Today, I celebrate two years with the first and only guy I’ve ever loved. It is amazing to realize that fact. I never expected love to happen, but in all honesty, do we ever expect love? It is a spontaneous phenomenon. When love hits, our lives change, and our hearts grow bigger than ever imagined. We encounter new and exciting feelings:
The racing of a heart during that first kiss.
The feeling of warm hands grasping your own.
The rush of blood to your face when they smile.
Like so many others, these feelings hit us the hardest in the beginning. 'The honeymoon stage,' as the cliche goes. The feelings fade in time as our significant other becomes a regular part of life. Once this happens, what is left to keep a connection growing when normalcy takes over?
Having a love language doesn’t mean that we speak to each other in Shakespearean sonnets. It also doesn’t mean showering each other with gifts (although gifts are sweet, let’s be honest).
Love language means a constant, conscious dialogue. It means communicative actions that connect with your spouse and aim to understand them deeper. Like fuel to a fire, love language keeps a relationship steady when the first sparks fade.
But how do you even build a love language? While the process is unique to every couple, here a few essential elements to include in building a strong love language:
1. Always differentiate between positions and interests when a conflict arises.
As humans, we are culprits of falling into the 'He said, She said' trap during a conflict. Example: it is a weeknight, and you decide to go out with your friends after work. Your partner expresses that they want you to stay with them instead. Just like that, you create a conflict.
Most couples will never move past this point, choosing to assert their different positions in the hopes that one side will eventually concede. Positions move to assumptions, which move to name-calling, which move to an intractable conflict that leaves each partner feeling bitter and resentful over something that wasn’t even the original problem. Instead, handle a conflict this way: move past a person's positions (the what), and find their interests (the why).
Maybe the spouse from the previous example didn’t want his/her partner to go out because they hadn’t seen the other much, or even had a stressful day at work that they wanted to vent over. The bottom line is that interests are negotiable, positions aren't. Considering interests in your love language can save both you and your partner unnecessary stress over conflicts that shouldn’t happen in the first place.
2. Throw some thankfulness into each day.
We are human. We are prone to anger, sadness, stress, and other negative emotions, and subsequently projecting them onto those we love.
For a while, my mind had this not-fun trend of going into nightly mood swings. A giant storm cloud would swirl through my head as I became sad for no apparent reason. More often than not, my boyfriend was the unfortunate receiver of these mood swings. But he would take them with grace and understanding; behaviors that would go unnoticed by me. It wasn't until weeks later that I recognized one major element missing from our love language: thankfulness.
Do you actively find something to be thankful for in your partner each day? Or are you too focused on yourself to notice? I found these questions to be a real struggle for me, so I decided to do something about it. Each day, I would write down one thing I was thankful for. Sometimes it was as simple as picking up food or cheering me up, but the meaning behind each action was the same. As my list grew, so did the gratitude in our love language.
Now, I'm not saying that you need to create a list. The point here is that you simply need to express thankfulness to your partner. By doing so, you'll be able to speak grace in even the roughest moments.
3. Have a healthy balance of partner dependence and independence.
When couples are in the honeymoon stage, all they usually think about is the other. There is no such thing as 'healthy separation' because the relationship is still new and, in a way, needs the proximity for it to grow. However, this shouldn't be the permanent case. We are individuals at heart. As such, a love language should embrace acquiescence and independence equally.
Communication research speaks about two orientations in family dynamics: conversation and conformity. Conversation refers to the sharing of ideas, embracing hierarchial flexibility, and encouraging independent pursuits. On the other hand, conformity stresses adherence to family beliefs, morals, and attitudes.
While mainly applicable to families, I think these orientations also have a place in relationships. We want our partners to be like us on some level: doing the same things, believing what we believe. Psychologically, it just feels right. However, we also want our partners to help us grow. Growth can only happen when your love language encourages it, and that means having the guts to say, "Follow your dreams, and if you need help along the way, I'll be there."
In summary, if love language is the core of relationship growth, what does yours speak?
My challenge to you: pause, and take a moment to listen. If it doesn't sound right, use what you've learned today and take those next steps to building one. Together.