Almost 25 years ago, Dr. Gary Chapman published his book The 5 Love Languages, which has become very popular. So, he proposed, we express love in different ways and if two people can’t speak the same love language, they can’t communicate, they can’t be happy, they might be in constant conflict.
However, we are not even conscious of our understanding of what love is or how we expect it to be expressed. And still, we wait for the other to share the same meaning, same perspective, and to express love the way we do.
The circumstances in which we grew up, the way we were raised, our family’s composition, our community and school, the impact of personal experiences, the media, are all factors that influence how we define love and relationships. They can affect our behavior, our feelings, our capacity to connect to another person, and even our learning processes.
Couples’ therapist John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Harmony Books, 2000), has researched, written, and taught classes on how to predict if a marriage has a future and how to work for it. Based on the systematic observation of interactions between couples, Gottman drew conclusions about what obstacles interfere with harmony in a relationship, and he made recommendations on how to establish and strengthen intimacy and know each other more deeply.
When Gottman speaks of intimacy, he focuses as much on the erotic aspect of the relationship as on the empathy and compassion the couple could experience. To encourage them, he designed “love maps,” a series of questionnaires and games that fill in the gaps of information about how we define love, and what did we learn consciously or unconsciously about how to love. Since assumptions built from former personal experiences fill these gaps, there is a need for clarification and open communication about our beliefs and expectations. Assumptions feed the individual’s doubts and fears, usually generating misunderstandings and conflict.
If we seek to be in a relationship to satisfy emotional needs—such as a need for approval, company, or acceptance—our wants will be greater than the love we could offer. In our search, we would be regressing to that first stage of life, in which love is mostly egocentric, where I love you because I need you—possessively. This is the kind of love in which I want to become part of you to complete myself. Or, I would try to control you and mold you in order to satisfy my needs.
The alternative is getting to know each other deeply, to clarify misunderstanding, to openly express needs and wants. The more you know about the other, the more comfortable love becomes, the less conflict will arise.