Individuals often have very different ways of expressing love. Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages defines five different ways people express and receive love: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and gifts. According to Chapman's theory, if we aren't using our spouse's preferred language, he or she will not feel truly and deeply loved. As a result, sincere people who have the best of intentions can find their relationships undermined by miscommunication, frustration and unhappiness.
The biggest gap may be between those who want words, and those who don't see words as particularly important. A man who lavishes gifts on his wife only to be told, "You never tell me you love me," feels bewildered. What about all that candy, the expensive techno-gadgets, the beautiful jewelry? A wife who spends hours running her husband's personal errands, helping him wash the car, and picking him up at the airport is offended when he tells her he isn't always sure she really loves him. Their spouses may be very grateful for the gifts and the acts of service, but they still crave the words that, to them, provide real confirmation of love. In the meantime, the person whose vision of true love is silently holding hands while watching the sunset may feel uncomfortable talking about feelings, or simply may not know what to say.
So what can you do?
Start by trying to understand. People typically show love in the way they like to receive it. Does your spouse like to surprise you with little gifts? Does he or she do lots of things to help you and make your life easier? Do you have a partner who likes to spend all weekend just hanging out with you? Is this someone who likes lingering hugs and is always ready to give you a back rub? Does he or she give you cute nicknames and talk a lot about feelings? Of course, most people show love in more than one of these ways, but often there is an emphasis in one area.
Sometimes if you just ask, your partner will tell you exactly what is wanted.
Listen to your spouse's requests and complaints, even if they aren't always phrased as nicely as you would like. People often ask for what they want, directly or indirectly. A question like "What do you think of this dress?" may be a request for information, but it could be full of hope that you will say, "You look beautiful tonight." Bringing up a possible promotion at work may include the desire that you will offer encouragement and say how much faith you have in your partner's abilities and accomplishments. A sentence that starts with "You never..." is likely to make you feel defensive. But take a deep breath and think about what your partner is really saying. "You never" statements may not be literally true, but they are usually about not getting enough of something.
If you aren't getting what you want, make an effort to appreciate what your spouse does. When your husband checks the pressure in your tires, he is saying, "I care about your safety." When your wife puts a vase of flowers on your desk, she is saying, "I want you to have something nice." Your spouse may be supporting the family, keeping the house clean, taking care of you when you are ill, encouraging your career, planning activities, cooking your favorite foods, learning about your interests. All of these are ways in which you are being loved. Think about them and see the messages of love that are being conveyed to you.
Make sure you reward your spouse for using your love language. Receive compliments with delight. Thank your partner for encouraging your dreams. When your word-shy shy wife finally says, "I love you," say it back and give her a tender kiss. When your usually silent husband spends some time revealing his deepest feelings, put your arms around him and tell him how close you feel to him.
Even if what your spouse wants doesn't come naturally to you, do it anyway. With practice it will get easier, and when you see how good it makes your loved one feel you will want to do it more.