If you don't feel supported or understood over the holidays, it could be down to a relatively simple and common problem: You and your significant other may be communicating love and devotion in ways the other person simply doesn't understand as love. Over the holidays especially, this can cause a huge amount of tension. If, for instance, you prefer your expressions of love gift-wrapped but your partner shows their affection by cooking and doing household chores, you may not understand that the Turkey dinner actually means they love you. In turn, they may not appreciate all the tender thoughts that went into picking your gift for them.
According to the acclaimed social scientist Gary Chapman, there are five love languages, each with its own complex vocabulary. We all give and receive in just ONE love language, and which one we speak is all to do with how we were or were not shown love by our mothers when we were children. In adult life we either seek the love we were shown as children, or we seek the love we craved because it was absent.
If you feel most loved when your other half buys you jewelry, takes you on vacation or brings you flowers for no reason, then your primary love language is probably Gift Giving.
Do you feel most loved when you and your partner have kissed, touched or made love? Is every tender caress worth a thousand words to you? If so, your love language is most certainly Physical.
Do you prefer your love on a card, in a text, email or phone call? If words are your favorite way of being appreciated and communicating affection to others, then your primary love language is Verbal.
If you prefer your partner to show their love wordlessly, without touch or gifts and all you want is for them to switch off their phone and take you on a hike or just gaze (silently) into your eyes, then Quality Time is most certainly your preferred language of love. You show your love by showing up.
If you would feel most loved if your partner picked you up from the station, cooked you a meal, ironed your shirt, emptied the dishwasher, vacuumed the house, and ran you a bubble bath, preferably all on the same day, then Acts of Service is your love language.
If you're not already 100% certain which is your primary love language, start by ruling out which modes of expression do not sound like love to you. It could be, for instance, that when you were growing up you had staff to make your bed and iron your shirts, so perhaps 'Acts of Service' don't look like love to you.
Next, look at the ways you express love to others (because inevitably we give the love we hope to receive and ask yourself what you complain about not receiving most often (gifts? hugs? words of thanks?) and what you request most frequently from your significant other.
When a good friend invites you over for a home-cooked supper, do you:
Show them your appreciation by writing or calling with a beautiful 'thank you'?
Give them a long hug when you say 'goodbye'?
Bring them a well chosen gift?
Stay late to help them with the dishes?
Simply show up and give them your undivided (device-free) attention?
Blame It On Your Mother
I'm sorry to say that more often than not it's women who show love through acts of service to men who still expect to be served but don't understand that "I've cleaned the house" means 'j'adore.' This, of course, can also be a problem in same sex couples.
Men who grew up with mothers who did all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and ironing around the house often now understand this as love, and crave it from their adult (domestic) partner, or they see this contribution as 'menial work' and dismiss it. Either way, they may not reciprocate because they see these chores as 'mother's work', with a 'father's work' consisting of long hours at the office.
"You don't thank me for going to work all day, why should I thank you for doing the dishes, it's just your contribution," is a frequent complaint, regardless of the fact that these days both partners may be spending long hours at the office and only one of them is also doing all the chores.
Bridging The Divide: Learning A New Love Language
There are many "huggers" whose "gift giving" partners see them as "always wanting sex;" There are "talkers" with "quality time" loving partners who resent them for spoiling the moment. However, in my experience as a coach, by far the most frequent tension occurs between the "dishwashers" and the monolingual speakers of every single other love language.
It all boils down to whether one partner is doing more chores than the other. If this is the case, inevitably the chore-doing partner will feel either less loved or simply less valued - and it's hard to argue which one is worse.
I highly recommend finding out what your (and your partner's) primary and secondary love languages are. If you're lucky enough to already be speaking each other's love languages, that's great. Just remember that the love-languages of your parents, children and friends may not be the same as both of yours.
If, however, you and your partner are speaking completely different love languages, it's really worth spending some time and energy learning to show them love in ways they understand, and teach them how you'd like to have love shown to you.
And, unless your partner specifically asks you to do otherwise, no matter which love languages you each speak, and irrespective of how much household help you employ, try doing your fair share of the domestic chores this Christmas - and thank your other-half graciously for doing theirs. I promise it will make for much more harmonious holidays.
Gary Chapman first wrote about the five love languages in his 1992 popular press book, The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. In 2006 a study by Nichole Egbert and Denise Polk examined Chapman’s claims. A confirmatory factor analysis showed that a five-factor fit of these data to Chapman's proposed five love languages was superior to uni-dimensional, three-factor, and four-factor solutions. Results showed significant relationships between the love language factors and Stafford, Dainton, and Haas' (2000) relational maintenance typology, suggesting that Chapman's love languages may indeed reflect behaviors performed to enact intended relational maintenance.