Learning each other’s love language


Great sex starts with conversation in the kitchen.

Or in the dining room, or laundry room, or over appetizers at the Med.

For couples to thrive in the bedroom, they need to be able to communicate their needs, wants and desires before they even take off clothes. But talking about sex is not an easy task.

We continue our thread this month with comfortable approaches to talking about sex, focusing this week on our romantic partners. I want to start by introducing Gary Chapman, author of the revolutionary book The Five Love Languages. Whether you have been together two months, two years, or two decades, relationship success — in and out of the bedroom — will depend on how well you can speak each other’s love language.

Couples come together because they have an innate chemistry, or they share interests, or someone gets pregnant, or it was an arranged marriage. The impetus is irrelevant. Staying together and making it work is what matters. So how can we build love, deepen love, and translate that love to the bedroom?

We start by learning to speak each other’s love language.

Imagine you speak English and Spanish, and a touch of Italian. You have successfully toured the world speaking these languages and now you want to travel to Thailand. You have heard great things about the Thai people, the food, the land, the culture. You have completely fallen in love with Thailand and you can’t wait to board that plane. But once you are there, you find that the local people are struggling to understand English, Spanish and Italian. You have all the best intentions, and they likewise dig your energy, but you still don’t speak Thai, and they don’t speak your languages either.

This is how many couples exist for many years. They love each other profoundly, but they are like ships passing in the night because they communicate “I love you” with very different styles.

In no particular order, and with no judgment of one language being better or more valuable than the other, the five languages are as follows:

Love language one: Physical Touch.

This person speaks “I love you” by touching, cuddling, kissing, holding hands, or snuggling on the couch. While sexual or sensual touch is pleasing, this language is about the touch of affection.

Love language two: Quality Time.

This person speaks “I love you” by carving out time to spend together. This can entail going on a trip, or taking a walk in the park. These people often like a lot of time together, but basically thrive on just sharing space with their loved one.

Love language three: Words of Affirmation. This person speaks “I love you” by speaking the words out loud. These people often like sharing compliments and affirmations. “I love you” can be heard via “How handsome you look today,” and “Great job at work; you are so smart.”

Love language four: Acts of Service.

This person speaks “I love you” by doing the dishes, cleaning the garage, taking out the trash and buffing the car. These people may enjoy spending time, touching and hearing “I love you” spoken aloud, but they feel most loved when their partner shows them through an act of service — an act of love.

Love language five: Material Gifts.

This person speaks “I love you” by giving gifts — flowers, chocolate, cards, earrings, a Porsche 911. Receiving love from the material world feels very concrete and safe, and thus this language is often very popular.

Of course, at this point you may be thinking, “I am so talented, I speak all five!” And maybe you can say “hello,” “bathroom” and “beer” in all five, but we are usually fluent in just one. Selecting which one may have been very easy for you. Other people piece together which language they speak by which language they most often give to their partner. And if you still don’t have a clue, plot out five weeks on your calendar. Then dedicate one week to each language to test which one is most well-received. Finally, start learning that vocabulary. Even if you speak very different love languages, as most couples do, learning the language of the other can revolutionize your relationship. It’s like going back to Thailand and speaking Thai. How delicious is the country, now that you can experience it as a local rather than just a tourist.

Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.