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Building Relationships

Relationships are what make our lives rich. These may include romantic relationships, but just as important are our relationships with friends, family, loved ones, people at work and even the people we relate to on a daily basis – whether we know them or not. We also have a relationship with ourselves, and some have a very important relationship with a Higher Power.


The premise of The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, is that we all have different ways of expressing ourselves in relationships. We learn a love language as we grow up, but then we may learn other ones as we grow a bit older and independent of our families. People will automatically give love in the way they're used to receiving it, or in the way they like to receive it, and that can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings and conflict.


Chapman's Five Love Languages are: words of affirmation (kind, loving statements about the other person), quality time (spending time together and being attentive to the other person), receiving gifts (small or large, gifts that are meaningful to the person receiving them), acts of service (taking care of things for the other person) and physical touch (small gestures, sexual intimacy, massages or a simple pat on the shoulder).


Do you know which love language you speak? More importantly, do you know how the other people in your life feel loved?

I see a lot of potential applications for this work, but in particular in relationships between parents and kids. I've heard of children feeling rejected when their parents don't spend time with them, because they crave the love language of quality time. Meanwhile, their parents speak the love language of receiving gifts, so they send gifts regularly as their way of expressing love. Talk about getting your wires crossed! Communication is misfiring and no one's needs are being met.


Getting right with your relationships is not just important in February and on Valentine's Day. Relationship problems are commonly an underlying issue behind eating disorders and other substance abuse problems, problems at work, and difficult emotions such as depression, frustration and anger. When your love language is not being spoken, when your love needs are not being met, it may be challenging to find success in any area of your life.


Identifying a disconnection in your relationships can actually be a huge relief. Because once you have, you can start the process of learning how to understand each other better; how to give the other person what they need and ask for what you need.


Here are some things to keep in mind as you're preparing to have this kind of conversation:


  • Write out your thoughts before you say a word – journaling always helps to get clearer about what's going on for you
  • Read over your words, meditate and give yourself some time to be sure it's what you want to say
  • Consult with a trusted friend or family member, mentor or therapist for an objective, supportive opinion
  • Rehearse with a friend, or in front of the mirror, before the actual conversation
  • Plan the conversation for a time that feels peaceful, when you can both give your full attention
  • Express your appreciation for what the other person has been doing – show them you understand that in their love language, it was a loving act
  • Tell them what you need them to do instead of what they've been doing, or in addition to it
  • End with an expression of gratitude and appreciation for your relationship


Note how you've "bookended" the part of the conversation that might be most challenging – the part where you're offering constructive suggestions and asking them to do something differently. Before and after that, you're expressing positive thoughts, gratitude and appreciation. That can go a long way to getting your message heard.


In order to have the deep relationships that sustain us and bring meaning to our lives, we need to find that common ground of communication and mutual expression of love. When problems crop up in your relationship, it's so crucial to get to the bottom of your communication problems and start speaking the same language. Whether you sort it out in family therapy or on your own, it's well worth the effort.