Nothing says “I love you” like Chocolate! Champagne! Roses!
But let’s face it, unless you’re The Bachelor(ette), there are only so many days a year that you can spend handing out roses and murmuring sweet nothings to the one you (hope to) love.
Life, in other words, is not all Valentine’s Day. Usually it’s work, errands, diapers, more work, taxes, groceries, sleep, and eventually, elder care.
Given that reality, how do you communicate love—and keep love alive—on the other 364 days a year?
Embrace The Five Love Languages
When I first heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, I thought it was a bunch of corny BS.
Turns out I was completely wrong, because Chapman’s basic premise—that people communicate love in different ways—is incredibly useful.
The Five Love Languages are:
- Acts of service,
- Receiving gifts,
- Quality time,
- Words of affirmation, and
- Physical touch.
Imagine (to choose an example that has absolutely nothing to do with my private life! :-)) that your love language is touch, and your partner’s is acts of service. You might want a hug, but they want to communicate love by grinding more of your special coffee blend. They might want you to make the bed, but you want to communicate love by cuddling in the bed, etc..
This can be confusing if you’re not aware that your ways of communicating love can be out of sync even when your love isn’t.
Fortunately, if these kinds of disconnects sound familiar, it’s not hard to learn more about The Five Love Languages and how they apply to you: Just go to Chapman’s site, 5LoveLanguages, to start.
Communicate Love through Radical Acceptance
As a survivor of the 1960s, I hate anything that smacks of “New Age.” But the practice of radical acceptance—which initially sounded way too hippy for my taste—isn’t just a great way to communicate love, it’s a great way to maintain love. (And yes, love requires maintenance, just like anything else of value.)
Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, who has written many books and videos on the subject, describes radical acceptance as,
…regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart.
At any moment, we have the choice of judging our loved one’s behavior, or of standing back, watching them (and ourselves) with compassion, and noticing that they are just being themselves rather than who we’d like them to be. Now,
- That doesn’t mean we should ever accept abuse, neglect, or put-downs.
- And it doesn’t mean that we can never ask our partners to change a behavior. Of course we can (and perhaps offer to change one of ours, as well).
- What it does mean is that, if your beloved leaves the cap off the toothpaste, chews too loudly, or gets upset in a way you find annoying, maybe—just maybe—their behavior is (a) not about you, and (b) not such a big deal. [The Annoyance Grid can help you decide about that.]
That “radical” understanding—and it is radical, because it shifts your entire perspective—is a great guide to action (or often, non-action). And for a different approach to it, try Richard Carlson’s “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” books.
Walking Away Can Communicate Love
Finally, a lot of classic advice about how to maintain a relationship revolves around the theme of “don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” i.e., make up as quickly as you can.
In my 45 years with the same guy, though, I’ve actually found the opposite to be true:
If I apologize too fast, or “forgive” too quickly, I probably don’t really mean it.
Of course, you want to get to forgiveness or apology if those things are called for; but don’t rush it. Sometimes it can take days for the dust to settle, and waiting out that time may reveal thoughts and feelings that you didn’t know were lurking under the surface of a premature “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes, in other words, the best way to communicate love is to not communicate until you’re ready.
And meanwhile, if you’re still angry at bedtime…you can always sleep on the couch!