Monday: A Discussion of Family and Relationships

In the spirit of thematic posts, Monday is becoming my “day of relationships.” Those will be primarily of the romantic and family variety, but being Monday, something else may slip in.

I won’t say I am an expert, but I have studied. And in studying, I have learned than humanity is mortal.

My wife Jamie and I have been together for 7 years (our anniversary is a week from today, actually). We’ve known each other at least ten years, so we certainly started with a little preknowledge of each other. Naturally, we have disagreements (we have very different social styles and I have to practice not being an insensitive jerk). But we have learned a few lessons.

Today’s lesson is about communication. Personally, I don’t believe in complaining about one’s romantic relationship to friends–especially mutual friends. I’m sure some people out there can relate. Being in a lesbian relationship–or in any relationship with someone who doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of what your family considers “the right kind of person”–can make frustrations with that person especially difficult. If you complain about the problems you’re facing or seek advice with the groups who disapprove of the relationship, the odds are that those groups will turn to the old standby–“Well, maybe they just aren’t right for you.”

Perhaps not so obviously, the solution is to work out your problems privately.

Now, I am not in any way condoning suffering privately if you are being emotionally abused or physically abused by your partner of choice. Even if your family/friends don’t like that person, you need to make sure you get some help from somewhere. This conversation is more about the sort of problems that stem from old arguments. Things like “She doesn’t appreciate me,” or “He doesn’t understand me,” and so on.

Jamie and I went through a very sullen period of time wherein little things would lead to huge arguments. We had already been together for a couple of years, were living in our own place together, and going through some rough patches with trying to conceive and so on. A dish left with food in it (by her) or dirty clothes left on the floor (by me) would somehow launch into a ridiculous argument dragging out every wrongdoing that ever was.

Then we discovered (or were introduced) two pieces of material that really helped. The first was a Social Styles CD of a talk given by Jim Floor, who re-explained Florence Littauer’s Personality Plus. This helped us grasp a good understanding of our styles–especially under pressure.

The second is more relevant to romantic relationships, and that is the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Now, I will warn you that his book comes from a fairly conservative viewpoint, and is definitely directed toward heterosexual couples, if that isn’t your cup of tea. However, it has some amazing material, and Jamie and I certainly shed some tears reading it, and learned a lot about ourselves.

I will give you a general description of each of the love languages, but the website has tests you can take (also a bit heterosexually skewed) and there are books now for children, teens, and business. It’s important to know that there is nothing wrong with any of these styles, they are each special in their own way–this is just the dominant “language” in which each style feels the most comfortable and loved. Most people communicate out in the same way they want to receive, but may exhibit the opposite traits if they aren’t getting what they need. There are also dialects–different styles within styles. It gets pretty complicated–like any language. I recommend checking out the book.

The first language under Chapman’s system is “Words of Affirmation.” These are the people who really need to hear accolades. A pat on the back is one thing. Hearing their partner (boss, friend) say awesome things about them to other people means the world. These people are definitely in it to get credit for what they do, and they need to hear the words “I love you.” More importantly, they really want to know why. They might come across as being a bit self absorbed, but that’s probably because they don’t feel like they are getting the verbal praise they crave. When people with this style don’t get the attention they need, they are likely to dish up the reverse, and be verbally critical.

The second language is “Quality Time.” This means putting down everything and actually being with that person, which might literally mean staring into their eyes, might mean quiet walks to just talk, might mean extra snuggles on the couch. This style doesn’t feel loved unless you are spending time with just them, so group activities probably won’t count (although some might be OK with including really close friends or children, as long as they are the primary focus of your attention). In my experience, if this style doesn’t get the attention they need, they are likely to get jealous of time spent with others, or may start spending a lot more time with their friends.

The third language is “Receiving Gifts.” It’s important to realize that this doesn’t mean these people are materialistic–for many of these, wildflowers picked at the side of the road are just as valuable as flowers bought from a store. While nice gifts are appreciated every so often, it’s usually more important to them that you show you were thinking of them, by bringing something–a handmade card, some baked cookies, a treat from the grocery store, Starbucks coffee when you were out longer than normal, etc etc. This style might become stingy and refuse to give gifts to those who don’t gift them if they feel slighted in their love language, but I believe they take longer to feel that extreme. In my experience, every “Gift Receiving” style I’ve ever met has been a big fan of sweet treats, but that’s probably not a universal truth.

The fourth language is “Acts of Service.” This is a bit easier to explain. Slightly different from “Quality Time,” this language is literally the act of doing things for others. For example, preparing dinner for your loved one, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn. The important thing is that these acts have to be spontaneous, they can’t have asked for them, and they can’t be made to feel like they are obligated to be grateful–although they will be, unless you demand it of them. This style is likely to perform acts of service in the hopes you will notice and do something nice back. If they don’t feel like they are getting what they need, they will probably stop performing the chores they normally do, and the house will get really messy–somewhat like a Brownie in that way.

The final language is “Physical Touch,” and this one is frequently confused. This is not sexual in nature, in that having a healthy sex drive does not mean your love language is physical touch. This is the style that literally needs a pat on the back. Someone with this style will touch your arm when they talk to you, hug random strangers, and needs physical proximity, back rubs, hugs, snuggles, to feel appreciated and loved. People with this style might appear to come from large Italian families–even if they didn’t–because they tend to be open and welcoming and big on touch. Those who aren’t getting what they need will often become clingy and needy because they don’t know any other way to get the touch they crave.

In case you’re curious, I’m primarily Words of Affirmation and my backup is Quality Time. Jamie is reversed, with a very strong third in Receiving Gifts–that’s how I know about the wildflowers. She also loves just having lots of things to unwrap under the tree (so I wrap everything, even socks).

Knowing what drives you, and what drives the people you love, can really help guide conversations and interactions you have with them. If you’re struggling to understand someone you are with, try finding out what their key love motivation is. Then take some steps to help push those buttons, in a good way.

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