3 Principles for Teaching Others Your Love Language
There is a certain way that you most easily receive love. Gary Chapman speaks about this phenomena in a clear and accessible way in his book, "The Five Love Languages"*. Of course, this doesn't just apply to love, you have a preferred strategy for meeting each of your needs. You have a particular preference around how you want to be supported, what activities meet your need for play, what builds trust for you, etc. Meeting the need for love is simply one of the key needs in close relationships.
When things are going well and there are no big challenges, exchanges of love in any form are often enough to sustain connection. However, when you are facing big challenges in life, you are likely looking for that deep sense of love and support that you only experience with your preferred strategy. For example, when things are going well you know that your friend shows her love and support by cooking meals for you and giving you a ride to the airport when you need one (Dr. Chapman would call this love language "acts of service"). You appreciate this even though it is not your love language. Then, you have a few rough months, your partner breaks up with you, there is conflict at work, and a close family member dies. You don't have much resource, you just want to be met in the "right" way! Suddenly the acts of service from your friend aren't enough and you have thoughts that she doesn't really care and isn't a supportive friend. You think, "She should know that when I am struggling I need words of encouragement and verbal empathy. Afterall we have known each other for twenty years!"
Unfortunately, no amount of time teaches your partner or close friends how to best support you in a time of great need. Only you can teach them how to love you by communicating clearly and with great respect for their choice and ability. Perhaps for you, words comes easily so it may be hard to imagine how the other person could really just not know what to say. But if you can't accept these kinds of differences, then you will find yourself harboring resentful expectations that leak out in abrasive comments or a gradual pulling away.
So the first principle of teaching someone your love language is respect for differences. Subsumed under this principle is the very important consciousness called "giving others the benefit of the doubt" or "assuming good intent". When you learn to see and appreciate others' good intentions even when their actions don't meet you in your preferred way, you can make requests with kindness and respect.
The second principle is self-responsibility. If you have unhealed wounding around not being loved and supported in the way you needed most, you may have a reactive pattern of thought that says others should just know. That's the voice of an angry and hurting child (reactive pattern) that still longs for that original experience being loved fully without having to do anything. While holding the childlike part of you tenderly on your lap, you can gently let yourself know that you can still have the experience of being loved fully even if you do ask for it in a direct and detailed way. To do otherwise, would be leaving something as important as love to chance, forever waiting for the "right person" to come along and fulfill that wish.
Self-responsibility not only means that you are willing to ask directly for what you want (which of course means that you have cultivated a certain depth of self-awareness), but also that you recognize that responsibility for meeting your needs rests with you. Thus, when others say yes to your request it is a gift rather than fulfillment of an expectation.
The third principle is immediacy and repetition. Immediacy and repetition is nothing new in the world of learning theory. Applying a skill in the moment it is relevant and having the opportunity to do that many times over with corrective feedback, is how we learn. Somehow when emotions get involved, you can sometimes imagine that your partner or friend should be able to learn something as complex as loving you with one example and request, not so.
Let's go back to our example of your friend who offers acts of service when your love language is really about words of encouragement and empathy. You share something vulnerable and your friend sits quietly. You remember you want to be self-responsible and let her know what you need. You make a request, "Sharing just now, it would really help me to feel supported just to hear what you're understanding about my situation. Would you be willing to say?"
Later in the evening, the exact same situation occurs. You think to yourself, "Now surely she knows what I am looking for here, I just told her forty minutes ago." Here's the thing, if there is a loving intention and your friend isn't speaking your love language, then she doesn't know how yet. It is that simple. It is up to you to immediately make the request again with respect and kindness. Acting in the moment keeps resentment from building which enables the other person to receive your request without a sense of demand or criticism. When your friend or partner is spontaneously "speaking" your love language you will know they have learned it. This may take days, months, years, or decades. Learning curves are diverse. :)
Here are some ways to contribute to a sense of ease and connection around teaching your love language to another:
Learn the other person's love language and stretch yourself to "speak" it.
Find as many ways as you can to show respect for choice and differences.
Acknowledge and celebrate good intentions.
Acknowledge and celebrate all expressions of love.
Highlight and share the depth of impact on you when the other person does offer love in your love language.
What are the ways you feel most loved? Take a few moments now to reflect on a time you felt most loved. What were the key elements of that experience? What were others offering and what were you doing to receive? Do you know how the people closest to you best receive love? Take a moment to make some guesses in your heart.
*The five love languages named by Gary Chapman are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch. span style="font-size: 16px; font-family: Verdana; color: rgb(17, 85, 204); text-decoration: underline; vertical-align: baseline; white-space: pre-wrap; background-color: transparent;">http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
**You can find another Connection Gem on love languages here: http://www.wiseheartpdx.org/post/692
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