12 December 2012

The Language of Love

A few nights ago as we laid in bed, we were chatting about a sticky situation.  Danny had an idea about a way to respond.  After he described what he thought I could do, I smiled big and told him that I actually already did that very thing earlier that day.  He couldn't believe it.  He just hugged me so tight and with so much amazement, shaking his head, with the biggest smile on his face, he said...

"How did I get you?!?"  :)

Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but he says loving things like this to me all the timeHe doesn't hesitate to share words of love, appreciation, approval, praise, encouragement, etc.  It STILL does me in completely.  The joy of it never wears off.  Danny does this not because he was born with this, but because years ago he was profoundly influenced by mentors who expressed love and appreciation for him, and he made it a goal to do the same.  He intentionally looks for the good in people so that he can sincerely use what he calls "the language of love."

I hear often that some people have a hard time expressing love to their partners or giving compliments to their partners.  I think (and know) that this is tragic!  Expressing love is one of the most beautiful things of life - for husbands and wives, children and parents, etc.  I know that people often claim they prefer to express love by doing things like mowing lawns or making a nice dinner or buying gifts, etc.  (There is even a popular book that has you take a questionnaire to find out what your primary way of showing love is so that people will be able to detect when you are showing love, in case you never verbally express it.)  To be honest, I don't like promoting the idea that some people are just programmed to express love in certain ways, and not in others.  There!  I said it.  (Sorry if you're a big fan of the book!)  I say we don't let a questionnaire or our previous habits and norms limit us.  How about we ALL learn to express love - verbally - with words!  :) :) :)  I may be bold to think this, but I think it's a skill that ANYONE can and should learn.  Even if an adult says they are ok with not expressing love, I personally think they are missing out, their partners are missing out, and they are likely avoiding being truly vulnerable.  (Correct me if you think I'm wrong on this...I'd love to hear your opinions. :)  I just think expressing love and learning to be vulnerable leads to greater connections - not just with a spouse but with everyone in one's life, including children.

These are some reasons I have heard from people who are uncomfortable expressing love:

"I wasn't loved as a child."

"My mother wasn't around."

"I have been hurt so many times that I am afraid to love."

"My family just doesn't express love, but we still know we love each other."

"I think loving things but I just never say them or let my spouse know."

"I was raised with 4 brothers.  We just aren't a loving family."

My heart goes out to people who really feel like it's a challenge to express love.  If you want to change, decide that you want to practice being vulnerable.  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  You CAN change your norms.  You CAN feel safe (and fearless) expressing love if you do it for the right reasons and love for the sake of loving, with no expectations.  I've seen many, many people learn to do this and they have said it has changed their lives.  Learning to be vulnerable and expressing real love will fill you with connection, gratitude, and empowerment.  And, if you know how to do it, you can teach your children how to do the same.

What are your thoughts?  Is expressing love hard for you or your significant other?  Do you think verbally expressing love is important?  Do you think it's possible to change and learn how to express love verbally, regardless of your previous norms?

(images via pink lemonade & row house nest)

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  1. You know, I am a huge fan of the 5 love languages but I also couldn't agree with you more. To not express love verbally AS WELL AS other ways your partner enjoys, it is absolutely detrimental to the relationship.

  2. I do think that it is important for all to learn how to verbally express (and accept) love. Yet I still think that people receive love in some ways more than others. I know the book you are talking about ... and I do think there is a lot of truth to it. For example, I think of my parents. My mom -- I could give her a gift, and yes, she would appreciate it and see that I was trying to show her love, but she REALLY feels loved when I do something to serve her (wash the dishes after a big family meal, help her clean something, etc.). I think that most people would see any of the things from the book (gifts, quality time, etc.) and receive love from those things, but I do think some speak more loudly.

    I think what I am trying to say is that I want to love people so that they are receiving love -- however they are wired, not how I THINK they should receive it (or how I receive love therefore they should receive it in that same way). I agree that verbal is HUGE, and it is so healthy to be able to speak love to others, and I don't know anyone who doesn't find encouragement and love in a spoken compliment or a written letter. But let's also still use these other ways to show love because they are valid as well!

    P.S. Thanks for making a space for this to be discussed! I hope my comment makes sense! :)

    1. Totally makes sense Erin. Mara and I were talking about this last night and we both agree that it can be very helpful to learn what is most meaningful to your family and anyone else you plan to express love.

      We're not trying to say that the other "love languages" aren't important, only that learning how to express verbal love and appreciation and praise should be a priority for everyone, no matter what your primary way of giving/receiving love.

