugs, kisses, holding hands, and sex may be expressions of the language of Touch. So can platonic shoulder bumps, pats on the back, and high fives. As long as the touch is consensual, welcomed, and received as respectful, it can be an expression of love. It should go without saying that touch can be a physical boundary as well, and that you should not assume your boundaries and a friend’s or partner’s are always the same. When in doubt, ask! And respect the response you are given.
A toxic or narcissistic loved one may use Physical Touch to dominate, coerce, or hurt another person. In these relationships, Touch may be misrepresented as "loving" when it is anything but. When Touch is used to control or hurt another person, that is not love. Nor is it love when Touch is exercised purely for the empowerment or benefit of the toucher instead of the touchee. This does not have to be sexual in order for it to bring pain.
What's my language?
Now that you know all five languages, think about when you feel most or least loved. What love language do you think is your primary one? Which one(s) speak to you least? And which relationships fill up your love tank the most? If you're unsure, take the quiz and find out!
Tune in next time as we explore how you can fill up or deplete your own tank!