I remember the first Valentine’s Day I shared with my husband. We had only been married for a short time, and we were still truly getting to know each other.
I gave him a handwritten gift certificate with a one year expiration date for a weekend trip to Santa Fe. I remember feeling so proud about having come up with this creative idea and the prospect of going out of town together for a romantic mini vacation.
Unfortunately, when he opened his gift, his response deflated me. He asked me if the present was intended for him or if it was for me. I was hurt and very angry.
After hours of giving him the cold shoulder all day, I let him have it! He felt bad about what he did and also that I scolded him. While he apologized and we ultimately moved on from this incident, I remained resentful and held onto it for a long time.
One could judge his response as being insensitive or even worse. I certainly did. And many would say that he could have handled things differently. However, having worked with several couples between then and now, I look at it now with a different lens.
As I get farther along in my career and in my relationship, I have come to deeply value the idea of attunement. Attunement means emotionally tuning in. It leads to developing important knowledge about our partners- what motivates them, what excites them and what gives them joy.
A popular book written a few years ago called the five love languages talks about the importance of loving our partners in their love language instead of our own. It describes five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
Words of affirmation includes genuine compliments and words of appreciation. Some people deeply appreciate it when their partner tells them how beautiful, kind or intelligent they are. Others value being verbally noticed by their partner by statements such as, “I know that you work very hard”, or “you are such a good mother”.
Quality time is giving undivided attention to our partner. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we spend 24/7 together all of the time. It is about being emotionally present for our partners on a regular basis whether it is for as little as a few minutes here and there to taking a couples vacation together for two weeks. This is my love language.
Gifts are not necessarily about lavishness. Receiving gifts is about receiving physical representations of love from our partner. It could be a much needed cup of coffee, a love letter on the pillow or the gift of ourselves being physically present and in the same room as our partner.
Acts of service are behaviors that we do to make our partner’s life easier. They can include one partner getting up with the baby at night so the other can sleep, cleaning our partner’s car for them or making a favorite meal for our partner. Since most of our communication is non-verbal, acts of service can be very powerful expressions of love. This is my husband’s love language.
Physical touch is not just about sexual touch. It takes many forms such as a reassuring shoulder rub when we feel tense, holding hands as we walk around the farmer’s market or snuggling while we watch a favorite television show together. Touch has the power to strengthen or destroy relationships depending upon how it is used/abused. Because people are designed to be in relationship, loving touch can be one of the most powerful antidotes to stress and distress.
Looking back to that Valentine’s Day, the gift I gave to my husband was definitely more for me. I wanted quality time (my love language) away with him. While his response could have been more sensitive, I see now that I was loving him in my love language, not in his.
With the holidays and the season of gift giving approaching, I invite you to give your partner the gift of tuning in. Actively listen to what they are saying. Observe what makes them respond positively and not so positively. Pay attention to them and what makes them tick. Try loving them in their love language.
If you feel like counseling might be help with you and your partner’s love language, please feel free to call or text me at 303-475-2757, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on the schedule option at the top of this page to schedule a free 20 minute no charge phone consultation.