In love, it's not just the thought that counts.

“It’s not me, it’s you!”

“Pardon?” April replied.

“Let me explain.”

Everyone experiences love differently, and it’s easy to miss the mark when it comes to showing that you care. My girlfriend, April, and I have a Sunday sit down every week. As a new couple we talked about goals we had together, boundaries and expectations we had, and other such honeymoon phase topics of discussion. As our relationship aged, so did our conversations. The topics shifted from our fears of the future with each other, to how we can support and work together. But then… it stagnated. We didn’t quite know how to access each other anymore like we did when passion was strong, and the flame was new.

A weekly talk isn’t totally necessary for all couples, but it’s something that we decided on together. I’m a writer and performer by trade, so communication (and very precise communication) is integral to my growth as a human and in my relationships. April likewise is a performer, and runs a local theater with her family – so again, communication is huge. Why then, if we were such great communicators was our weekly sit down a chore, and not hopeful event as it once was.

Surely, after some years of wear and tenure, it had to be that the relationship was naturally dying, and it looked like we both had to accept it. Emotional bids were no longer being answered, and interest was at an all time low. Beyond that, regular conversation on a day to day basis was getting stale and irritable. April didn’t feel like she was appreciated and I didn’t feel like I was being understood. 

Some days felt like if we just spoke louder (I’m ashamed to admit a lot louder than either of us are or ever were proud of) that these problems would just cower in the corner and refuse to rear their ugly heads. The most frustrating part of all, was that we were trying. Diligently. Furiously. I was giving April my undivided attention, she was making extra efforts to be active in our relationship. We just couldn’t seem to reach each other anymore.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago at work when I was approached by a coworker. It was the holidays and people were handing out gifts. I had just started working that month, so I was still a stranger to most. As a writer, I often keep to myself (as a performer that’s an entirely different story, but that’s a blog post for another day), and I’m sure that comes off a little cold to most strangers and outside viewers. 

Enter the kindest human being of a co-worker you could ask for (we’ll call her Angel, cause that’s what she is). The interaction was brief but enlightening, rather than asking me if I was new (assumption of tenure can make people feel uncomfortable, ANOTHER blog post for another day) she said, “I don’t think we’ve met yet, I’m Angel. Happy Christmas!” And she kindly plopped down some Hot Cocoa on my desk. I replied with some fairly generic kindness that was sure to win me indifferent brownie points in most people’s books. Angel simply smiled and said, “I know. I’m weird receiving gifts too.”

“How do you mean?” I responded.

“Well like… what am I supposed to do ya know?” She laughed. “Do I have to immediately give you a gift back? Do I give you a compliment? A hug? It can just get awkward for me sometimes.”

“Yeah, totally!” I laughed back, lying through my teeth; and I was left the rest of the day to stew in what she meant. You get a gift and you’re grateful, there wasn’t much more to that, I thought. Before the work day was over, I rushed back to Angel’s desk, “Oooookay!” I laid it all out, “what do you mean I’m weird receiving gifts?”

“Well,” she contemplated, “they’re just not my love language; so I don’t quite know how to speak it. I know how to give gifts, and that’s kinda just an office thing to do during the holidays… but it’s not the love language I naturally speak, and it’s not love language I like receiving.”

One more time real quick, “…it’s not the love language I naturally speak, and it’s not love language I like receiving.”

Like Gru in “Despicable Me” – lightbulb. My heart dropped into my stomach. I was antsy the rest of the work day, I couldn’t get home fast enough. I rushed through the door, and without much thinking blurted out, “it’s not me, it’s you!”

“Pardon?” April replied.

“Let me explain. Our Sunday sit downs, they’ve not been working right?”

“Right,” she was obviously lost.

“It’s because we’re speaking in the love languages that we want to receive, not the ones that the other receives. It’s not MY love language I have to speak, it’s YOURS!”

“Love languages?” She questioned.

*Sidebar – if, like April, you have also not heard of the 5 Love Languages, check them out here. Learn how you speak and give love, learn how you receive it, and learn healthy traits of growth and communication for you and your partner. Sidebar closed.

