Use the Five Love Languages to Deepen Your Relationship
What are love languages?
Looking for new ways to understand and connect with your partner? Dr. Gary Chapman's Love Languages is a helpful framework to identify your and your partner's preferred ways to communicate, receive, and experience love.
How do the five types manifest?
The five categories of love languages are words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Below are some examples of each:
Should you speak your language or your partner's? Can you do both?
It is important to understand both your and your partner's love languages. Understanding your love language helps you share with your partner what they can do to really light you up. Understanding your partner's love language helps you understand what to do for them that makes the greatest impact. Understanding their love language also helps you see and appreciate their good intentions even if they miss the mark. For example, if gift-giving is not your love language but it is your partner's, you can interpret them giving you a thoughtful gift as their way of saying "I love you." You can translate their behavior accurately and show appreciation for the gesture rather than dismissing the gift because it is not your main love language.
If your partner is consistently missing the mark, you can provide gentle feedback and encouragement. For example, if you feel the most loved and cared for when your partner gives you compliments in front of others or when they send you sweet text messages throughout the day, tell them how much that means to you each time they do it. The positive feedback helps them understand you better and gives them a map into your heart. Acknowledging and thanking them when they speak your love language will increase the chance that they will do it again.
Why is knowing your love language and your partner's useful?
As a couples therapist, I introduce love languages as a helpful framework for my couples to understand that we all express, receive and experience love differently. What is very meaningful for one partner may not be meaningful, or even distasteful, to another. I have also used love languages to help parents understand how to love and support their children better.
Our love languages are shaped by our personalities, preferences, culture, intersecting identities, family history, upbringing, and life experiences. There is no right or wrong way to communicate and receive love. For example, as an Asian American woman who grew up in both China and the United States, I learned that acts of service were how my grandparents said "I love you" but my friends and romantic partners use physical touch or words of affirmation to express their love and affection. Understanding how others express their love helps me interpret their intentions accurately. Understanding how I prefer to receive love helps my loved ones care for me in the ways that matter the most to me.
What is the ultimate goal of love languages?
I often share with my couples that there is a difference between feeling love toward someone and making them feel loved in the ways that they want and need. When you accurately tune into your partner's preferences and needs, you make them feel seen, heard, and special to you. Getting their love language "right" creates a foundation of trust and intimacy in the relationship. When there is a foundation of trust and intimacy, a history of accurate understanding of your partner's needs and wants, and a track record of clear communication, you and your partner can create a lens of positivity through which you see each other. Through the lens of positivity, moments of frustration and misunderstanding can be easily overcome because there is a pervasive sense of safety, care, and attunement in the relationship. You and your partner can feel like you are on the same wavelength and on the same team.
Deepen Your Relationship with the Help of a Ballard Couples Therapist
Are you struggling to understand your partner's love language? Are you having trouble connecting with each other and feeling deeply loved and cared for by each other? Are you no longer experiencing the spark of romance in your relationship? Disconnection and miscommunication is common in dating and marriage but you do not have to struggling through it alone. You can find greater trust and intimacy with your partner in couples counseling the help of one of our excellent couples therapists. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with us today to see if we are a good fit for you.
Effective Strategies to Connect Deeply With Your Partner
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has proven to be effective at mending marriages and relationships. Dr. Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, condenses twenty years of experience and wisdom into her book Hold Me Tight. I’ve been curious to learn more about this method of therapy, and finally picked up the book for myself. As a non-therapist, here are some helpful strategies that I learned from this book to stop the cycle of blame and resentment in a relationship and rebuild that trust and security.
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Dr. Johnson shows what emotionally focused couples therapy can look and feel like through examples from seven couples. I found the conversations of each couple the most fascinating. We see the gradual process of couples learning to dig deeper, to not concern themselves with the argument on the surface but rather the emotions that are hidden beneath. Here are a few steps that I took away to start forming a deeper connection in romantic relationships.
