There can be some resistance to playing into clichés or following rules from a rulebook that feels so outdated. Learning about and executing love languages can meet that description. Even the term “love languages” feels so put on. But if you look around, you see clashing love languages as the root of so many relationship disputes. Here’s a common example: a boyfriend works very hard to earn money to buy a gift for his girlfriend. After weeks of working extra hours to do this, his girlfriend is upset that they haven’t been spending enough time together while he’s been working the extra hours. The two completely misunderstood one another’s love languages. His is gift-giving; hers is quality time. And in this instance, the two love languages were in direct conflict with each other. While the boyfriend was trying to show love, the girlfriend interpreted the path to that as the total opposite of doing so.
In the above scenario, everybody had good intentions. Everybody wanted to show and feel loved. So how can two people with good intentions who do love each other, wind up so frustrated with one another? Clashing love languages. If your reaction to that story is, “Well, they just aren’t right for each other,” then you may be in for a bumpy love life. People cannot be expected to read one another’s minds. Nor can they be expected to understand a love language that isn’t their own overnight – the same way we wouldn’t expect someone whose first language is English to speak French overnight. There is a learning curve. To get more insight on the topic, we spoke with Ann Marie Sorrell. She is the author of Chronicles of a Serial Dater about how to deal when love languages clash.
Love languages provide a road map
Love languages can provide a road map to a successful relationship, but if you speak different ones, and don’t learn each other’s, it’s like you’re reading two different maps – which will inevitably make you feel distant. Sorrell admits that, until she learned what love languages were, she was stumbling around a bit in love. “Until reading a book about love languages, I had no clue! Therefore, I could not understand why many of my relationships did not last more than a year,” she says. “Most people are not familiar with love languages, why they exist, and what to do with them. Many just go about relationships as business as usual while never really considering what it takes to truly please their partner.”
Where did we go wrong?
“Love languages clash in relationships for several reasons including lack of knowledge about love languages, lack of communication, and lack of action,” Sorrell states. You know the saying that you should treat others the way you want to be treated? Well, Sorrell reminds us that, in a relationship, we should also treat ourselves the way we want our partner to treat us. We provide that role model for our partner. Why should someone love us in a way we don’t love ourselves? “We all have room for improvement when it comes to expressing love languages that aren’t inherently ours and the best way to improve is to first start with ourselves,” she says.
You have to fill your own tank first
If you want quality time with a partner, put in quality time with yourself for self-care. If you want words of affirmation from another, shouldn’t you speak kindly about yourself? “Sometimes we seek, expect, or demand from others what we haven’t given, don’t know how to give, and/or aren’t consistently giving to ourselves,” Sorrell says. After learning about the five love languages, I decided to do a self-assessment and analyze if I had been providing myself with the love language I expect from my partner and the answer was not consistently and, in some areas, not at all.”
Lead by example
Before expecting a partner to love her in the way she needed to be loved, Sorrell first made sure she was giving that to herself. She led by example, which might be more powerful than simply explaining your love language to somebody. “I set out on a journey to experience each love language by providing it to myself. This has allowed me to explore myself more, create ideas, and fill my personal love tank first,” she says. “The experience has taken my self-care and self-love to new heights. What it has also done is demonstrated how I want to be loved and my capacity to love another.”
If you must explain, do
While we hope our partners pick up our examples and understand how to make us feel loved without much instruction, we are never above providing clear instructions. As Sorrell states, “Communication is another major clash. Once the love languages have been identified, they must be openly communicated to each other in a pleasant and loving way. Not a combative or entitled manner. Both partners must understand what it takes to fill each other’s love tanks and not allow it to run on empty.” The not “combative” part is key, since it’s so easy, when we feel frustrated, to talk to our partners as if they’re intentionally harming us – which is rarely the case.
Back up understanding with actions
Speaking a partner’s love language is part of where the “work” of relationships comes in. If you don’t have the same love language, then you do not inherently – without being reminded – do the things that make your partner feel loved. You can’t rely on yourself to take those actions on autopilot. That’s just not how you work if you have different love languages. Knowing your partner’s love language isn’t enough. “Put in the work! Learning and expressing each other’s love languages means nothing without the work that comes along with it,” Sorrell says. “This is a daily commitment that takes time, patience, understanding, gentleness, positive reinforcement, and continuous engagement for the relationship to be successful over the long run.” In the same way you create to-do lists and reminders for other goals you care about, you can create reminders for yourself to speak your partner’s love language.
There’s no perfect combination
There is no tried and true combination of love languages that always work seamlessly together. You can even have several love languages, and be feeling more connected to one than another on any given week. That being said, the formula is constantly changing. “I believe that any combination of love languages between couples can make one or the other feel that they are not loved or not loved enough,” Sorrell says. “For example, my primary love language is quality time, but if my partner’s love language is physical touch and if we are not spending much time together for whatever reason — work schedules, type of occupation, distance, etc. — then neither of our love tanks are being filled, which will create friction in the relationship.”
The learning never stops
If you think you can figure out that your partner feels loved through gifts and just keep those Amazon packages coming, think again. “I do not believe we have just one love language. We have a primary love language that dominates our needs and desires, and then we have secondary love languages that are icing on the cake when provided to us,” Sorrell says. “When we effectively communicate our multiple love languages to our mate and they do the same, ideally, we should work towards acting upon at least one if not all of them overtime to show we have listened and working to ensure our partner is happy.”
Can you speak different languages and make it work?
Having a satisfying relationship is like driving a car in the sense that it requires a series of adjustments and constant attention to the changing circumstances. You’ll have to sign up for a lifetime of reading the room. Sorrell says, “People with different love languages can have successful relationships when both understand their own love languages, needs, and desires; clearly communicate it to their partners; and make a commitment to work towards providing and catering to their partner’s love language.”
“It takes mindfulness, dedication, compromise, patience, and the understanding that it will not be perfect,” she adds. “It will take time to break old habits and create new ones, and loving reminders or nudges to each other when one person begins to fall short.”
Create a routine
You have certain habits you incorporate into your life, not because they are easy, but because they are rewarding. Do the same with speaking your partner’s love language. “Examples include: send a daily affirmation each morning to your love; set a reminder to yourself to send flowers or a gift each week or month; observe what your partner says, is working on, is passionate about, or what is needed around the house and carve out time and space to assist or support as your act of service; commit to a weekly date or time before bed or first thing in the morning for conversations, intimacy, and physical activity for the quality time and physical touch love languages,” Sorrell says.