Even though I know relationships aren’t half as straightforward as they’re depicted to be in nearly every Disney movie (Frozen, being one exception). It always surprises me that so many people want to be in a relationship, but don’t actually know how to love their partner. Yes, as ludicrous as this sounds hear me out.
One of the first major relationship hurdles which can often be overlooked, yet is sometimes a deal breaker, is not understanding that people want and need to be loved differently. In many ways it’s not hard to see why. You meet someone, you have similar interests, you find each other attractive and you get along well. Both of you enjoy a good TV series, have a similar taste in music, enjoy taking long walks together and so on an so forth. Naturally, you assume that because your partner enjoys a good many things that you do and you enjoy each others company, that you are compatible in love.
Unfortunately for you, a great number of people enjoy doing these things. Watching Netflix together while snuggled up on the couch, going out for a meal or spending time with someone, just isn’t uncommon in the slightest. Doing these things means you share similar interests, not that you both give and wish to receive love in the same way.
Love is not an interest and it shouldn’t be treated as a hobby. Some don’t even regard it as an emotion and I’m inclined to agree. Emotions are temporary, they shift and change in response to the environment or situation. Love does not behave this way. Those things I mentioned earlier we’ve learned to equate with love – the longing, the physical attraction, the shared hobbies, the desire. For some people, love is really just adoration. I’m convinced that understanding this can be the difference between happily ever after and the awkward, “Oh, we were just seeing each other for a bit.”
At this point you might be thinking, “Ok, I know all that but I still don’t know what this all has to do being in love without the true love element.” Stay with me, we’re getting there. If true love does exist, then how do we get equipped to deal with it when we do eventually find it?
With fewer and fewer young people getting married and staying together than ever before,(1) many are starting to question the reasons for the decline. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 2014, “Marriage was once a steppingstone to economic stability, young adults now see financial stability as a prerequisite for marriage.” In simple terms, our parents’ generation were much more prepared to lean on each other to have a combined satisfactory income. “More than a quarter of those who say they want to marry someday say they haven’t yet because they are not financially prepared.”(2) Which basically implies we’re a much more independent generation than the one before us. That being said, it’s important to remember that financial implications are just one of many reasons why young people aren’t choosing marriage. “I think it’s because we’ve realised it’s not necessarily synonymous with being in love, or symbolic of having a love that will last,” one student tells me confidently. I can’t disagree. Just under half of all marriages end in divorce, with over 30 per cent ending before the twentieth wedding anniversary (3). Whatever your personal views are on marriage, arguably it’s a tradition used by many to symbolize commitment to a relationship. However, with less and less young people seeing marriage as a worthwhile option and fewer marriages lasting, there must be something we’re missing. Are we just pursuing relationships without being prepared to get the basics right? At some point, and as luck would usually have it, after the initial “honeymoon phase” (which according to a study at the University of Pavia, Italy lasts a year) (4), most new relationships have a first test, e.g a major argument. It’s at this first test that couples should already be able to identify how or whether their ‘loving styles’ are different and/or compatible. Armed with this knowledge, and the intention to accept these differences, many couples can move forward effectively with both parties happy. Seems pretty simple, right?
So simple that in the mid 90’s Dr. Gary Chapman created The Five Love Languages, to help us understand the different ways in which people want to receive love. These are as follows:
Words of Affirmation – Saying “I love you” or words to that effect. Verbally encouraging your partner or telling them you care.
Quality Time – Periods of time where your “other half” gives you their complete and undivided attention. No mobiles or smartphones necessary.
Receiving Gifts – Physical or visual symbols of affection. Some of us respond to tangible depictions of appreciation. Someone who speaks this love language likes thoughtful, personal gifts, not necessarily price dependant. Swerve the Pandora bracelets!
Acts of Service – Doing things for a loved one, that you wouldn’t normally do to show them you care. I’ve heard restocking the fridge works wonders for some.
Physical Touch – Not restricted to sex or intimacy. If this is your love language, your partner needs to recognize what kinds of touch are pleasant and which are irritating to you. Failure to do this can inflame situations, making them worse, rather than better.
Of course these categories are not definitive and just because you usually fall under one language, doesn’t mean from time to time you cannot desire another (just to further complicate things). The Five Love Languages also do not take into consideration factors such as severity of the issue and needing “time and space,” which could be necessary by one or more parties to process or move on from a situation.
With all this in mind it’s highly unlikely that there is an easy solution or quick fix to relationship difficulties. Nor am I suggesting that just because we understand our partners’ “love language”, a relationship can’t fail for a number of other reasons. Depressing, I know.
Being brought up on colourful Disney movies and jovial US sitcoms hasn’t helped our predicament. True love looks easy to acquire and easy to maintain. Our favourite characters and on screen role models might’ve argued but eventually kissed, made up, got off the plane and lived happily ever after. I for one was adamant that a love life would be relatively smooth sailing as long as you were prepared to stay faithful and find someone who proclaimed their love for you. So uncomplicated, so straightforward and yes, so naïve. Often, the people who claim to love you the most can let you down in ways you cant possibly imagine. Don’t dismiss it, it happens.
The vast majority of us will admit to wasting time on people who only claimed to want what’s best for us or love us. People who were completely lacking in the most basic principles of any relationship i.e. honesty, loyalty etc. In my own experience, these individuals had no interest in learning to speak my “love language”. Always prioritising their wants over the relationship need (whether they actually realised this or not). Just because you convince yourself that you’re a “good person” or you’re “ready for a relationship” doesn’t mean that it’s true. Be honest with yourself and those you claim to love, if you can’t you’re setting yourself up for failure. Hindsight can often be the best mentor, learning from your past and acting accordingly invites room for stronger, healthier, future relationships.
To my mind, a relationship can be any length and be between anyone of any gender, race etc. However, if you intend on making one last, it might just be a good idea to decide whether you’re willing and ready to factor in your partner’s needs and not solely your own. If you aren’t and their needs differ, then maybe you’re not compatible. Or even more deeply, you’re not ready to pursue an adult relationship, no matter how old you are.
Some might call me a pessimist or say I’m negative, I’m not. I’m just a realist. Why insist on pursuing love without the true love element?