Recently, I read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, and I found it fascinating. (I have to confess: the book caught my attention because it’s always clustered near, and above, The Happiness Project on the New York Times bestseller list.)
One of the tensions within happiness, for me, is that I’m both more like other people than I suppose, and less like other people than I suppose. For instance, I thought I was the only person who struggled to spend out, but now I realize that many people feel this, too. Same with drift. I’d suffered from drift in my life, but I didn’t realize how many others had also found themselves drifting.
On the other hand, it’s easy to assume that other people are like me, when they really aren’t. Until I understood the abstainer/moderator split, I couldn’t understand why moderators didn’t just give up their temptations cold turkey. Or why Eeyores clung so tightly to their worldview.
The Five Love Languages argues that people express love in different ways, and people feel loved in different ways. These five types of expression and perception are the five “love languages.” According to Chapman, people feel loved when a partner expresses love in the language that is natural to the recipient. If love is expressed in a different language, that message of love isn’t received.
The five “languages” are:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Physical Touch (not the same as sex)
If one partner expresses love as “Acts of Service,”” but the other needs “Quality Time” to feel loved, they’ll both feel frustrated. Or if a partner expresses love with “Gifts” to a partner who needs “Words of Affirmation,” that expression of love won’t be understood.
Chapman argues that in a relationship, we should figure out what language makes our partner feel loved, and provide that; even if we’re acting very lovingly according to our own standards, if it’s not what a partner needs, it won’t make that partner feel loved.
How do you figure out your partner’s mode? Ask yourself: what does my partner complain about? What does he or she value? “We never spend any time together” and “We never talk” signal “Quality Time.” A partner who treasures every gift that’s made, large and small, and is very hurt when a gift isn’t given, speaks the language of “Receiving Gifts.”
What’s most interesting to me is the reverse thinking that this argument requires. You ask yourself not, “How do I like to express love?” but “What makes my partner feel loved?” You must shape your expression to suit someone else.
A person might argue that a partner’s “language” doesn’t come naturally to them—“I’m not the touchy-feely type” or “I’m too frugal to spend a lot of money on presents.” Chapman’s view is: find a way. Unless you speak the proper language, your message of love won’t be heard.
Under this framework, I think I’m “Quality Time,” but I’m a bit unsettled by the fact that I can’t identify my husband’s. “Acts of Service”? “Words of Affirmation”? I need to figure that out. Of course, to be on the safe side, probably best to use all five, as often as humanly possible.
Self-knowledge is crucial to happiness, and I think this way of looking at love within relationships is very useful—both to understand ourselves better, and our partners. And even outside a romantic relationship, it’s an interesting way to view differences among people’s thinking.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. Gretchen is also on Facebook and Twitter.