• Motto

What To Do If Your Partner Speaks a Different Love Language

4 minute read

Maybe you just wish your husband would say you look nice, but he shows his affection by raking the lawn. Or maybe you bought your partner a nice gift, but what he would really prefer would be for you to show him more physical affection.

The problem in both cases is that, by nature, we all speak our own love language (very similar to spoken languages). But if you don’t learn to speak your partner’s language, they won’t feel loved and nurtured—and vice versa.

Luckily, you can learn the five love languages as an adult.

Words of affirmation
People who speak this love language thrive on compliments. You can focus on praising the way they look, something they’ve done for you, a personality trait—anything, really.

My academic background before I studied counseling was in anthropology, and one thing I always found interesting is that gift giving is an expression of love in every single culture. A gift says, “I was thinking about you.” It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to show thought.

Quality time
This doesn’t mean sitting on the couch with your partner, watching television—something else has your attention there. I’m talking about sitting, looking at each other, TVs off, computers down, just sharing with each other.

Acts of service
In a marriage relationship, this could be cooking meals, washing dishes, vacuuming floors, washing the car, mowing the grass—anything that you know the other person would like. Here, actions speak louder than words.

Watch some of the world’s most successful women share the best advice they’ve ever gotten:

Physical touch
Think: Holding hands, kissing, embracing, the whole sexual part of marriage, an arm around the shoulder, etc. For some people, any sort of affirming touch is what really communicates love to them.

You might be ‘bilingual,’ but people tend to understand one best—and it’s essential to make sure you’re speaking the love language that will address your partner’s needs.

Fair warning: Some people find the learning curve associated with expressing a new love language to be a steep one. I remember a father, for example, who said to me, “I read your book on children. I realized that my son’s love language is physical touch. But Gary, I did not grow up in a touchy-feely family, and I don’t remember my father ever touching me. I don’t know how to touch!”

Read more: How to Balance Your Career and Your Personal Life

My first assignment for him was to go home and just lightly tap his son on the shoulder and then walk away. The second time’s easier, and the third time’s even easier. So you can learn to speak the language of physical touch even if you didn’t grow up in a physically affectionate family.

The same thing is true of words. Husbands often tell me, “Oh, I can’t say all those romantic words to my wife—it’s not natural for me.” I say, “Well, let’s start at the beginning: Get a notebook, and write down some of the things that you hear other people say. Or maybe you read them in a book or a magazine. Write them down, and then stand in front of the mirror and read them to yourself.” Maybe the first time you say something affirming to your partner, you walk away immediately afterward. The point is that you’ve broken the silence. And again, it just gets easier from there.

The issue in many relationships lies in that, when most people get married, they think about how happy the person’s going to make them. And when that person doesn’t make them happy because they don’t speak the same love language, then they’re ready to bail. So you have to deal with that instinct, and the best way to do that is to start speaking your partner’s love language. When you start loving—rather than letting any potential hurt feelings get the better of you—you pave the way for a good relationship.

Dr. Gary Chapman is a relationship counselor and author of the Love Language series.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com