When A Love Language Gets Used As a Quick Fix

The concept of love languages has served as an insightful and purposeful relational tool-kit for decades now. “Love Languages” are emotional awareness tools that describe how people express and receive love in five different ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, gift giving, quality time and physical touch. One thing we know is that a great strength in one context, can become a weakness in another.

In my work as a therapist, I see love languages sometimes be used to rationalize the act of compromising for less than we deserve. In other words, just because their love language is ‘acts of service’, doesn’t mean your relationship should settle for being void of meaningful conversation and emotional intimacy. What initially developed as a framework for better understanding and relating to our partner, is also at times being used to collude in a state of denial or aversion to change within our relationships. I call this the slippery slope of love languages.

The slippery slope of love languages can look like this:

“He appreciates acts of service after a long day which isn’t much to ask, so it makes sense that he gets angry or resents me for not liking to cook…”

“She never really tells me she loves me because I know she’d prefer to show her love through physical touch, so I’ve learned to live with it.”

“Oftentimes I don’t really feel seen by my partner, but they do show up with grand gestures to say I love you.”

Your mind works hard to protect you from pain. Sometimes, certain defense mechanisms pick up and allow you to stay in a pattern that isn’t healthy for you in order to protect you from having to confront something that could be perceived as threatening: like an uncomfortable conversation, change, rejection, or an ending. This means, it’s possible that when you fear the answer is “no” or being shut down by a partner, instead of communicating your thoughts, you settle for less than you deserve- searching for silver linings and justifications.

It’s important to think of these two things as apples and oranges: the way your partner feels most comfortable receiving their love and affection, and whether fundamental needs underneath that are actually being worked to be met in your relationship or not. Under ‘the slippery slope of love languages’ is a conversation at its core about the complexities of how to navigate the integration of our partners’ limitations and our basic relational needs- a (normal) and vulnerable place to be within relationships. Often this navigation takes much more than naming a language our partner speaks and simply allowing the work to begin and end there; but rather, ongoing communication, patience, compromise, attunement, vulnerability and mutual-respect, among other things.

I’m writing this piece with a few important messages in mind for those that may benefit:

Learning your partner’s love language does not mean abandoning your own needs.

You can feel appreciative and understanding of your partner’s love language, and still feel that your partner isn’t doing enough to meet your needs. 

The purpose of love languages is centered around attentiveness and adaptability- not meant to be a justification for not growing or challenging oneself.

Your love language is not ‘just the way you are’ (yes- this goes for your astrology sign too!) Humans are complex, evolving creatures who are highly capable of change and growth. Love languages can change.

Your partner should not be only willing to hear you express your love in the exact ways that work for them.

Justification may mask experiences of discomfort or pain, but moving through these experiences is where real growth and connection can exist.

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