Mastering the Linguistics of Love

By Donald Officer

As crucial as it is to feel grateful toward your loved one, though, this alone is not enough to create a mutually satisfying relationship. You need to express your gratitude as well.
– Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James O. Pawelski

Happy Together (2018)

On a phone-in radio show last Sunday, I listened to dozens of callers detailing the subtle cosmetic art of avoiding a left swipe from the jaded viewers of your online dating profile. It’s never been easier to put yourself out there nor harder to get a second glance. Not that the course of love was ever thwarted for long. When the connection does happen, it’s often because dating behavior reinforces the rituals of display and the heady effects of the purpose-built hormones our bodies unreservedly release. We
want to fall in love. Nature will have her way, but after the deal is sealed, like the salesman who’s made his quota, has little regard for any buyer’s remorse if, and when it appears.
As he explains in his perennial best seller The5 love Languages author and
counsellor Gary Chapman has long been well aware of the effect of the high gloss of the dating self on all those looking for love if sometimes settling for a deceptive facsimile. With more singles than ever in both numbers and percentages, and with many of them already living crowded, busy lives, looking better than their best is a necessary given.
So great, Chapman explains, is the normal anticipation of a lifetime with a
soulmate that the eventual letdown, whether it arrives slowly or quickly, can be as disappointing as it is bewildering. Who is this person? Where is the other person I knew before the ceremony, the honeymoon …the baby? Seldom is the change totally bleak, extreme or all that sudden. What is frustrating and tends to persist, is that neither party knows how to reverse or overcome it. That, as Chapman reveals in story after story, is because so often they don’t speak the same language!
Well, not literally. It might be better if couples did need a regular translator.
Because what each of them says, does or ignores is not what the other hears, observes or misses. Social animals would not survive if they did not have a deep abiding fear of abandonment which goes beyond the primal needs of protection and sustenance. Stark need feeds our emotional growth and normally becomes positive as we learn to thrive. However, a breakup or even trivial dissension turns back the clock and we interpret the signs through the lens of vulnerability once more. If only we could see our partners through their own eyes (to invert Burns’ observation about seeing ourselves as others see us). As children we learn to seek love by observing those around us then deciding on a style or rationale that fits our personal temperament. This was a secret decision we never shared because we couldn’t explain it. It was just so. For all practical purposes, the five love languages, encompass the main ways we are able to receive love. We all share every one of them, which is fortunate if we are ever to understand the love languages of our partners or others we care about.
In practice, individual interpretations of experience, observations and emotional strengths usually ensure one language is dominant. This is the language most closely associated with safety, intimacy and love for the “speaker.” In his books Dr. Chapman expands upon the five love languages from multiple angles by drawing from his extensive case files. You will recognize each of them in action when you read the many fascinating yet somehow familiar illustrations in his books. You’ll soon see that each language is very much a real thing. We can relate to them in light of Chapman’s credible examples. In order of presentation Gary Chapman identifies his five love languages as follows:

Words of Affirmation;
Quality Time;
Receiving Gifts;
Acts of Service; and
Physical Touch.

Your task in your most important relationship is to first realize your primary language and then discover the language of your significant other. If living out your partner’s preferred language in either public or the intimate space of your relationship feels like a hardship or “emotional work” as I heard close connections referred to recently, you really must ask yourself if the relationship and your feelings for the person are worth it to you. A sense of gratitude for how you feel about at least one other person is key to the enriching commitment to becoming bilingual or multilingual in love languages. You’ll be surprised at how much you already know. Grateful leadership, for example, is at its best when it’s about learning the most important words and actions of those with whom you share values and goals. Acknowledging someone most effectively, means speaking appreciatively in the language they use to articulate their most cherished intentions. If it’s so easy to spot others’ primary love languages why don’t we? If we don’t care, we needn’t bother. But a mate or partner? Falling out of infatuation and into the grind of a shared daily life are the usual culprits. Add to that disillusionment with the institution that binds you together and the belief that you personally are misunderstood and well, you can visualize the picture even if you’ve never been there. This theme appears in the repertoire of romantic comedies everywhere.
The 2018 Pawelski book, Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive
Psychology to Build Love That Lasts which this post begins by quoting, offers a more anticipatory attitude by suggesting the partners engage their curiosity before the honeymoon fades. If The 5 Love Languages sounds like counselling triage, Happy Together strums the chords of preventative medicine. The Pawelskis’ take is more like, “So you bought into the romantic illusion, but don’t you really want to know what this amazing stranger is truly like?” Acknowledge each other and cultivate a life of discovery and adventure together and you’ll naturally become fluent in your partner’s love language before it becomes a critical necessity.
Dr. Chapman’s message is a tougher sell today than it was in the nineties when the first edition of his first love languages book appeared. Attitudes in our sharply divided world have shifted away from shared communities of trust or even mere tolerance. As alluded to above, books have been written about the unequal division of “emotional work” the burden we place on our partners when we expect or sometimes demand their support as an oath driven duty. We may have the moral, legal or constitutional right to be relieved of that burden, but wouldn’t the better, less painful way still more often than not be through understanding and love?
Chapman is right in repeatedly stating that love will not and should never be commanded. Let’s not forget the gratitude that deep down we continue to have for the gift of love. We always have a choice. For the record, did I forget to mention that at any stage, love can be lots of fun as well as deeply rewarding and of course highly gratifying? Happy Valentine’s day!
Tagline What role does gratitude play in your life? Gratitude Connection monthly and International Institute for Learning Senior Vice President, Judith W. Umlas in her acclaimed books, Grateful Leadership, Using the Power of Acknowledgment to Engage All Your People and Achieve Superior Results and The Power of Acknowledgment will help you see the possibilities.