Since Valentine’s Day (in the US) is right around the corner, I thought I’d write about 3 proven tips that will help you have a better relationship. What better gift to someone than to not just give a card, candy, flowers, or jewelry, but to make an investment in your relationship by implementing one or more of these tips I’m about to share with you.
Now, Gary Chapman, author of the book about the love languages, says that we each have a love language that we respond best to.
According to the author, the 5 love languages are:
- Acts of Service
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation
I’ve written before about his ideas and how, while they’re a great tool to have in your relationship tool kit, they aren’t the tool. There are other tools that go into having an amazing and loving relationship, too (read the article here: What’s Wrong with the 5 Love Languages).
But let’s go with the 5 love languages for a minute. If you think about yourself, how do you best respond to love? In order for your partner to show their love for you, how would that be demonstrated? And vice versa- which do they prefer out of the 5 love languages?
While it’s great to know your and your partner’s love language, there are other ways you can strengthen your relationship bond. Going through school (to get a masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy), I learned all kinds of different theories and methods. After reading textbooks and writing papers, you learn to apply what you’ve read and written about during an internship with clients. Book learning is vastly different from actually putting your knowledge in action. What you think sounds great on paper, often turned out to be not so great in real life when you are working with clients face-to-face.
Reading and learning is different than actually putting that knowledge into action.
One student- a future therapist- in my class swore by the 5 love languages.
“The love languages can make or break relationships,” she said adding, “You can save a relationship by using them.”
I was hesitant to take that on as a truth because relationships are multi-faceted. Plus, the love language may change over time. You may enjoy physical touch in your twenties, but as you become a busy parent in your thirties, that will change. Or, maybe one month you really need touch, but another month you really respond best to affirmations. Maybe you’re having a disagreement and your partner doesn’t want to work things out. You scramble and remember their love language. However, when you’re worked up, do you think a love language will work in the moment?
Maybe one of you has had significant childhood trauma so you reject any kind of loving gesture/intention because you’re reliving your past. You reject love and its gestures because you don’t feel you deserve it. So your partner can try to relate to you through your love language, but his/her gestures meet a brick wall.
So Nicole, why did you start out with the 5 love languages then if they aren’t the end-all-be-all? Because so many people are familiar with them, and they can help couples begin to understand each other better by opening up a discussion about needs. Yes, needs.
If you want to read a fantastic book, a book that will change your relationship (and all your relationships- with family, friends, coworkers…), I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book on nonviolent communication (find it here on Amazon: NonViolent Communication: A Language of Life). *By the way, I do not receive any payment for recommending books, products, services, etc. It’s just a great book that’s had a powerful impact on my life and relationships.
Nonviolent Communication is a book that provides you with a language for love, for respect, for connecting with your needs and the needs of your partner, and so much more.Many people don’t know what their needs are so how on earth are they able to ask for them or assert them? Or, they demand all their needs be met- and that’s simply not practical. Plus, that’s a relationship killer.
So…here we go:
Tip #1 is to KNOW YOUR NEEDS.
Know what they are, how to request them, how to create boundaries, how to prioritize them, how to know when to compromise, and how to reflect on them to really see how they fit in your life. Some examples of needs the author gives in the back of his book are:
What feelings come up when they aren’t met? How do you behave when they aren’t met? What are your partners’ needs?
Now that I’ve mentioned 2 books (The 5 Love Languages and NonViolent Communication), I’d like to recommend one more book to the list: John Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. Dr. Gottman, his wife, and his team at the Gottman Institute have done a tremendous amount of research on couples and its well worth the read to find out what their research is.
One of his research findings is that many couples, when they become curious about each other’s dreams, goals, and likes/dislikes, they create a deeper feeling of intimacy.
Tip #2 is to BECOME CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR PARTNER’S WORLD.
To get you started on this:
- What is your partner’s favorite meal, color, outfit, song, video, movie, car, house style, book, etc.?
- What was their favorite game, toy, memory, or house to live in when they were a child?
- What scares them the most?
- What is fun for them to do?
- What are their dreams for the future?
- When they were a kid, what did they want to do?
It’s a wonderful feeling to be known and heard from your partner. You feel loved and accepted. And this type of conversation creates deeper intimacy between you two. Have you ever watched The Newlywed Game? That’s a game show that couples demonstrate how much or how little they know of each other. Play your own newlywed game by asking questions of your partner that get them to open up to you their inner world. Let them know you want to “see” them and their world is important to you.
Recently, my husband lost his 81 year old mother. This loss touches on the losses of several of my own close family members during my lifetime including my own mother when I was 7 years old. I have a tendency to go inward and process loss internally. I have a very old feeling of not wanting to burden anyone and to find comfort in being alone. This is not what my husband needed at this time however. I consciously made a decision to get out of my struggle and be curious about what he was thinking and feeling.
“How’s my handsome husband doing right now? You seem a little down, what’s on your mind?” “What was your favorite memory of being a kid?”
My husband is excellent at processing things and expressing himself, but even he has a need to feel heard and supported by me. During times of great stress, we tend to revert to old childhood patterns. We’re acting them out and not being present for our loved ones. To change this cycle, do something different. Engage your partner and pull the both of you back into this moment. Deepen your connection by being curious about your partner’s experience.
The next and last tip is fairly simple, but don’t let it fool you. Reading it and acknowledging it are vastly different than putting it into action.
Tip #3 is to PRACTICE GRATITUDE AND APPRECIATION.
It really is that simple. And it really does work! When you feel grateful for your partner and appreciate even the little things he/she does, it makes a huge difference. I’ll give you an example.
George works long hours and when he comes home from work, he changes. And, when he changes, he leaves his old clothes on his floor. He’s too tired to pick them up. Lily has a choice here. Lily can get angry and petulant that once again, she has to pick up his clothes and “what is she, his mother?” She can complain to him or to her friends and family about what a slob he is and how he just expects her to clean up after him.
Or, Lily can pick up his clothes and “pick her battles.” She can grump about the situation or she can pick them up. Think attitude here. What will help her the most? She can think about how hard he works, the other things he does around the house and for her, how healthy and strong he is, what a great provider he is, and focus on what she’s grateful for.
Often, when a partner nags their partner, it makes the situation worse. The other person doesn’t stop their behavior and there’s a negative energy that’s starting to take root in the relationship. Would you foster a weed in a garden or would you work to keep your garden bountiful and beautiful. You have a choice: Would you prefer to harvest the weeds or the bounty of goodness, so to speak?
You are the change you’ve been looking for!
I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years and when they begin to look at how they can change- not their partner- their relationship changes. Take responsibility for where you are today and focus on what you can control.
Love is a gift. Love strengthens us in ways that are immeasurable. Our health, our longevity, our well-being, our spirit–our whole life is better when we have love. So cherish it, nourish it, and keep it safe.
You deserve to have a loving relationship. You are worth it!