5 Love Languages: A Word of Warning
Updated: Apr 17
Quality time. Physical touch. Words of affirmation. Acts of service. Gifts. We all have slight variations in preferences around the ways we show our love to others, and how we expect to receive love in return.
For those of us who are familiar with the “5 Love Languages'' we may associate their relevance more so with long-term partnerships and relationships. In my work as a couple therapist, I notice that many couples explore the concepts of ‘love languages’ several years after being established as a couple. Years of unmet needs, unspoken truths, and conflicting preferences, and couples will show up to my sessions feeling confused and exhausted. They all come to me with a similar question - “Why can’t my partner love me in the way that I need to be loved?”. Through therapy and the exploration of the “5 Love Languages”, they find an emotional route back to one another and rededicate themselves towards adorning one another in new ways: ways that feel most in alignment with their true needs. It is beautiful to see!
While I find great joy in helping couples rediscover their way back to one another, I often wonder what would be different about these relationships if they had access to these tools and education earlier on in the relationship. Imagine if these were conversations that were discussed in the beginning stages of dating. “Hey, how do you prefer to connect with the person you are dating? Is there a specific way that you feel most valued or loved? What could I do to make you feel that way?”
Shouldn’t we treat the topics of emotional expression, daily affection, and connection preferences, as determiners of compatibility? Knowing our own limits and boundaries allows us to ascertain if we are truly a good fit for the person in front of us. Let’s take someone who appreciates verbal recognition, frequent compliments/validation, and expresses love through words. If they need and value verbal expression, they likely will struggle in a relationship with someone who is less communicative and emotionally expressive as they are. What if we used the information we collected early on to be more selective with our long-term partners, or at the very least, to manage and set expectations earlier on?
Let’s explore another example. Perhaps you know - in your heart of hearts - that physical affection is NOT for you. It never has been. But, you start dating someone who loves to kiss you in public, cuddle you while you're sleeping, and typically gravitates towards physical proximity. You tolerate this in the beginning because you know you're in the initial phases of the relationship, it is the honeymoon stage, and maybe this type of affection is normalized and expected early on. While this might be workable in the beginning months or years of a relationship, I often see that the natural order of preference and desire settles in once the relationship is in a stable place. Years later, and this same couple is struggling with mix-matched libidos, avoidance of physical contact, and emotional distance. This does not have to be the case. This can be prevented, prolonged, and even planned ahead for.
It's important to remember that love languages ARE malleable and ever-evolving. Just because you value words of affirmation today, does not mean they will be nearly as important to you 10 years from now. Oftentimes, we crave what we are feeling deficit in. The moral of the story here is - a call to more awareness, a call for more flexibility, and continuing dialogue and open channels of communication with your partner. Some compromise will always be necessary to maintain a healthy relationship and meet the needs of your significant other. Love requires a degree of selflessness and behavioral plasticity. With willingness, love, and intention, there should be no reason two people wouldn’t be able to find middle ground. Making compromises and changes for an expanding relationship is how we grow as people and as a couple. Whether that is at the beginning point of the relationship, or 5 years in, awareness and dedication to this process can be attended to.
While it is certainly important to be flexible and open to a new way of feeling loved, think twice about compromising your preferences so early on in a relationship. Perhaps certain arrangements don’t work for you, and perhaps that’s okay! It’s better to be true to yourself and make a decision that is more supportive of your ideal way to feel loved. Things that start out as issues in the beginning of relationships, tend to perpetuate. We are talking about years and years of daily expressions and gestures of love. That's millions of opportunities to feel more connected and loved. That is also a million opportunities to feel unappreciated and misunderstood. Conscious choice, deliberate communication, and evolving commitment allow us to decide which path we choose to take.