Q: I’m supposed to be getting married in a few months, but I’m worried that my fiancé and I aren’t compatible when it comes to love languages. We’ve talked about it a lot, and I even had him read the book. I can tell that he’s trying, but it still doesn’t feel like enough and I’m wondering if I should still marry him. Any advice?
A: For those of you who aren’t familiar, in his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman posits that there are five ways people give and receive love: gifts, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and physical touch. The theory is that if two people’s love languages are incompatible, there may be tension in the relationship. According to Chapman, learning each other’s styles of love can help to deepen the connection and reduce the distance that forms when styles don’t match up.
I think there is a lot of merit to the love languages theory in that I believe there are different ways we give and receive affection. While it isn’t easy, by learning to accommodate a partner and shaping our interpretations, intimacy grows and tension can be reduced. For example, we can train ourselves to recognize that while your partner may not say it in words, he tells you that he loves you every time he packs your lunch.
That said, my experience tells me that just as—if not more—important than the type of affection is the level of affection we expect from others. I term this degrees of expressiveness.
The degree of expressiveness relates to how much affection we are comfortable showing and how much we expect to receive. Someone who scores an eight out of 10 on the expressiveness scale may frequently say “I love you” and take advantage of opportunities to touch their partner—whether it’s a gentle kiss, holding hands or a back rub, physical expression of their connection is plentiful. A three out of 10 person may have similarly potent feelings for their partner, but may not feel so inclined to demonstrate it. They may be more selective as to when, where and how they communicate lovingly.
It’s much harder to compromise on degrees of expressiveness and this is often a very real barrier to otherwise healthy relationships. A person with higher expressiveness needs may perceive a partner’s reticence as rejection. This rejection can internalize into deeper feelings of insecurity and may prompt either a defensive/withdrawal/shut down response, or an offensive/desperation/lash-out response. Conversely, the partner with lower expressiveness needs may feel overwhelmed and pressured by their partner. They may develop feelings of inadequacy and internalize a sense of shame at not being able to effectively show how they care. And eventually, they may grow to resent their partner for demanding more from them than they feel capable of giving.
Much the same as with love languages, learning to accommodate a partner’s expressiveness needs can improve the quality of a relationship. This means challenging yourself to interpret things differently, and being aware of and managing your own reactions to the discrepancy. While certain people just may not be a good fit together, before you give up, try to remember that it is not your partner’s responsibility to be everything you want or need emotionally and see if a shift in your perspective and expectations helps you grow in your relationship.V
Tami-lee Duncan is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, specializing in sexual health. Please note that the information and advice given above is not a substitute for therapeutic treatment with a licensed professional. For information or to submit a question, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.