      For all of us, communication is a key part of nearly every single kind of relationship most of us will ever have (whereas a lot of relationships may not involve gift giving, quality time, physical touch, etc)...and so learning how to verbally express love and appreciation allows us to have a greater impact on all our relationships.

      Thanks for sharing your concern and for the great comment, and helping us clarify our thoughts on the subject.

  3. Great post, I love your blog. I agree that everyone should learn to express love verbally but I also think we should learn to express love in other ways. What good are loving words if the actions of your partner do not show his/ her love for you? My primary love language is words of affirmation so loving kind words are very important to me but if that is the only way I am receiving love I will probably not feel loved. We should learn to speak all the love languages.

  4. What a perfect post! The guy I dated in college for 3 years had no concept of how to verbally express love. And whenever I asked him about it (because I often verbally express love) he simply said that I "knew" he loved me so why should he have to say it? I of course told him he didn't have to, but that it was nice to actually hear it sometimes. The guy I dated after that had some verbal expression issues (actually, all sorts of verbal AND non-verbal ones) and he claimed it was because his family "wasn't big on I love you."

    I am not in a wonderful relationship where we find new ways every day to express our love for one another. Neither of us shies away from words or acts to say we love each other. We strongly believe that words should be backed up with action (you need to do more than just say the words), but that the words are a key part of family. We cannot wait to share our love with children one day and to tell them every. single. day. how loved they are.

  5. Thanks Mara for this post! It was the perfect thing for me to read this morning. Thanks for the daily inspiration.

    Katie K

  6. I agree with the comments above. It's extremely beneficial to you and your relationships to learn how to openly express your love. When I hang up with my best friends, we always end with "love you, bye". I've had guy friends comment on it 'being weird' but when you love and appreciate someone and what they add to your life, why wouldn't you tell them?

    I also feel it is important to know your own love language as well as the language of your significant other. Its never a bad thing to verbally express your love, but if you're wired for gifts, all the verbal expression in the world isn't going to fulfill your need to feel loved by a physical token. It also helps to be able to identify the ways your partner is showing you love even if it isn't in your primary language.

    For example, my best friend is a verbal and acts of service love language and her husband is primarily physical touch. Occasionally she feels unloved because he doesn't always realize she needs his love communicated her way. If I help her see how much love he has for her by pointing out all the hugs and kisses, holding hands and how he always wants to be standing near her, then she can see that he's always expressing his love, its just not in the way she interprets it.

    Love is expressed in many many ways, and more the merrier.

  7. I loved this post and agree with your thoughts on limiting the ways you express love or excusing your choice to not verbalize your feelings. I only tried to take the love languages test after I got married and I struggled. I think that I struggled choosing between holding my hand and writing me a note because my husband shows me love in ALL of those ways and I can't choose. I want it all!! :) Maybe if I was in a relationship where love wasn't expressed in a variety of ways or maybe if I had taken the test before I was in a relationship, it might have helped. I agree, Mara. There is nothing that melts me more than those moments when my husband pauses in the middle of something (Even something like watching our show on the couch) and says, "I am just so lucky to be sitting here in this home with you. I don't know how I got here, but I am so happy I am." Oh my gosh! I think we have a strong marriage because we are abundantly verbal about our love. It's powerful--to say it and hear it.

  8. I absolutely, 110% agree. I am single and this is one of the most important attributes I look for while dating. I LOVE being with someone I can fully open myself up, and get the same in return. Nothing in the world makes me feel better than having someone I care about deeply, express to me that they feel the same way. In the beginning of my two last relationships they started out that way, saying and doing all the right things. I was on cloud 9. But with time the sweet words diminished and I feel like it is because the feelings diminished, and I was right--both relationships ended shortly thereafter. I addressed this with one guy and he told me that I was too insecure, if he told me once than he shouldn't have to tell me again-ever. And he also thought that my need for affirmation was an indication that I was unaware or unappreciative of everything else he did for me. How sad this was to me! While I am still alone, I have had glimpses of how wonderful that kind of a relationship can be, and I have no desire to live out my life without it!

  9. This is a great post and I too agree that verbal communication of love is crucial to feeling loved. However I also feel like the love languages thing cannot be diminished either. There is really something to people receiving love in unique ways. In fact I recently wrote a blog post about feeling impressed to show my daughter that I love her in a different way than just the verbal communication I try to do so frequently. (You can read it here: http://www.thislittlemiggy.com/2012/12/the-little-things.html) But the gist is that while I tell her (and both my children) often and everyday how much I love them and how special they are to me--and I say it with sincerity as I truly mean it--I was really questioning if my daughter felt my love and it seemed like my daughter needed something more from me. It started with an act of service and has now morphed into a nightly ritual of snuggling her when she's asleep. Since she's asleep she doesn't even remember most nights), but the nights that I don't come in she KNOWS. It has become her favorite thing and has seemed to scratch an itch all the "I love you's" in the world couldn't reach.