“Yeah! Like… Touch, or time, or words of affirmation,” those are always the only three I can remember simply because mine are Time and Physical Touch.

“Kay…” She wasn’t quite on board yet. I proceeded to explain to April that every time she holds my hand in public (she’s not a fan of PDA), it means a lot to me because I know she’s purposefully speaking my love language, even though it isn’t the love language she’s most comfortable with. It’s that added effort and purposeful intention that makes the act so meaningful. 

The five love languages describe the way we feel loved and appreciated. Depending on our individual personality types, we may feel loved differently than how our partners do. Understanding and decoding these different ways of showing love will help take the guesswork out of your partner’s expectations and needs.

The next several hours unraveled like magic. April actually had no idea that meant so much to me, the hand-holding, and reminded me of the time that I brought home a journal I had found at a conference in Scotland not too long ago. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, it just fit her personality; but since Gifts is her first love language, it meant even more to her. 

We’ll refer to these acts as, “emotional bids” (I’ll talk about them in greater detail shortly). Simply put, emotional bids build trust, establish deeper connections, create safety in communication, and provide a mutual building ground that you and your partner can rely on as you grow through the stages of love and relationship.

Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, expresses that, “Being in love is an emotional and obsessive experience. However, emotions change and obsessions fade. Research indicates that the average life-span of the “in love” obsession is two years. For some, it may last a bit longer; for some, a bit less. But the average is two years. 

Then we come down off the emotional high and those aspects of life that we disregarded in our euphoria begin to become important. Our differences begin to emerge and we often find ourselves arguing with the person whom we once thought to be perfect. We have now discovered for ourselves that being in love is not the foundation for a happy marriage.”

But there’s a key component missing outside of just communicating, and it’s communicating purposefully in our spouses primary love language. We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it, if we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language. Every time we make the active choice to express our partners love language, we create an “emotional bid.” 

In a newlywed study conducted by the Gottman Institute, Dr. Gottman observed that happy couples turn towards their partners (in making and receiving emotional bids) approximately twenty times more than couples in distress during everyday, non-conflict discussions. In a newlywed study, newlyweds who were still married six years after their wedding had made emotional bids to each other 86% of the time while in the lab. Those who were divorced six years later, however, had only made emotional bids to each other 33% of the time.

The biggest culprit? The sense of misunderstanding. When making emotional bids, the bidder hears:

  • I’m interested in you.
  • I hear you.
  • I understand you (or would like to).
  • I’m on your side.
  • I’d like to help you (whether I can or not).
  • I’d like to be with you (whether I can or not).
  • I accept you (even if I don’t accept all your behavior).

Emotional bids don’t have to be words exclusively. They can be anything simple from watching a movie, to a road trip, to volunteering. Some act that speaks your partner’s love language. That’s where Gary Chapman and the 5 Love Languages come in. 

By speaking in one of your partner’s native love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch – not only are the emotional bids more meaningful, but they become easier to make, and respond to. When we change our ability to speak, we influence the behavior on how we communicate. 

These are resources that both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Gottman agree help strengthen your relationship and marriage and help “…you and your partner … feel that you are in control and dramatically increase the stability of your relationship.”

Needless to say, since April and I have spoken not how we want to speak, but how we understand the other receives, emotional bids are an all time high, and so is our relationship. From Greta Gerwig’s adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:

Marmee March: Do you love him?

Jo March: If he asked me again I think I would say yes. Do you think he’ll ask me again?

Marmee March: But do you love him?

Jo March: I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.

Marmee March: That is not the same as loving.

When it comes to communication, it’s not just the thought that counts, it is the loving, the active act of choosing your partner. Being loved, is not the same as loving. Speak not just your love language, but your partners as well. See how it extends beyond just you and your partner, see how you can speak others love languages at work, with family, at worship, or even among friends. You’ll find you think less of yourself, and you become bold in who, and how you appreciate, communicate, and love.

P.S. – did you know that Dr Chapman also has 5 Languages of Apology? None of us are perfect, but accepting responsibility, expressing regret, making restitution, genuine repentance, and asking forgiveness can make the healing process easier to bear, and help you and your partner continue to maintain control, and grow together in rich, deep, and powerful ways!