Picture this. Midtown, Atlanta. 2016. You and your partner are discussing a problem between the two of you. Maybe he was late picking you up from the airport or perhaps you didn’t fold the clothes to his liking (it’s always the trivial things that fuel the flame, right?). At first, you both try to talk nicely and listen to each other, but soon you notice your partner starting to shut down. You feel ignored or think he doesn’t care, so you become agitated. It shows in your tone of voice and body language. He becomes frustrated, clams up and tries to walk away. You get angry, start yelling, follow after him and before you know it, a fight ensues. Sound familiar?
It is very likely the issue here is not an inability to resolve a problem, but rather the difference in how the two of you prefer to communicate.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who wants to talk it out. You’re prepared to stick with it, get everything said and out in the open, and want to come to some type of resolution – RIGHT NOW. He, however, is the type of person who likes to hear what you have to say before offering a few counter points. Or perhaps he needs time to decide what he thinks and feels, coming back later to continue the discussion and resolve the problem. Whatever it is, you must respect his approach just as you would want him to respect yours.
Here’s another scenario: you and a friend decide to go to Swinging Richards for a drink or three. On your way out, you ask your partner to please clean up the kitchen. However, when you arrive home, a bit tipsy, you notice that there are still dirty dishes in the sink. You immediately feel disappointed. That disappointment manifests itself as anger. Your partner greets you in bed with a hug and an (alcohol flavored) kiss, but you put up your hand to stop him. He immediately feels rejected. The outcome includes hurt feelings all around, with each person becoming emotionally distant — and it is a good bet a fight will take place soon. What happened?
In his book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary Chapman proposes five different styles people use to express and receive love: acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, physical touch and quality time. Although we each use all five, we will typically identify with one or two as our main love languages.
In the scenario described above, when you asked your mate to clean up the kitchen, you were demonstrating that “acts of service” are your love language. When your partner approached with a hug and kiss, he was stating this his preferred love language was “physical touch.” Understanding our primary love languages can easily change outcomes because when we know what we desire from our partners, we are able to better communicate our needs. Conversely, when we know and understand our partners preferred love language, we can work to best express our love in ways that they will receive. It’s a two-way street.
Let’s revisit our scenario: you leave and ask that he clean up the kitchen. He recognizes that acts of service make you feel loved, important and appreciated. When you get home you find the kitchen is clean. Knowing that your partner feels most connected through physical affection, you walk right over, give him a big hug and kiss, and thank him. This time, the outcome is positive: you have both received love in your preferred languages, and what you gain is a deeper connection to each other.
That’s the work!
Once you understand your individual communication styles and preferred love languages, you can effectively develop a plan for how you will approach potentially negative situations in the future. You might even find that you can circumvent problems altogether. Yeah right! Conflict is inevitable. The important thing is to be aware and present. No matter what, if you’re noticing constant conflict between the two of you, work toward identifying how you communicate, discuss your love languages, and attempt to compromise between your methods. It will save you a lot of headaches in the future.