Universal Ethics > Thought of the Month > January 2020

There are multiple ways to communicate love.

The topic for this month is important for everyone, but especially important for couples who have committed to love each other forever. Typically a marriage begins with a period of romance, in which the partners find their relationship to be a delightful improvement over the life they had held before. During that time, which may last a year or two, they each put in an extra effort to please each other, and also they effectively wear "rose coloured glasses" that hide their partners faults from them.

As time passes, however, they may revert to their former habits, which did not involve taking such action to please another person, nor to overlook faults. This can be a gradual and subtle change that each person does not notice within himself (or herself). They may each begin to feel disillusioned, thinking that perhaps their partner doesn't love them as much. This can degrade into episodes of accusing words, which erodes their love further. Often each partner thinks they are treating their spouse just fine, and they feel frustrated that their behavior that seemed OK before is no longer acceptable.

In such cases, each of the partners may assume that he (or she) is following the Golden Rule, to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." However, the problem is that each of them is missing an important corollary to that rule: the need to accommodate differing desires. If you give someone else a favor that is something you want (something "you would have them do unto you") that is not the same as giving them something they want.

So, you have to go beyond the basic rule and consider this: The way you want to be treated is to be given the help you want, not the help that someone would want for themselves. So if you are treating others the way you want to be treated, you don't give them the gifts you seek; instead you give them the gifts they seek.

One very important way to communicate love is through speech, such as to complement one's spouse rather than continually criticizing. But that is not the only way to communicate love, and in many cases their spouse is looking for some particular "actions that speak louder than words." Without that they feel disappointed and insecure.

It is fairly common for each partner to lose track of what their spouse really wants. Maybe they never really understood it in the past, but at first (during the romantic period) they were both willing to overlook things that won't be overlooked forever.

In the best-selling book "The 5 love languages", the author Gary Chapman explains that to maintain love beyond the romantic period, each partner has to learn to express love in ways that matters to their partner. He explains that:

"Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other."

He identifies 5 things that individuals look for as expressions of love, which he calls "love languages". They are:

Each individual will want most of these things, but they place emphasis on them in different proportions. Typically one of them will stand out for any given individual, as that person's "primary love language." Moreover, because there are 5 "languages" spread roughly equally through the population, the odds are pretty high that each of the two partners will have a different primary love language. So to have a lasting, loving relationship, you need to learn your partner's primary love language.

One way to determine your partner's "primary love language" is through clues, or simply just to ask them about it. Gary's book identifies what to watch for, and also he offers a free "love languages" assessment on his web site. See:

Once you recognize how your partners desires may differ from your own, the next step is to identify specific actions you can take that will appeal to the other person. Many of these things are not obvious, so it helps to have a dialog between you about your "love languages." Each of you can list what "expressions of love" you already appreciate from your partner, and what other things you would wish for.

Another point the author emphasizes in his book is that Love is a Choice (in fact, it's the title of a chapter). When you chose your partner, most likely you thought that he (or she) was an extra special person at the time. Such a person is not easy to find. Sometimes people think they can do better to find someone else, but the odds are against them: second marriages are more likely to fail than first marriages. So, if you made a good choice but are drifting a part, in most cases the best strategy is to choose love with the partner you've got. If you express love in ways that matter to your partner, in most cases they will reciprocate. The result for each of the partners is something that every human wants: to feel secure that they are loved.

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