Touch Me, Tease Me
This new age of online dating has interesting trends. One of which is the frequency of the five love languages coming up in conversations. It's become an element of the dating profiles some men write. I am guessing that is another way to demonstrate that they are sensitive to what women need while also sharing what they want for themsleves. I have even been stumped in a conversation when someone asked me point blank, what my love language is.
In 2007 Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book on the 5 love languages. He has since blown up as an author, speaker, and become a best seller. Human beings are intrigued by how love works and how to make it sustainable. We want to be loved and love others. I recall hearing about the book and its message early in my marriage but didn't give it much thought. In his book Chapman shares that people express and receive love in five different ways, called love languages: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. I never thought there was a need to know my love language when the person I was married to couldn't be bothered to speak it. However, now I need to think about not only what my love language is, but I need to understand why it's important to me to recognize how the absence of it may trigger me.
I recently read an article that stated our need for being shown love in certain ways stems from the absence of that in our childhood. So if your childhood had an absence of caring words and hearing that you were loved, you need that fulfillment to be present in a relationship. I don't disagree with this idea, but I think it can be more complex than that. For some people it's not that they missed that form of love, but what it provided for them when it was present. Understanding how we want to be loved connects to what that feeling provides for us to fulfill our most basic human needs. For most of us, those needs are trust and safety.
My first love language is physical touch. My four-year-old daughter is a carbon copy of me and in many regards, I notice that her needs are similar to mine. When she is home with me, she wakes up and comes into my room to cuddle. She not only needs to be cuddled, but she also needs me to play with her hair, scratch her back, and sometimes rub her legs. All the while, she might be watching her favorite show or playing with her stuffed animals. But my physical touch calms her and makes us connected even when we might not be engaged with each other.
Physical touch is not just attention on someone's body, it's a way to feel seen and be valued. For me, it makes me feel safe and relaxed. Just like with my daughter, it's not the grandiose gestures, but the small ones that make me feel secure with someone. Holding hands, rubbing my shoulders, running your hand through my hair allows a sense of calm to wash over me. When I am being touched I know I'm not invisible. The contact with someone else gives me a feeling of safety and allows me to relax.
When that is not present, I am reminded of moments of feeling invisible and not having that physical affection in my marraige. One of the many reasons I didn't feel safe to relax and just be in my marraige. When I didn't feel safe, I was stuck in a sense of uncertainty. The uncertainty that a brief moment of touch was so rare that I had to hold on and hold still to not upset the equilibrium for it to disappear. I was uncertain if when I needed that connection I would get it. I was uncertain that I was safe enough to share these feelings with him for fear that he would dismiss them and tell me I wanted too much and was selfish for not appreciating what he was willing to give. Uncertain that shairng these feelings would result in the absence of all connection and effort on his part.
The uncertainty from a lack of physical touch snowballed into allowing him to manage and direct the feelings and actions at the moment. For a while, I would compensate by being my outgoing touchy-feely self. I inititated the hugs, rested my head on his shoulder and shared a kiss and embrace when he came home from work. But. after some time of having those efforts rebuffed or not reciprocated, I stopped. You don't continue to make effort and be vulnerable when it is dismissed and devalued.
Self-preservation required me to adapt my behavior in a way that allowed him to feel comfortable. So I sacrificed my comfort and needs. It may seem like a small thing, but touch makes me feel at ease and creates a space for me to let my guard down. After walking on eggshells for seventeen years, that's invaluable to me.
Words are powerful. They can make and break our spirits. They can take a conversation from surface to deep. Words give us direct and, in between the lines, indirect messages about how someone perceives us. Words of affirmation are also one of the love languages. I look at that with a wider lens. First, it's words that make me smile. Often that comes from humor. I value someone who can make me laugh and appreciates the presence of humor to keep things light. Having wit and seeing the hilarious moments in the world around us affirms my need for levity and taking life with stride. I also need words of affirmation that let me know you see me in my entirety.
There are some missed opportunities to show someone you care about them when we only affirm what people do for us or their physical appearance. Those are all important things to recognize and most people want that reassurance, but they also want to feel that you value them for who they are and what they add to the dynamic of your partnership. What you value about a person comes out in what you talk about with them. If you value my job, you will most likely ask me about what I do and inquire when I have a tough meeting or project. If you value how I am as a mother, you will talk to me about my children and ask how I am solving challenges with them or listen to the crazy antics I have with them. Those words matter. They build trust and make me feel safe to share the parts of myself and aspects of my life I might keep more guarded from the rest of the world. Your words can create safety for me to be vulnerable and fallible without feeling like I will be harmed or have things thrown back at me. Words of affirmation can come in many different forms, but the power to break and build people up comes with the words we choose and when we share them.
Relationships after marriage and in this second chance at life and love are more complicated than the five love languages. We are navigating not only our lives but also the previous relationships and experiences the person we are with brings as well. Knowing ourselves is the learning we have to do in order to make that work. We also need to find our rhythm and space to share what we need the other person to know about us and to build our understnading of who they are. There is an endless amount and opportunities for give and take. Still there are no guarantees.
But when things align, we may find that peace where we no longer have to ask for our needs to be met. Then possibly, the person we choose to share them with values who we are to create the intentional space that builds that foundation for safety and trust.