Now that you have worked on weeding out unhealthy relationships, it is time to focus on strengthening your loving and healthy relationships. Depending on your lifestyle and family situation, there may be a wide variety of the types of relationships that are extremely important to you. In general, however, the love we feel for our children and our spouse or lover need the most strengthening. There is an abundance of wisdom and knowledge out there that will help guide your way; as your own life coach, you must choose what relationships you value most, then identify the ways in which you can make them stronger.
In 1996, marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman wrote the book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate; in the years following, Dr. Chapman has adapted these principles to apply to people in all difference relationships. Here we will stick with the core of the books – the five languages of love that Dr. Chapman identified over thirty years as a marriage counselor.
Dr. Chapman found that virtually every single person has a form (or language) that they use to express and receive love: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Most people have one primary language and one or two lesser, secondary languages. Many relationships are particularly challenging because the people involved do not understand that they each interpret and express their love in different ways.
For example, imagine a mother with a teenage daughter. The mother takes care of the daughter, looks after her, drives her to school, to the mall, and to her afterschool activities. Imagine that her daughter leaves dirty towels on the floor, forgets to say “thank you” after a ride, and when she will not keep her room clean no matter how many times she’s been reminded. This mother doesn’t feel that her daughter appreciates what she, as the mother, does. She also doesn’t feel that her daughter loves her when she will not do the things she’s asked to do. Now take the girl; imagine that the mother doesn’t praise her when she brings home straight As, she overhears her mother on the phone bragging about her brother but rarely hears “I love you” herself, and that one day when her mother sees her messy room is told by her mother that “no daughter of hers should ever be like that.” The daughter doesn’t feel that her mother loves her and may believe that she never will.
Now imagine someone sitting these women down and communicating that the mother’s love language is ‘Acts of Service’ and the daughter’s is ‘Words of Affirmation’. All of the sudden, Mom begins to understand that the words she uses matter more to her daughter than the things she does. For daughter, she realizes that when she doesn’t do what her mother asks, it is not about having a messy room; it is that her mother doesn’t feel that she loves her if she will not do something like that for her.
Understanding your own love language and those of the people you love can begin to change relationships in a revolutionary way. Even couples on the brink of divorce can sometimes find their way back into being in love when they understand that their partner interprets their actions, words, gifts, touch, and time differently than they themselves do.
Keeping Love Alive
Sometimes, despite all of our best efforts, even when we have sound and healthy relationships, things still go stale. Romance begins to wither. Time together begins to feel like a chore. Perhaps your mate is clingy or you find yourself thinking of other potential romantic partners, even though you love your spouse.
There are unlimited ways and means you can take to keep the spark alive and to keep your marriage front and center in your priorities. Book after book can help, but the internet is one of the best (and cheapest!) resources for ideas. As you brainstorm ways to add some sizzle back in your love life or simply to reconnect with your spouse, take one step at a time:
- Consider all of the ways that you can strengthen your relationship. Be creative, but think inside the box right now. If you do not have a lot of money for expensive dates, what are cheap but romantic things you can do at home together? What are ways you can show your spouse how you feel? What do you need to feel connected?
- Now, think outside the box a little. What you may like may be too uncomfortable for others; alternatively, the things other people do to spice things up may go against your values. Do not stray too far from what you think you and your mate are comfortable with, but push the envelope a bit. Everything from a simple role play to swinging can work for couples. Figure out what you think will work for you and your partner. Some people have very different ideas than others, so get creative, but if you think your idea has the potential to be detrimental to your relationship, rule it out. The idea here is to strengthen, not challenge.
You may find yourself surprised by all of the possibilities out there. This is one aspect of the journey that you not only can but should share with your partner when the time is right.