How to love your partner in a way that they can receive it is an essential step in growing together. Loving in a way that what you do well is important too! In this post, I describe two philosophies and share my take on this important topic.
The Five Love Languages.
Gary Chapman, author and resident of the Triad, wrote The Five Love Languages. Since its publication in 1995, countless of individuals and couples sought its wisdom for answers as to how to love their partner in a way that their partner can receive it. Isn’t that what we really want (i.e., to receive love in a way that feels meaningful)? Of course! According to Chapman, each person has preferences in how they want to be loved, and, when you know those preferences, then you can love the person in a style that they can receive it.
Chapman believed that there are Five Love Languages:
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
Chapman’s assessment, widely accessible online, helps you to identify your top love language and that of your partner.
While the Five Love Languages is great, I love, love, LOVE Spousonomics: Using economics to master love, marriage and dirty dishes* by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson. Perhaps I’m a nerd, but I drool over anything that smells of behavioral economics. This gem applies economic theory to understanding and getting what you want in relationships. I’ve recommended it to many couples, and they love it…particularly men!
In Spousonomics, Szuchman and Anderson, among other things, talk about the importance of specialization. They argue that within any successful organization–and, yes, your relationship is an organization–people within that organization specialize. Everyone isn’t trained to do every job. Instead, successful organizations want you do be great at what you do! Likewise, in relationships, it’s important to understand what your strengths are and do it.
For example, if you clean the bathrooms exceptionally well, it’s more likely that you can clean the bathrooms faster and better than your partner who couldn’t care less about the mold growing around the rim of the toilet. Those who argue for equitable distribution of labor–the dreaded 50/50–would argue, “Hey, there are two bathrooms. Why should I clean both? You clean one, and I’ll clean one. That’s fair.” This arrangement, while logical on the surface, often spurs resentment in the long run. Usually, at least one partner is unsatisfied; often each person is unsatisfied!
In short, do what you do best and stick with it, argues Szuchman and Anderson. Therefore, the takeaway is, if you are REALLY GOOD at words of affirmation as your form of showing love, for example, then shower your lover with words of affirmation. If it’s your partner’s preferred love language but not your strength, don’t do it. Do what you do well!
The Middle Way
As the Buddha struggled between the teachings of the esthetics and the opulance known as a member of the royal family, he finally landed on the middle way. He realized that either extreme brings about its own source of suffering.
Likewise, I suspect that the Five Love Languages and Spousonomics are on to something, but that to get the most out their teachings, one must find the middle way: know your partner’s preferences while also expressing your strengths.
Gift giving has never been my strength. It stresses me out. I fret over whether what I’m considering will be meaningful and utilitarian. However, my best friend and clinical social worker, Sue, now that’s a woman who can give gifts! She’s so creative and thoughtful. I’m totally envious of that talent! She sends me birthday and holiday gifts that blow my mind. So creative! She makes me want to work harder at getting better at gift giving. Sure, I’ll likely never reach the level of creativity that she expresses, but that’s not the point; I love Sue and I want to love her in a way that she can receive it. At the same time, my strengths, such as being a thoughtful listener can be expressed and received in gratitude. I can be myself fully.
Certainly, learn what your love language is and that of your partner. Identify what you’re good at doing, too. Talk about these strengths. Encourage each other to do what they’re good at doing, while recognizing that the biggest bang for one’s proverbial buck is to give love in a way that the person can receive it. Isn’t that the epitome of acceptance…each person loving the other just as they are?!?
Until next time, go in peace and not in peaces!
*The authors have since renamed their book to It’s not you, it’s the dishes. Why? I have no clue. I love the original title, but, perhaps, this new one speaks to a larger audience. Who knows.