I like to refer to our love languages as our love buckets. I would say "love tanks" but I drive an electric car and my husband rides his bike to work, so buckets make more sense for us.
We took a class years ago on our love languages. My love bucket is filled with words of affirmation, which equates to receiving words to show me I'm needed and appreciated. I unknowingly chose my career because patients fill my bucket (well, most days and most patients) when they thank me or come to me for problems I can solve. I taught my kids "thank you" right after "Mama" and "Dada". I fell in love with my husband because he appreciated my intelligence and independence and wrote love poems to me and about me. The words themselves are a big part of my love bucket, too. There's no faster way to fill up my bucket than to lift me up with words of praise.
Chase's love language is quality time. It's not simply spending time he craves, rather, he wants to feel heard and seen. He wants to know I hear what he's saying and it matters. When I learned the technique of mirroring back to him what he said, he was hooked. Bucket filled.
On a good marriage week, we're spending time together and Chase is appreciative and verbal with his praise of what I've cooked, how I cleaned out the fridge, etc. On a good week, I let Chase talk about whatever is on his mind and mirror back to him what he's saying. On a good week, we're attentive to each other's needs and how full or empty their bucket is.
When the kids came along, our buckets began emptying out easier and faster. Listening to Chase with rapt attention came to a screeching halt. Kids=no time for that crap. All of a sudden, I didn't have the bandwidth or frankly the desire to sit and listen. I had no time for me, much less time to listen to his professorial discourse on why we should place the forks in front of the spoons in the utensil drawer.
On a bad week, we purposefully (or not) don't fill each other's buckets. We stop giving quality time or physical touch or words of affirmation because we're not receiving it. Our love languages become like foreign languages. We can't understand why the other one is upset with us or why they're being such a jerk.
By not actively filling up each other's buckets, a storm of sadness, anger, and resentment begins to brew.
When our buckets are nearing empty, we not only stop speaking the others' love language, we often do the opposite. We enter a pain spiral: I start to ignore him. It's not always on purpose. My brain gets overloaded at work and by the time I get home, I withdraw into myself and it's too dang exhausting to listen to another human for more than 20 seconds. Working in derm has also shortened my attention span. 10-minute appointments have trained me to focus for about 6 minutes before I start getting antsy. So I neglect him by not giving him attention or focus. When I'm really peeved, I either ignore him on purpose or I discount what he's saying by walking away, rolling my eyes, or sighing like a bratty teenager.
When he's not feeling loved and his bucket is getting low, he withholds kind words. I'll spend 2 hours cooking an amazing meal and he won't tell me how good it is. I have to ask, "does it taste okay?" When he's really miffed, he'll use words to do the opposite of affirming me, he'll criticize me or my efforts.
I have a friend whose love language is also words of affirmation. She works in the service industry, so her worst nightmare is getting a bad review. She recently got one and it destroyed her. She replayed it over and over in her mind and internalized it as the truth of who she was. She questioned whether she was in the right profession and debated leaving her job.
I'd never thought about why a bad review can feel so awful. It's probably this way for everyone, but for those of us who rely on words to fill our bucket, harsh criticism can feel like a death blow.
What about your kids' love language? It wasn't until my kids were in elementary school that I started figuring out their love languages. Ollie is quality time and gifts. She gives little gifts to show her love, and there's nothing like getting a new pack of hair barrettes or something small to make her feel loved. But she also loves spending time with people. Fifteen minutes of me sitting in her room without my phone is nectar for her soul.
Eli's bucket used to be filled by physical touch. He'd hang onto me, sit in my lap in church, or hold my hand. He still, despite being 13, likes to sit really close to me. If he's not thinking about it, he'll also grab my hand. But this kid now desperately loves quality time. He's an introvert, so for him, it's one on one time. It's wonderful having a teenager who wants to spend time with us, but it's also hard when I'm done with work and drained from being with people all day and I'm ready to go upstairs, bathe, and climb into bed with a book. He begs me to hang out with him. I try to remember that this is how he feels the most loved.
What's your love language? Your choices are gifts, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch. You can take a quiz online here. It's worth the time to figure out what makes your loved ones tick. What fills their buckets? This can make or break a relationship. If they love physical touch and you're giving them cards with kind words or gifts, they won't feel the way you expect them to. They feel neglected and you'll feel hurt for their lack of gratitude. If your love language is acts of service but your spouse is constantly hugging you to show affection, you'll feel resentful that he never takes out the garbage or washes the dishes.
Give your partner the gift of a full tank of love this Valentine's instead of those gross candy hearts.