Many of us grow up learning to love and to be loved. Through our experiences with whatever we learn to identify as love, a feeling, an act of care, gestures of reciprocity, we all develop different forms of expression for it. Yet, these forms of expression or love languages aren’t always readily understood by those we love. Therefore, how to express your feelings for your loved ones can be very challenging, even if there is more than enough love to go around.
How to understand your love language?
The key to finding ways to express your love to someone is understanding your own conception of love. A good starting point is to reflect on what you think love is and where your notions of love come from and understand the different types of intimacy that help you feel loved.
Our families are often the first places we encounter an idea of love or even lovelessness as children. Looking at how your family expressed love and affection can give you insights into how you do. Was love expressed primarily in the form of caregiving acts? Was exhibiting physical affection a norm? Was it expressed verbally often or in the form of affirmations? Were communication and understanding considered central to loving someone?
The answers to these questions can help you identify similar patterns in your forms of expression. Maybe your love language involves large gestures, or maybe it’s more rooted in day-to-day acts of care and affection. Maybe you are very vocal about your love and physically affectionate regularly, or maybe you express it in bursts from time to time.
Whatever your patterns are, identifying them can not only help you understand how you express love, but also how you picture receiving it, and what aspects of your love language may not be obvious to your partner. Conversely, you might also gain some insight into the differences between your partner’s ways of expressing love and yours.
Figuring Out Your Partner’s Love Language
As important as self-reflection is, it is also equally necessary to try to figure out your partner’s ideas of love. We’re often brought up thinking of love in grand abstractions of limitless joy, but we rarely talk of defining it in a more concrete way.
This is, in fact, essential to discover ways to not only express your love for someone but also nurture it and broaden its scope. Find out what your partner thinks love is, how their loved ones express it, how they feel loved, and how they express it themselves. Talking to them about love can help you both identify where gaps are in your collective understanding of love and help you figure out what works for whom.
Broadening the Horizons of Love
Regardless of whether we grow up in a loving environment or not, we all develop different ideas of what love is and what we yearn for. However, for many people, what exactly we want to make us feel loved remains unclear consciously. We perhaps experience a lack of love in our lives, but don’t know what would fill the void.
This can even be felt in committed, loving relationships, despite there being no absence of feeling. Again, the reason is a particular definition of love, a particular language of expressing it, and no reconciliation of the difference with your partner. We assume we mean the same thing when we say “I love you”, but we seldom do.
In many families, love is as much bound by feeling as it is my duty. And it is expressed in the form of caregiving, which can often become restrictive and actually hurt the person you love. Love is more than just care, more than just verbal expression, more than just grand gestures. It is just as much practice, effort, and hard work rooted in empathy. But our own definitions tend to focus on one aspect or the other disproportionately, depending on how we grew up learning to love.
To broaden our understanding of love, it is essential to learn more from ourselves and our partners and from those who have written about love or are willing to talk about it. Talk to your friends and family about what love means for them, read authors who have written about what it means to love, explore other forms of love, be they grounded in people or in nature or spirituality. The more you learn about the breadth of ways to love, the more your own understanding will shift and be able to address those who speak a different love language.
What Could Ways of Expressing Love Be?
As we have discussed thus far, there is no one way to love, nor is there one way to show it, but to give you a sense of the different love languages out there, here are some examples of how to express your feelings to someone you love:
- Acts of Care: This is one of the most common ways of expressing love. When you love someone, you can often show it by taking care of them when they’re sick, making sure their day-to-day needs are met and that they are safe. Although this is definitely a large part of loving someone, it is not sufficient on its own and should not be done in a way to restrict your partner.
- Emotional Support: While it feels good to be taken care of and have someone to help in times of need, a solution-oriented approach is not always what’s needed. Sometimes just listening to your partner and being there for them to say what they have to is more important than finding solutions to their dilemma. Doing this requires us to be receptive to our partners’ needs at that moment and create a space for them to just be able to communicate how they feel, a vital aspect of catering to emotional intimacy.
- Acts of Kindness: This may seem quite obvious, but it does sometimes get disregarded, especially in moments of distress. Being kind to your partner, remembering even during fights that you value and love them, is a great way to avoid hurting them and to make them feel more seen. This could be expressed in small gestures like recognizing they’re going through something and doing something small to take their mind off things. Or another example would be to pull back during an argument, even if you know you’re “right” simply because you recognize that your partner needs empathy in the moment and that reflection can happen after.
- Verbal affirmations: Putting words to your feelings for someone is merely the starting point of any expression of love, but nevertheless it does feel great. Telling your partner that you love this or that about them, every now and then, can make them feel appreciated while also reminding you of why you’re with them in the first place. Moreover, words of affirmation in day-to-day life can go a long way in helping your partner feel supported and loved. Tell them you’re proud of them, that you believe in them, that they deserve love and deserve happiness. Want more unique and different ways to say I love you? We got you covered.
Grand Romantic Gestures: Though this varies from person to person, it is sometimes easier to express your feelings in a large romantic gesture that takes into account your partner’s wants, desires, and aspirations. This by no means should be centered on some sort of public display but on what your partner likes and would want. The goal is to signal to them that you love them, not to show the world that you do. So if you feel like going big, by all means, do, but bear in mind your partner’s comfort is the highest priority. Buy them that gift, take them on a trip, set up a sexy date night– the possibilities are grand and endless.