Here’s an interesting fun fact about meeting people online. Many popular online dating sites give you a percentage of compatibility. The percentage is largely based on information you put in about yourself, plus information that you put in about what you’re looking for, and then is further refined based on your match history, search preferences, and profiles viewed. It isn’t a perfect process, especially when you’re first starting out and don’t have a broad history of matches and site activity to streamline into the algorithm, but this imperfect number gets a lot of credence as people pick matches to potentially communicate with and date. If given the choice between two good looking people you find equally attractive in a picture, wouldn’t you start with the person listed as a 98% match instead the one listed at 75%?
Of course, when it comes to online dating and playing the odds, you should actually reach out to both if you’re hoping to guarantee a response. And the worst date I ever went on was with a guy that, according to the internet, I was 92% compatible with. However, statistics and experiences aside, when sifting through the vast expanse of potential relationships, that compatibility number can start to feel kind of meaningful.
When my husband and I matched online, we were somewhere around a 96% match. That was pretty high compared to my recent few batches of suggested profiles, and was part of the reason that I was motivated to reach out to him. Later, when we were engaged and going through our church’s marriage preparation program, we had to take another survey meant to unearth any areas of potential conflict or differences in our core values. It was a lot of ranking items on a scale of 1-5 and agreeing or disagreeing with belief statements. When we met with our mentor couple to go through the results, they were flabbergasted. We had perfectly matched answers on all but two statements. Admittedly, we got a little bit defensive with them about why it actually made sense we disagreed on those two statements, until they explained that it’s actually common for couples not to align on many of the items on the survey. It was the most compatible set of results they had ever seen.
And we laughed on the way home because it was almost like two sets of “scientific algorithms” had proved that we were soulmates destined to be together.
Then, somewhere through our first year of marriage, something happened that you might not expect from “the world’s most compatible couple.” It suddenly felt like maybe we weren’t connecting quite as well as we had in the run up to the wedding and in the first few months post. When we sat down and talked about it together, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what had changed. We were less stressed than we’d been the year before. Our health was better as Josh had learned about his gluten allergy and made changes accordingly. We were planning a big trip to Europe we were both thrilled about. We both loved being married. There wasn’t a glaringly obvious reason that we should be feeling less connected.
We were reassured by many family and friends that this was 100% normal, and most chalked it up to the end of the honeymoon phase. But that wasn’t a good enough answer for us, and convinced that it was something that we could fix, we turned to another assessment that we’d lazily taken for fun at some point early on in our relationship looking for some insight into how to reconnect: the five love languages.
The premise of the five love languages is relatively simple. The idea, postulated by Dr. Gary Chapman, is that people generally feel most connected to their partner through the expression of love one of five ways: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, and quality time. While it’s suggested that a person could feel loved through the expression of any of these areas, most people have a predominant love language that, if their partner isn’t “speaking” to them, will leave them feeling disconnected and unfulfilled in the relationship. If you don’t know your love language, you can take the assessment for free on the five love languages website. There’s also a great book that walks readers through the assessment and an in depth look at how to connect with your partner through the language you speak.
When Josh and I first took the survey, in the true spirit of feeling hyper compatible, we wanted to match! Turns out, he was a physical touch guy, and I was a words of affirmation girl. Still, we also had another area or two that scored high which included the other person’s predominant language, so we assumed we would be set to go without much extra thought. After all, the whole idea of the love languages isn’t that you need to be with a person whose language matches your own, but rather that you make an effort to love your partner in a way that fulfills their primary needs. Piece of cake, right? Turns out, maybe not.
A week before our first anniversary trip to Europe, we had a heart to heart. We each needed more. I was showering Josh with compliments, little notes around the house, conversation, and ‘I love yous,’ and he thought it was nice, but not entirely satisfying. He was holding my hand and snuggling on the couch, and all I wanted to know was why he couldn’t compliment my hair or my outfit when we went out for date night. We were each loving the other person how we wanted to be loved, but not so much how they needed to experience affection. We resolved to try to be intentional about doing something for the other person everyday that spoke directly to their love language. And as new routines got established, the connectedness we craved returned.
So what does loving someone through their love language look like? Today we welcome back Cece, LICSW for a dose of blog couple’s therapy. Cece, how do you recommend lovers connect at every language?
Let me start out by saying – I LOVE THE LOVE LANGUAGES! I use them in individual, group, and family therapy to help others recognize what they need, and most importantly, how to communicate this to others! Love can be complicated, but being able to categorize your language can be so validating and clarifying. Once you learn what your primary love language is, pay attention to specifically what it is that you yearn for. The clearer you can be to others about what it is that you need or want to change, the more likely the changes will actually happen.
