Are you the sort of person who sits under a tree plucking petals off flowers to figure out if your partner loves you or not? Or do you often end up complaining to your girlfriends about the man who seems to like you well enough but isn't all in (Carrie Bradshaw's Mr Big is a classic case of this)? Or maybe you wonder if your marriage has lost its spark or if your partner is taking you for granted?
You probably aren't alone. Many people, like you, feel that a partner doesn't understand their needs fully or isn't truly on the same wavelength as them. As a result, we feel that our expectations aren't being met, or we're being misunderstood or not understood at all in that relationship. Sometimes we may even feel that we aren't being loved or cared for at all.
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The problem, however, may not be a lack of love. It could simply be that different people express love differently. And this is where the idea of 'love languages' come into the picture. Dr Minnu Bhonsle, a consulting psychotherapist & relationship counsellor at the Heart to Heart Counselling Centre, Mumbai, explains what the term means. "A love language is a way in which a person understands love, communicates love, and also feels loved when one receives it," she says, pointing out that two people may speak very different love languages. It is even possible that, while both partners may be conveying love, they may both feel unloved and feel miserable in the relationship.
For instance, some people may find it hard to say the words; however, they show that they love you by helping around the house, hugging you frequently or trying to be there when you are upset. Dr Bhonsle says that it is important for both partners in a relationship to let each other know their love language; only then can partners feel nurtured and loved. "The good thing about knowing each other's love language is that not only will you use your partner's language to communicate your love, but if both of you use your own language along with your partner's language, there will never be a dearth of love experienced by both in the relationship," she says. For the love tank to be full, it is essential to learn each other's language as a sign that you care to co-create a loving and nurturing space in the relationship and are willing to put in the work for it, she adds.
According to Bhonsle, there are five ways that people show love. These are:
Planned quality time
You know those rituals that two people build into their lives together? Maybe it is that occasional date night at an expensive restaurant someday, but it could also be that after-dinner walk, sitting on the balcony enjoying the rain, morning tea together, watching a show together or just fondly watching your child playing/sleeping. That says "I love you", too; giving undivided attention to each other in a targeted 'togetherness time' with no distractions, just being with each other.
Words of affirmation
Some days it means using the L word. But, on others, it could simply mean verbally communicating to your partner that he/she is greatly valued for their human qualities and contribution to a partnership. This could be either communicated as a genuine and heartfelt 'Thank you' for something specific or even a general acknowledgement and affirmation of all the qualities on a regular basis. Basically, you are letting your partner know that you notice all the good in them, including appreciation of their hard work, talent or special abilities.
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Acts of service
You know those days when you are tired and stressed and come back to a great home-cooked meal, courtesy of your partner? That is love, too – creating comfort and convenience for your partner by doing things for them that make their lives easier. This could include helping with banking work, assisting in making PPTs for an office presentation or research for a thesis, transferring data to a new device, or pitching in with chores because there is too much on your partner's plate.
Heard of touch starvation – a condition where you long for physical contact from another human being because you no longer get it? It can lead to depression, stress and anxiety, among other things. One of the nicest things about a healthy relationship where there is love is that you are unlikely to be touch starved. Love in a relationship could, of course, mean foreplay and sexual intimacy. But it could also be non-sexual touching like cuddling, hugs, holding hands, arms around the shoulder, stroking the head, a loving back rub or massaging the tired feet of your overworked partner.
Marilyn Monroe, notwithstanding, you don't need diamonds to show love. Gifts could be as simple as a handwritten love note, a single rose, a small bar of chocolate or stocking the fridge with your partner's favourite ice cream. It could also be gifting an experience--a favourite meal prepared or a birthday surprise organised with family/friends--or remembering to pick up a souvenir when you travel, a reminder that your partner is never far from your mind.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist