Family Functioning: Connecting Through Love Languages
Family connection can fluctuate for each member based on stressors, communication, and conflict. All families fight, but for many, it’s the repair and connection that make for a healthy relationship. Gary Chapman starts his book, The 5 Love Languages, by sharing the concept of love being measured like a gas tank and asking: are you empty or full? This imagery can be powerful in measuring affection, value, and connection to others in our life, not only with spouses or partners, but with family and close friends as well.
Gaining knowledge of the five languages can be supportive to your self-awareness as well as provide some guidance on how to strengthen your relationships with others. You may start this process by defining each of the five languages and connecting them to real-life examples that are meaningful and relevant to you. You may also identify which languages are most important to you by recalling what you’ve felt lacking in current or former relationships, such as moments you may have voiced unhappiness or dissatisfaction. Gary Chapman emphasizes that for some individuals, what we complain about can be the access point to exploring what is most important to us in our behavior of speaking up about it. To best understand how this could look, let’s further explore the languages. According to Gary Chapman, the languages are 1) Physical Touch, 2) Quality Time 3) Words of Affirmation, 4) Acts of Service and 5) Gifts. Below are some examples that represent each language type:
Physical Touch - hugging, holding hands, kissing, rubbing someone’s back, massage, sitting close, casual touch, sex
Quality Time - talking a walk, eating dinner together, lying in bed, taking a drive, engaging in a shared hobby, vacationing together
Words of Affirmation - expressing compliments or appreciation through words, such as “I love you, I’m proud of you, I appreciate you.”
Acts of Service - washing the car, cooking a favorite meal, picking up the laundry or toys, doing an extra chore
Gifts - making them a card, buying a favorite food, bringing flowers, chocolate, or a trinket just because you can
Please remember this is not an exhaustive list in that there are many more examples that one can identify based on their own experience and expression of caring and affection. With this in mind, it is also important to explore some rules around the languages and how they are expressed when connecting with those we care about most.
Food for Thought
Within The 5 Love Languages come some guidelines of how affection and caring can be demonstrated in order to be recognized as genuine. Quality Time for example, defines one-on-one time that promotes connection and conversation. Many couples or families would say they spend frequent time together in activities such as going to the movies, reading the news, driving, or watching TV. As you can already guess, these activities do not necessarily encourage connection just through proximity in being in the same space at the same time. Instead, one is encouraged to find meaningful activities that allow conversation and connection such as taking a walk, cooking together, crafting, and more. For Acts of Service, it is best to keep in mind that for your loved one to truly feel the affection you wish to demonstrate, the act performed must be done authentically and without agenda. For example, one may wash their partners car or run an errand to make their partner’s day easier or bring them joy, not expecting a favor in return for their effort. This rule also applies to Gifts in the idea that we aren’t giving someone we love a gift in the hopes that they will return the favor or owe us something in return.
Discovery and Depth
Gary Chapman provides helpful examples of Love Languages in action throughout his book. For some, reflecting on what they ask for or ask more of, can be helpful in discovering their top Love Languages. Chapman’s book has a quiz in the back to encourage reflection and one can also access the quiz online for free to determine their top Love Languages at http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/.
So where do you go from here? Once aware of your own languages, you can explore the languages that partners or loved ones value most. It is understandable that we express the languages that we prefer or languages that make us feel most loved, which may not translate well to our partners or loved ones in meeting their individualized needs. If there is in fact an overlap of the top two languages, in a duo for example, communication and connection can occur relatively naturally due to speaking the same language on most occasions. If a duo does not have a language in common, it could require extra effort to connect and speak the language that supports your loved one in feeling appreciated and have their affection gas tank feel ‘full.’
Fulfilment in Family
What about your children and what helps them feel loved? Depending on their ages, Love Languages become more concrete and defined in adolescence as they develop their identities. For younger children, under 6 years old for example, many will find joy in gifts due to the novelty and the excitement they feel. This is considered age appropriate and more reflective of their developmental stage than their true Love Language. It is also important to remember that each individual can have two or more languages that they speak in showing affection to others. We may each have one language that can dominate the others, but depending on the situation and relationship, we may express affection differently to various members of our family.
The concept of Love Languages may resonate with you as you read about it, however the real connection is experienced through practice! Assigning yourself low-risk homework or intention of practicing a loved one’s desired Love Languages can provide you with evidence of the value of connecting with others in this way. For couples and families alike, efforts to speak a chosen language allow measurable results. For one individual in her attempts to reconnect with her spouse, she saw a softening and willingness from her partner when she engaged in their chosen language in authentic ways after weeks of conflict. The familiar saying, actions speak louder than words, applies strongly here in helping you connect with your loved ones while also advocating for your own needs in current relationships. Within the goal to increase affection and connection, you may experience improvements in your relationships, allowing your love tank to feel "full".
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is the owner of Catalyst Counseling, PLLC and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk teens and adults and currently enjoys working with young adults (18-25) and adults (25+) experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, academic stress, and life transitions. Contact Khara directly by calling 720-245-7390 or by visiting her website.