One of the biggest reasons that couples come to counselling is one or both partners feeling unloved.

Lots of people – particularly those who’ve been with their partners for a long time and have been doing things the same way for a while – come for help because they feel their partner never expresses appreciation or affection and, as a result, they don’t feel wanted or cared for.

But often, the problem is as much to do with how affection is being expressed as anything else.

We all have different ways of showing someone that we care about them. This could be called your ‘love language’.

The five ‘love languages’

The main ‘love languages’ people use are:

Most people have one or two main ‘love languages’ that they ‘speak’ – through which they express affection – and that they most appreciate and understand when ‘spoken’ to them.

So someone who feels that spending quality time together is the most natural way of expressing and developing affection might really appreciate it if their partner puts aside an evening for them to go on a date or have dinner. Or someone who feels close to their partner when being touched physically might really enjoy a back rub.

Likewise, we usually have one or two ways of expressing affection that don’t mean all that much to us – perhaps receiving gifts doesn’t really do it for you, or you can go a little longer without dedicated quality time. 

Where do we learn our ‘love language’?

How we express affection is often heavily influenced by what we learnt growing up. If your family liked spending lots of quality time together, for instance, you might value the same things in a partner. If there was embarrassment at expressing feelings verbally or physically, this may continue into adulthood. But there are no real hard and fast rules – we may make a choice to do things differently in our adult relationships. In the end, we express affection the way we do because that’s what makes the most sense to us.

When you speak different languages

If you and your partner are speaking different ‘love languages’ without realising it, that’s when there can be room for miscommunication – and dissatisfaction.

You might both end up feeling like the other doesn’t say or do anything to show they care, and may end up wondering whether they care at all.

For instance, if someone really values kind acts, but their partner’s way of expressing love is, say, buying gifts, they may feel like they aren’t having their needs met. Likewise, their partner may feel the bunch of flowers they bought the other day was a really nice way of showing they care, but was put out by their partner’s underwhelmed reaction.

Over time, this kind of miscommunication can really drive a wedge in a relationship. Both partners may start to feel they’re doing all they can, but that it’s still not enough to make each other happy. As a result, they can start to feel bitter and resentful.  

How can you address this?

For a relationship to be healthy you both need to understand each other’s needs.  

You and your partner may need to explore how you both feel most comfortable expressing – and receiving – affection.  If you think you might find this conversation difficult, you might like to think about the following:

For lots of couples, discovering that they and their partner are speaking different love languages is a real lightbulb moment. They might have been feeling miles apart, but suddenly realise they do love each other – it’s just that the messages haven’t been getting through.

How we can help

If you’re finding it hard to talk about any tricky issues, Relationship Counselling, offers a safe and confidential space where you can be open and honest.

To find out more and to arrange an appointment contact us today