  10. My boyfriend and I were together for a couple of years, and I knew in my head that he loved me (he cooked dinner for me, drove me to work, spent holidays with my family), but I felt in my heart that he did not love me. He never told me he loved me, and I even told him it was important to me that he tell me he loves me. He couldn't do it. He said that it made him so uncomfortable, so we just didn't say it to each other. Well, needless to say, we soon broke up.

    We were broken up for a couple of months, and then, he asked if I wanted to go on a walk. On that walk, he broke down into tears (I'd never seen him cry. EVER.) He told me that he loved me. He was finally able to look past his own stoic nature, and open his heart. I love him too, and more and more every day. He is able to express love and encouragement and I can tell that he is happier because of it. I never thought that he would change, and open his heart to verbally expressing love. It was and is an incredible experience to see someone I love understand the importance of words of love.

  11. This made me really think about how we do it in our family, so I wrote a post about it. http://mwvdg.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-do-you-say.html. Thanks!

  12. Love this post! I absolutely believe in the importance of verbal affirmation. I have a special box filled with nearly a hundred letters that others have written me - one of my greatest treasures! I believe not only in expressing love, but also verbally praising and complimenting each others strengths. When my husband (and others) have discovered something good about my character that I hadn't realized before, oh goodness! . . . . it just makes me light up! I want to become more of whatever that good thing is! This works like a charm with children. I have 3 kids (ages 6,4, and 1) who I love dearly. I express that to them each day (in addition to spending insane amounts of quality time with them :) I've learned that the more I sincerely praise their goodness, talents, strengths, and positive behavior, the more of that goodness I see. And the happier they are about themselves, the quicker they are to compliment and praise each other and everyone around them. There are few things that bring me greater joy as a mother than watching my children love, praise, and build each other up! I believe that we all should strive to find happiness and love without receiving praise and love from others (just as you so beautifully encourage on your blog), but, man, it sure helps!

  13. I am a very affectionate person, so it's not hard for me to tell my husband constantly that I love him :) I think I need to work on the other ways of showing it, actually. And I need to find new ways to say it. Instead of just "I love you." I need to make sure there is reason and purpose behind saying it, or I could find more kind and affectionate things to say. I think you can get in the habit of just saying "i love you" without making sure it's genuine.
    My mother-in-law doesn't say "i love you" very often-- my husband's family is not affectionate at all. (it definitely made for an interesting adjustment for him to marry me!) I think she is working on telling people how she feels, but I also know she regards her own feelings as very personal and private. I think to her, saying I love you holds a lot of weight; it's not something you throw around. Since she is a very private person, she holds that love very dearly and close to her heart. My husband never doubted that his mom loved him, even if she didn't say it very often. I, for one, want my kids to hear me say I love them constantly, but I think there are people who can find ways to express their love without saying it.

  14. I actually emailed you a couple of weeks ago wondering what your opinion of the love languages was, and was happy to see you address it. I agree that verbalizing love is important if not essential to functional relationships. I know people who are hesitant to give and receive verbal affirmations of love, and they struggle in relationships in general. So important.

    I did kind of feel like this post was downplaying the importance of acting on love on top of saying something about it. I think it is the acting on love that so many people differ. I am blessed to be married to a man who never hesitates to tell me how he feels about me, and even more blessed that he acts on that love as well. I think it is the combination of these things that make the most successful relationships, romantic and otherwise!

  15. When we were first married I made a rule that every time I said I love you to my husband that he had to say it back. Yes, EVEN if he'd already said it to me 12 times that day! That way if I needed to hear it all I had to do was say it to him. BEST idea EVER! Now he says it all the time and taught our three little boys to sign I love you. You wouldn't believe how often our boys do that sign. I think they say and show more love than a house full of girls!

  16. Life is too short to express all the love we can feel. I wish everyone would use the language of love, it's just magical :)

  17. I agree with this post and I think the more you express love verbally to others the more you will get it back.
    After I read the love languages book I came up with my own theory (that hasn't really been tested) that our love languages can change and whatever our love language is, is the one we are not getting in our lives (or at least not enough). We want it cause we don't have it. I took the test and it was all an even tie for me and the book says that is because my "love bank" is full and I agree, it is. Because my husband expresses love to me in all 5 of the languages. It is so important to express love and show love and be vulnerable.


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