Oftentimes when a relationship feels “off”, like you’re not connecting the way you used to or that things just feel harder between you two lately, it’s attributable to a lack of feeling heard, valued, and desired. You may be showing them that you care all along, but in the wrong ways, or in the wrong language. Learning each other’s love language(s) is important for both the giver and the receiver. The receiver can appreciate other ways that love is communicated and be more open, now understanding that their partner is a words person, while the giver can try to work more words ways into their routine to ensure the love is being more effectively expressed for that person! Perhaps all along you were listening for the words of love, when your partner has been showing love through actions instead! This disconnect is very common, and the first step is recognizing what’s happening!
Below, I’ve provided some examples of ways to speak each language to connect, as well as unintentional ways that can really rub others the wrong way. Hopefully this can help you become more aware of your actions and what it may be communicating to others, as well! Although this post is hitting around the time of Valentine’s Day, don’t forget that the love languages pertain to all types of relationships in your life and are really just ways of expressing how you care about others.
Words of Affirmation – These people need to HEAR the words directly!
What to do:
- Significant Other: Write them a love letter, “P.S. I Love You” style! Write about why you love them, listing things they do for you and for characteristics that you are attracted to. Sometimes, “I love you’s” can feel worn and habitual, as if they become a part of the phone call “Goodbye – I love you!”. To really make an impact for a Words person, articulate the reasons why they are important to you and what it is about them that draws you in.
- Friend: At your next get-together, make a real effort to use empathy when listening to their stories; try “That sounds stressful!” or “Wow, that must’ve been hard for you…”. Also, praise them for their efforts and strength… “You did such a great job with…” or “You really have a knack for that…”.
- Colleague: Take a moment to genuinely praise a colleague for the hard work they put into a project, more than just a “good job”, but specifically highlighting their work. This will make them feel noticed and appreciated, boosting morale and motivation in the process!
Quality Time – Sometimes quality time is simply giving someone your undivided attention – attuned and present.
- Significant Other: Make time for a meal together, with no distractions. Sit down at the table, put the phones away, turn off the TV, and genuinely find interest in what they are saying.
- Friend: This time of year, airlines may have great deals! If you have a friend who lives out of state, make a plan to visit them, if even just for a weekend. The fact that you made this plan to be with them will mean the world to them. Oftentimes when someone moves away, they’ll naturally wonder if they will be forgotten or replaced; by going this extra mile (pun intended), you will undoubtedly fill their love cup, so to speak, and put all of those anxieties at ease!
Acts of Service: Being helpful! Doing something for that person that may make their life and day that much easier!
- Significant Other: Do a chore without them knowing, especially one that tends to take more time and effort than others. When the time comes that they notice that you had gone ahead and taken care of something for them, your SO will feel respected and heard (as odds are, this perhaps has been something they’ve been in the habit of reminding you to do).
- Family member: Take care of something for them, perhaps a project around the house or a car service appointment. Maybe it’s a squeaky door at their house that they just haven’t gotten around to repairing – go ahead and finish the job for them as a way of communicating your love for them.
Gifts: Giving love in the form of a present, purchased or handmade! This shows that you went out of your way to get them something, making them feel important.
- Significant Other: No-reason-gifts can come as a welcome surprise for a Gifts person! Why not pick up flowers for them on your way home from work?
- Friend: Say a friend of yours has had a lot on their plate, and have complained about too much going on and struggles to keep things straight. A practical and thoughtful gift could be something like a planner or calendar, something that can help them organize their life and thoughts a bit more. This communicates to a Gifts person that you have been listening, understand their stress, and went the extra mile to buy them something that could make their life more manageable.
- Colleague: Take note of your colleague’s all-time favorite coffee drink and pick up for them on your way to work tomorrow!
- Significant Other: Kisses and hugs are pretty obvious here for your SO. Try to incorporate touch more often throughout the day – little hand squeezes, brushes up against their back, a hand on their knee during conversation, unsolicited kisses on the cheek “just because”, and even stroking their hair.
- Friend: A friend who’s deemed “a hugger” would appreciate this as a “hello” and “goodbye”. For this person, give more than just a Christian side hug! Especially if they know you are NOT much of a hugger, this will communicate to them that you really are making an effort to speak their language. If this is too out of your comfort zone, however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with limiting the touch to a handshake, or light shoulder grab as a greeting. Boundaries are to be respected no matter what language you’re speaking.
- Colleague: Appropriate physical touch must be followed in the workplace, but there’s nothing wrong with high-fives and fist bumps! Recognize their hard work with a high-five – pay attention to their smile at the same time; this will show just how much it made an impact. Obviously, time and place may apply here… perhaps hold the high-five until AFTER the stressful panel presentation in front of hundreds of people…
For more ideas, I strongly suggest you subscribe to the emails from www.5lovelanguages.com! They provide ideas for every love language to keep things interesting and creative! Some of the ideas I provided here were based off of these suggestions.
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