Check In with Yourself, and Choose Each Other
When you find yourself getting overwhelmed or frustrated at your partner, take a moment to stop and reflect. This can be hard in the beginning. These patterns can be set in practice for months or years without realizing it. You’ll find yourself talking in terms of “me” vs. “you," and getting lost in defensive or critical statements. I have been victim to this pattern many times. Acknowledging the cycle of critique/defense is the first step to breaking it. Recognize that you are both on the same team, and that your partner is not the enemy. Take a step back and ask yourself, “What are we really arguing about?”
Own Up to Your Actions
The next step is to acknowledge your shortcomings. Be honest about what you are struggling with. This can let the other person know that you are invested in being on the same team, rather than who is “right” or “wrong." It is valuable to discuss how fights are triggered without judging each other. When you acknowledge your behavior, it allows your partner to safely go deeper.
Share Your Feelings
Clarifying and sharing your feelings is the core of great couples therapy. In the beginning, it can feel uncomfortable or even frightening. But sharing your feelings in a safe space will allow your partner to understand you better. It’s okay to admit that you feel angry or isolated. It is okay if the feelings are confusing. Try to communicate how you felt about your partner’s actions. “When you don’t do the dishes, I feel like you’re not hearing me. I feel like you don’t care about me.” That last sentence is the key. When you are upset that the dishes aren’t being done, it can come from a place of past hurt or insecurity. Together, you can work together to validate and provide support from common ground.
Even if you’re not currently in a monogamous, romantic relationship, this book is still deserving of a read. Everyone has important connections with others that need time and care to look after. I found myself relating to a lot of the patterns mentioned, even in my platonic relationships. The word that comes to mind when I think of Dr. Johnson’s message is simply: hopeful. You can feel how much hope and trust she has in any couple that walks through her door.
Start Couples Counseling in Ballard
Do you find yourself stuck in a cycle of conflict and miscommunication with your partner? At Thrive for the People, our licensed therapists can help you re-establish a strong, secure, loving bond in your relationship. Our therapists use Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy as their main approach to working with couples. Together they can help you and your partner create lasting change. If you’re feeling lost, and looking for additional support, schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with us today.
Healthy Communication in a Relationship – Ask for What You Want
Asking for what you want and need in a clear, direct, honest, and courageous way is one of the keys to healthy communication and relationship dynamics and yet one of the hardest things to do. I have struggled with it personally for a long time. Raised as an Asian American woman, being assertive felt counter to my upbringing and cultural values. Yet I have learned over time, as Dr. Brené Brown puts it, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”
To be clear and direct can fit into my cultural values when I do it with thoughtfulness, skillfulness, kindness, and compassion. In this blog post, I will offer some effective strategies to ask for what you want in your relationship to maximize the chance that your partner will hear and understand you clearly and accurately. Let's first identify some of the myths of healthy communication.
Myths of Healthy Communication
Fears of Being Direct and Assertive
Some of the doubts and fears that often come up when we practice being direct, honest, and clear are:
Sound familiar? I have these thoughts running through my mind too. When these thoughts get too loud, instead of asking directly, I might hint at my needs, use criticism or passive aggressive behaviors to express my needs, tell myself that it is better not to depend on others, and/or bury my needs to the point that I cannot recognize them anymore. Instead of building a healthy relationship dynamic, I may end up unconsciously and unintentionally self-sabotaging my relationship.
The skillful ways to ask for what you want and need maximizes the chance that the other person can hear it accurately and want to fulfill it. This way of asking is not demanding, intimidating, aggressive, critical, burdening, or obligatory. It is not setting ultimatums, escalating emotionally, using guilt and shame, or persuading the other person. When you are clear, direct, and confident in what you want, you give the other person the opportunity to come closer to yo, to understand you better, to step up into their higher self, and to care for you in ways that are meaningful to you. Below are the five strategies to ask for what you want in a healthy way that challenges the myths of healthy communication in a relationship. These strategies come from Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Non-Violent Communication, and Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills.
