A funny thing about life and love… every time, in every relationship, we learn a lesson.
I am pretty sure that I have ended most of the relationships I have ever been in. I think the main reason was I just didn’t know how to communicate.
In my 20s and 30s , when things got difficult the easy answer was always, “Oh well, that didn’t work”. So I’d pack my bag and off I would go in search of love and limerence.
Limerence (coined by Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love), is the state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person. It typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies, a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love, and have one’s feelings reciprocated. You know that first bit, where all you can see are the sexy, fun bits of each other, not the cracks and faults? (We all have the cracks and faults).
Having left a relationship, I usually followed up by looking for the next hit of endorphins and limerence. “I am loved – see that I am, and if this one doesn’t work, it’s not my fault; it’s them.”
Only problem was, it was rarely the other person. It was me. Me and my total inability to see and understand the other person’s needs and wants and perhaps even my wish to do so. I was selfish and defiant. Narcissistic, maybe.
Hence marriage number one went down the drain after a few years. We had grown apart to such an extent that she was ready to have kids and settle down, but I found the idea abhorrent – really quite scary. So I came home one day, and without having said anything about any problems, feelings, or issues before in five years of marriage, I said, “I think you should move out”.
I know – what a low act. But it is what it is and I was who I was. Can’t change the past, but you can change the future.
Discovering the languages of love
A few years after that I met my new wife and, yet again, I ran into the same issue. She moved back to her mum’s and I thought, “Geez , this relationship stuff is harder than it looks. I’m now pretty sure I will die alone, a crazy old man.”
But then something happened. She asked if I wanted to go to counselling. I said yes, and we somehow stumbled upon the Dr Gary Chapman book, The Five Love Languages.
The executive summary is this: There are five love languages – gifts, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and words of affirmation. We automatically give our partner the ones that we want most ourselves. These ‘primary love languages’ can change over time , especially after the kids come along.
My primary love language is words. I love praise and being told that I’m loved. So I spent the first two years of my new marriage telling my wife how much I loved her.
As we learnt, her primary love language is quality time. So my saying “I love you” 100 times a day didn’t really matter to her. What she really wanted was for me to focus on her and listen.
Hence the falling apart. I wasn’t giving her what she needed, and she was giving me quality time which was further down the list for me.
Honouring each other’s needs
We’ve built daily rituals, giving the other person what they need. We turn the phone off after I get home, put the kids to bed, face each other on the couch, and talk about our days. This and a few acts of service by me (even just doing the cat tray and the bin) keep her love tank filled up.
For me it’s the text messages and phone calls during the day that make me smile and feel loved – filling up my love tank with words of affirmation.
We have now been very happily married for ten years. We’ve had our ups and downs, sure. But nothing helped us stick together better than that book and realising that we are two different people, with different needs and wants, and very different ways to fill up our love tanks.
My advice is, find out what your partner’s primary love language is and communicate it to them – every day.
Photo by Shelby Deeter on Unsplash
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