Dina Al-Mahdy digs into the various ways people speak and understand emotional love
If you spend any time around couples, you might discover that people actually speak and understand emotional love in five different ways. By breaking down these ways, you may also finally be able to decipher what your significant other really wants and expects from you.
Through his couples counseling Gary Chapman, a US family counselor and author of The Five Love Languages series, has discovered that there are five universal ways through which people express and interpret love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. He has noticed specific patterns in the way partners communicate, and his observations have deduced that most people convey, understand and receive love in the same five ways.
According to Chapman, each person has a primary and a secondary love language. People tend to give love in the way they prefer to receive it, and as a result relationships can start to get problematic if this is not the case. However, by understanding our partner’s inherent love language, we can create a clear, mutual mode of communication in our romantic lives.
In Egypt, the love languages that couples use may be slightly different from those in the US due to the different religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds of the two countries. However, even so some couples do not understand their partners’ primary love languages, so they fail to create a mutual mode of communication. This may explain the rising rate of divorce in Egypt.
In his book Dangerous Relationships, Mohamed Taha, an Egyptian professor of psychiatry and therapist, writes that “relationships can be one of the most complicated matters in the world; some can also become difficult and dangerous. Relationships can either be a main reason for happiness and openness to life or a matter of misery and pain.”
Keeping this in mind, let’s learn more about the love languages that are common in Egypt.
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION: US expert Robin Sharma, one of the world’s leadership experts in personal mastery, believes that we must use words well, as they can either inspire or destroy.
One of the deepest and most basic human needs is the need to feel appreciated and valued. Words of affirmation are an effective means of meeting such a need. Using words to build up our partner and validate him or her is one way of expressing emotional love. Yet, many couples have never learned the tremendous power of verbally affirming each other.
Negative or insulting comments are equally impactful. They can cause serious damage, wound their recipient and a relationship, and are not easily forgiven.
Egyptian therapist Rania Shoukri commented that Egyptian men are mostly the breadwinners and providers in romantic relationships, so hearing words that express appreciation of what they do is essential to them. Many marriages are affected because the husbands feel that their efforts are taken for granted. Similarly, women who multi-task by nature want to feel that their efforts, exerted outside or inside the house, are recognised.
One of the women Shoukri works with commented that “my fiancé is a very helpful man. He always does things for me. He repairs my car and pays my bills. But he rarely says things like ‘I love you’ or ‘I miss you’. I need to hear these things from him as well. I feel emotionally deprived, and I don’t know what to do.”
QUALITY TIME: Time is a precious commodity. We all have multiple demands on our hands that need to be taken care of within a given time span, and each of us has the same number of hours in a day.
We can make the most of those hours by dedicating some time to spend with our spouses, making quality time an essential part of each day. To those who highly value quality time, being there and making time for others leaves them feeling satisfied and comforted, while distractions, empty promises or a failure to listen can be especially hurtful.
For Shoukri, quality time means giving someone your undivided attention and practising active listening of whatever they want to share with you without making any judgements and ensuring that the person feels validated. For instance, couples should not just sit on the sofa watching television together. Instead, they should have the TV off, look at each other, and talk, making sure that all distracting devices are put away and that they are giving each other their complete attention. They should take a walk, just the two of them, or go out to eat and make conversation with their eyes fixed on each other.
One of the men Shoukri works with commented that “my wife is perfect, and I know deep down that she adores me. But she’s always busy with our kids; she never has time for us. She never listens. She is overly occupied with tasks at home. I feel lonely in my marriage.”
RECEIVING GIFTS: One of the easiest love languages a person can acquire, receiving a gift is a guaranteed gesture that makes people feel loved.
A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say “well, look at that; he was thinking about me!” Or “she remembered me.” The monetary value of the gift does not matter in this language. A person does not have to be materialistic for a meaningful or thoughtful present to make them feel appreciated.
ACTS OF SERVICE: Some people say that their preferred love language is acts of service, which means doing things you know your spouse will appreciate. You seek to please them by serving them and to express your love by doing things for them.
People who speak this language want their partners to recognise that their life is rough and, consequently, to attempt to lend them a helping hand in any way possible. To them, “actions speak louder than words.” Cooking a meal, setting the table, vacuuming or changing the baby’s diaper are all considered acts of service that require planning, time, effort and energy. If done in a positive spirit, they qualify as healthy and strong expressions of love.
Shoukri believes that acts of service fulfill an essential need, which is to feel secure and reassured that someone else supports you and is willing to help you, especially in times when you feel powerless or in need of support.
PHYSICAL TOUCH: It has long been known that physical contact is a powerful means of communicating emotional love to one’s spouse. For some individuals, physical touch is their primary love language, and nothing speaks more loudly or deeply than heartfelt touch.
In the area of child development, numerous research projects have concluded that babies who are held, stroked and kissed more often by their parents develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact.
“Nada, a newly married wife, always felt unloved by her partner Malek,” Shoukri commented. “She told me he was very generous with her when it came to money and gifts. But he never appreciated whatever she did, always criticising her and rarely touching her. There was always a void inside her as a result, and she couldn’t believe in his love for her.”
This is why everyday physical contact, such as hand-holding, embracing or any type of affirming physical intimacy is greatly appreciated and makes your spouse feel safe and loved.
One you identify and learn to speak your spouse’s primary love language you will have discovered the key to a life-long loving marriage. Love will not vanish after the wedding, but it will only remain alive if you make the effort to learn a second language of love. We cannot rely on our primary love language if our spouse does not understand it. If we want them to feel the love we have for them, we must express that using a means of communication they understand, in other words, their primary love language.
If you and your partner have different love languages, don’t panic. Just because you tend to favour one language over another does not mean you should stop using the other languages to communicate your feelings to your partner. You can still change things and be versatile in order to express your love more effectively.
All you have to do after exploring more about the love languages is strive to learn your second language. Who knows where such a journey may take you? And remember that there are no automatic rewards for doing this, but there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your partner.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.