1. Assume Good Intentions
Start the conversation by assuming good intentions about the other person. An unhelpful strategy to ask for what you want is to assume that the other person has not met your needs so far out of bad intention or not caring. In my work as an Emotionally Focused couples therapist, I often hear one partner say, “If they cared about me, they would have known to do x, y, or z.” By starting off this way, the listener is already on the defense about their intentions. Instead, try starting the conversation with the following:
2. Express Your Emotions
Expressing your emotions can help de-escalate and clarify miscommunication. The first step is to calm and soothe yourself and become clear about what you are feeling on the surface as well as at a deeper level. For instance, you might be feeling frustrated, resentful, bitter, and angry on the surface with your partner for not seeing your contribution or valuing your efforts. At a deeper level, there might be feelings of fear of rejection, fear of not being good enough, fear of abandonment, and feeling unseen, taken advantage of, and unworthy. Expressing both the surface emotions and the deeper emotions with vulnerability and authenticity can help to soften your partner and allow them to see the hurt inside that is in need of comfort, compassion, care, and protection.
3. Give Others the Gift of Caring for You
Reframe a request as a gift for your partner: a chance to see the map into your heart. Most likely, your partner wants to care for you and is looking for opportunities to express how much you mean to them. They will not be able to read your mind and they might need some help to understand you better. When your partner knows that something delights you, makes you feel loved and supported, it is setting them up for success to do that more often. Give them the opportunity to succeed with you by directly and gently letting them know what you like, what you would love to see more of, what brings you joy, and how you feel the most cared for. It is a privilege and a gift for your partner to be able to care and love you in the ways that matters to you.
4. Accept When They Say “No”
Sometimes you may hesitate to ask for what you want directly because you are afraid of rejection or being “too much” if the other person cannot fulfill your needs. You can decrease the stakes and risks of asking by identifying other ways to get your needs met. For example, if your partner is not available to listen to you right now and they say “no,” can you call a friend to talk instead? If your partner is not able to care for the children right now, can you hire a childcare provider instead? Feeling that you are empowered and have agency to meet your own needs makes it easier to accept a “no.” Just because your partner is not available or able to meet your request right now does not invalidate your need or want.
5. Express Gratitude When They Say “Yes”
Expressing gratitude and praise is the most effective way to increase the chance that a behavior will happen again. Humans are very responsive to positive reinforcement. When your partner gets instant feedback that what they did is on the right track, that it mattered to you, it had the intended response that they were hoping for, and that it made you happy, they are much more likely to do it again in the future. When your partner says “yes” to your request, delivers what you had asked for, spontaneously does something that makes you feel wonderful, let them know early and often that they are on the right path into your heart. Over time, your partner will internalize the feedback. When their behavior becomes a habit, you won’t have to express gratitude each and every time for them to continue doing what they know will make you happy and contribute to a healthy relationship.
Begin Couples Therapy in Our Ballard Office or Through Online Therapy
If the idea of working on these effective communication strategies feels taunting or overwhelming to do on your own, our competent and compassionate therapists can provide extra support and accountability through individual or couples counseling. We can help you dig deep into your current communication patterns, self-sabotaging behaviors, and stuck places in your relationship. We can guide you toward effective communication strategies to create more intimate, healthy, secure, and thriving relationships with your partner. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with us today.
Three Strategies for Feeling Deeply Connected
One of the topics that has been gaining more wide-spread attention lately is loneliness. Studies have found that loneliness can have detrimental effects on our health by impacting our healthy behaviors, cardiovascular system, stress hormones, and sleep patterns. Loneliness can impact our immune system, experience of pain, and ultimately, how long we live. Loneliness is an all too common experience in the U.S. and it is on the rise. The former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy called loneliness an epidemic. A study conducted by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) in 2018 found that 22% of Americans "always or often feel lonely, or lack companionship, or else feel left out or isolated." Given how many of us feel lonely and how damaging loneliness can be, I want to offer some strategies to combat loneliness and create deeper connections.
