One of the first books I read after my separation 9 years ago was one of the most impactful books I've read. It's the kind of impact that continues as the years pass - realizing how important that understanding was and continues to be. The understanding of myself and the way I started looking at those around me changed.
The book -- Gary Chapman's "The 5 Love Languages". I'd heard it referenced many times, but didn't give it much thought. I could have likely rhymed off the 5 love languages, but again, didn't fully understand how important they are until I read it. Admittedly, this didn't seem like the obvious book to read going through a mega breakup, but I was at the beginning of a journey where I wanted to truly understand myself. A better understanding of myself and my needs was the goal. This book - and the general concept behind it - outlines that there are 5 major ways, or "languages" in which we all give love and receive love. What does that even mean? Love is love, right? If I love you, you should know and understand that. Or if someone tells me they love me, then I should automatically feel loved and fulfilled. Well, I think we all know from our various experiences, that isn't quite the case.
Here are the 5 Love Languages -- which I'm sure you've at least heard referenced in memes about tacos or coffee if nothing else (I've used a coffee meme recently - if you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen this!).
Acts of Service
Words of Affirmation
There are lots of books, websites, quizzes you can carry out to understand more about what each of these is, and to find out what your top languages are for both giving and receiving. It's well worth the time to walk through these exercises. When I did this myself, I had a better understanding of who I was... who I am. How I like to receive love -- my needs when it comes to a romantic relationship and the things I need from a partner to feel fully loved and appreciated. I also better understood how I instinctively show my love for someone. Quite often, these are similar -- how we show love is how we like to receive love. We can want all 5 languages - but usually there are 2-3 that are higher than the others. Once I had this full understanding of myself, I started to look back at my relationship to fully understand so much love was miscommunicated over the years. I then took this same way of thinking and started looking at other relationships in my life -- my kids, my friends, my family, etc. There are actually different versions of this book -- for romantic love, for parenting, and for the workplace, to name a few. However, you don't have to read them all -- the basic principals are the same. It was really interesting to me when I started thinking about my kids and truly trying to understand what they needed from me to feel love. And I was a little upset when I realized that the way I instinctively show them love was not necessarily how they needed to "feel" loved.
I have had conversations with friends and family in relationships about love languages. I've asked this question on dates. It's a great conversation starter. And it's the ultimate method of understanding someone's core needs. It can also be a game-changer in a rocky relationship. If it's important enough to you, you'll make the effort to meet them where their needs are. If it's not instinctive to you to give gifts to your partner, but discover they really feel loved when they receive gifts... how difficult would it be to start buying little gifts here and there to show them you love them. It might be the case where you feel really hurt when you realize that all your acts of service -- all the things you do for someone to show them how much you care, goes unnoticed because it's not how they feel loved by someone. Maybe they instead, just want to hear things regularly that you appreciate about them.
It isn't the case where we should abandon who we are at our core to please someone else. Hopefully what I'm trying to relay isn't coming across that way. The message I'm trying to convey is more that we all give and receive love differently. And the sooner we understand that about humans in general, but also about ourselves and our loved ones, the better we will get at building our relationships and making them stronger for ourselves. We might also quickly realize that a relationship just won't work (friend, business, romantic) because the other party isn't willing or able to give us what we need. And that's ok. It's ok to realize something or someone isn't right for us. It's ok to have needs. It's ok to admit our needs aren't being met. In fact, I think truly understanding, appreciating, and loving ourselves is important. It will help us be more authentic and more able to spread love.
Understanding ourselves helps us understanding other people. Understanding other people, better assists us in understanding ourselves. This deeper understanding helps us walk each day less affected by things not meant for us. It helps us love and serve and heal. It helps us appreciate differences. It helps us take things less personally and realize the world is made up of differences and that's what makes the world amazing. Love the differences. Love the world we live in. Love yourself.