Acknowledge and Understand Your Feelings
One of the first steps in addressing loneliness is to identify when it is happening and what it is trying to tell you. Does loneliness feel like an ache in your heart, a coldness in your chest, a restlessness in your body, a tension in your shoulders, a craving for food or substances, a sense of boredom, or something different? For example, I feel a drop in my stomach when I am feeling lonely that makes me want to reach for comfort food or turn on an episode of my favorite Netflix show. Understanding that this is loneliness rather than true hunger or boredom helps me pause and acknowledge this feeling rather than automatically go for the things that will numb this feeling.
Once you've identify loneliness, ask yourself why you are feeling lonely. There could be many different reasons. This article by Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, outlines seven different reasons for loneliness. For example, we could be surrounded by friends and family and yet feel lonely because these relationships do not offer us the depth or intimacy that we crave. Take some time to reflect and ask yourself, "What is really missing in my life?"
Identify Relationships That are Meaningful
A recent study of 1,839 U.S. adults confirmed that the quality of relationships matters more than quantity. Therefore, it is important to know which relationships are meaningful and worthy of your investment. A meaningful relationship is one that:
In order to find and establish more meaningful relationships, you must be willing to be brave and risk being rejected and reject others who are not a good fit for you. In the process of searching for and developing these deeply fulfilling relationships, you could feel disappointed, hurt, even betrayed by opening yourself up to someone. Know that you are not alone in this process and that the reward is so very worth it. You can take small steps toward intimacy and connection by being gentle and kind toward yourself, making eye contact with a stranger, asking a friend about their past or something they are struggling with, listening and extending your empathy, sharing something vulnerable and true, asking someone to help you with a task, offering to help or care for someone or an animal, scheduling times to connect in-person, and offering physical contact (e.g., a hug).
How you do address feelings of loneliness in your life? Please share with me in the comment section below.
Counseling in Ballard
Are you looking for some extra help and support to overcome feelings of loneliness and create more meaningful relationships in your life? The right therapist can help you understand what is holding you back from making the changes you need to make to create community and belonging. We are a team of compassionate and skilled therapists who specialize in relationships. You can schedule a 15 minute phone consultation to see if we are the right fit for you.
Self-Sabotage of Relationships - Healing and Repair
In the last blog post, I talked about awareness and understanding of self-sabotaging behaviors in romantic relationships. In this blog post, I will focus on some things that you can do to begin to heal and repair this pattern of self-sabotage. The first step, as I mentioned in the last blog post, is to identify why you might be engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors. Understanding the why can help you recognize that this coping strategy is no longer needed or helpful in the present and therefore, it might make it easier to let it go. Here are a few more practices to consider on your healing journey to create satisfying, nourishing and long-lasting relationships:
Part of practicing self-compassion is recognizing that you are not alone in your relationship struggles. Many people have struggled with self-sabotaging behaviors and have felt confused, angry, or even disgusted with their behaviors and the impact they had on their partners. You are not alone, weird, or bad for struggling with self-sabotage in romantic relationships. Another part of self-compassion is to treat yourself the way that you would treat your closest friends and family members. We are often much more critical and harsh toward ourselves than we are toward others. It might be helpful to practice self-compassion by imagining what you might say to a friend who is struggling in the same way.
Own Your Stuff
One of the most difficult tasks in a relationship is to own our contributions to the relationship dynamic. It is easy to point fingers at our spouse or partner. It is tempting to place all the blame on them. Or, equally destructive, we can take on all the blame and absolve our spouse or partners of their responsibilities. It is much harder to take an objective position and see the relationship dynamic as a co-created problem to be solved by both partners. We can practice self-compassion while taking full responsibility for what we have done. Healing and repairing our self-sabotaging behaviors is an opportunity to learn something important about ourselves and our partners. We can ask our partners to work through this stuck place with us in order to create deeper intimacy in the relationship.
Confront Your Fears
We might struggle with self-sabotage in romantic relationships because we are afraid. Afraid of not being good enough, of not deserving of being treated with respect and love, of committing to someone long term, of being hurt again, of having someone really know us, of being authentic, of being vulnerable, of disappointing someone, or being abandoned, etc. Confronting our fears mean that we acknowledge what is scary and we make an intentional decision to move forward with our fears. We can take a risk with our heart knowing that nothing in a relationship is certain and that pain is a part of the self-discovery and growth process. We can take that leap of faith to really let our partners in and let ourselves love them fully, and in that process, love ourselves more fully as well. Instead of acting from a place of fear, we can practice acting from a place of love. Ask yourself, “What would I do differently if I loved my partner as an imperfect human being, independent of what they can do to satisfy me?” In addition, ask yourself, “What would I do differently if I loved myself as an imperfect human being who is deserving and worthy?"
Counseling in Seattle, WA
Are you tired of sabotaging relationships by engaging in behaviors you know may drive the other person away? Do you feel ready to embark on this journey to let go of your old narrative but worry that you need a little extra support? Maybe you want the accountability of working with a therapist, or you've gotten stuck in the past when you've tried to change your behavior in relationships. Getting some extra help from a counselor may give you the extra boost you need to break this old cycle.
Here at Thrive for the People, we have several exceptional licensed counselors and psychologists who specialize in working with relationship concerns. We understand that self-sabotaging behaviors is the result of past trauma. Our trauma specialists can help you get to the core of what is preventing you from having a successful relationship. We help individuals and couples in the Seattle area with a wide range of mental health concerns at our Ballard counseling office and online. We offer trauma-informed therapy and can also work with you on improving your relationship through counseling. We look forward to hearing from you. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation or contact us for more information.
Caring for Others While Caring for Yourself
One of the struggles that I often see with my clients, my friends, and within myself is the balance between caring for others and caring for ourselves. The dilemma of whose-needs-come-first is one that I am intimately familiar with as an Asian American woman. Both as a woman and as an Asian American, I was taught from a young age to put the needs of others before my own as the highest virtue. It sometimes feels impossible to give to myself what I so readily give to others (e.g., time, attention, compassion, love, rest).
The reasons why it is so hard to balance self-care and caring for others can include: there isn't enough time or energy to do both, I would be selfish if I focused on my needs, I don't really deserve to be cared for, and I feel loved only when I am needed. What I have learned over time is that always putting other people's needs before my own is not a sustainable way to live and it is the fastest way to reach burn out, resentment, and the ending of a relationship. In this blog post, I want to present a different way of thinking about this struggle. Instead of framing it as an impossible and unending dilemma, it might be helpful to see it as a stage of growth and development that is very normal and very human.
Caring for Yourself and Others
Dr. Carol Gilligan, a famous a psychologist best known for her work on gender, proposed a model of moral development that can provide some insight into this struggle. Her model of moral development included three stages.
Although Dr. Gilligan's model was created for women, I think this applies to people of all genders. I now see the struggle to prioritize self-care vs. caring for others as a valuable, albeit painful, period of growth for people who identify as givers, healers, and fixers. Eventually, with some deep self-reflection, vulnerability, courage, and support from others (friends, family, therapists), people can reach the third stage. In my own growth and development, I have come to a place where I genuinely believe that I deserve to be care for. I am not doing anyone any favors by being selfless all the time and therefore burnt out and resentful. Although I still fall back into prioritizing others over myself at times, I am much better at recognizing when I do and reminding myself that I matter too.
Counseling in Seattle, WA
Do you struggle with prioritizing others' needs before your own? Are you struggling with finding a balance of caring for others while still taking care of yourself? Therapy can help. Here at Thrive for the People, we specialize in working with helpers, givers, and fixers who are ready to break their old patterns and create mutually nourishing relationships. Get started today by scheduling a free 15-minute consultation.