What if I told you that you were probably rejecting the people you love most, without even realizing it?
We humans have a deep, life-long, hard-wired need for love. And when that need goes unmet, we feel rejected and fall prey to numerous psychological issues ranging from low self-esteem to deficient moral development, and from increased aggression to social anxiety.
“But I love my family, and I tell them so every day!”
“I bought my kid a new computer last week—obviously I love her!”
“I hug and kiss my son every night before bed, surely he knows I love him!”
“I helped my daughter with a tough homework assignment even though I had a million other things I needed to do—if that’s not love I don’t what is!”
These are the sentiments I hear from parents about how they express their love for their kids. And they are absolutely wonderful…
But only if they’re speaking their teen’s primary love language. Otherwise, they’re wasting time, money and energy.
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are FIVE distinct love languages (ways that we give and receive love), and our own default love language is often not the same as that of our closest friends and family.
Typically, each of us has a distinct way that we like to receive love, also known as our primary love language. These languages include:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
When we receive love through our primary love language, we feel seen, connected and fulfilled. We are more willing to take healthy risks needed for growth and more resilient in the face of a challenge. Love is healing, motivating and uplifting.
But what happens when love gets lost in translation?
Because we tend to receive love via one primary language, we also tend to express love through that same primary language. When we express love without taking into account the receiver’s primary language, we are at best throwing a Hail Mary, and at worst unintentionally rejecting someone we love. Subsequently, the giver feels unappreciated and the receiver feels unloved.
What’s worse, after enough attempts at expressing love but feeling unacknowledged, the giver eventually shuts down and withholds altogether.
So how can we avoid feeling rejected and unintentionally rejecting others?
Deepening self-awareness is a critical aspect of this process, and identifying your primary love language is step #1. Our friends and family are NOT mind readers and we can’t expect them to intuitively know what love language we speak. We can, however, shorten the learning curve drastically by learning our love language and asking directly for what we need. So click HERE to discover your love language by taking a quick online assessment. AND there’s also an assessment designed for teens! Just follow the simple online instructions. It’s quick, it’s free, and it’s insanely accurate. So get to it!
Next, get to know the five love languages. Not only is it critically important to determine your teen’s primary love language, but also to pay close attention to the specific DIALECTS they speak. Every teen is different: while one teen might love to be hugged, another might despise hugs but responds positively to a solid fist bump (dialects of Physical Touch). And even more specifically, a teen might hate to be hugged in public, but loves to cuddle in private. These nuanced dialects are worthy of consideration so you can capitalize on your efforts to communicate love effectively.
So, without further ado, let’s delve into the love languages:
#1 Words of Affirmation
Also known as the verbal approach, words of affirmation are meant to articulate in no uncertain terms your deep care and affection for the receiver. Dialects include:
- Words of Praise: Recognize and commend your teen’s effort, commitment and accomplishments. Process praise (focusing on effort/follow through) is often more beneficial than praising achievements. Most importantly, be sincere and specific.
- Words of Affection: Where praise focuses on the behavior, affection is about verbally expressing positive regard for your teen as a person. Examples include: “I love you.” “I love when you’re around.” “I feel proud when I think about you.” “If I could choose any kid in the world I would choose you.”
- Words in the Presence of Others: Try affirming your teen in front of the entire family, teachers or coaches. (I don’t recommend doing this in front of the teen’s peers for risk of embarrassing them.) Words of affirmation often have a greater impact when spoken in the presence of others.
#2 Physical Touch
There’s undeniable emotional power in the human touch—which is why parents are encouraged to cuddle infants, couples are replenished by kisses and embraces, and even the elderly often reach out for a hand to hold after their verbal skills have dissipated. Physical touch is healing, comforting and loving. Dialect reminders:
- Be Flexible: There are numerous ways to speak this language so think outside the box of a simple hug or kiss. Experiment with things like back rubs, pats on the back, arm wrestling, high fiving, foot massages, etc.
- Gently Correct: Physical touch can be used to express love even while disciplining. Placing a hand on a teen’s arm or holding their hand while also expressing your displeasure about a recent problem can convey love while holding teens accountable.
- A Note to Fathers: Many fathers feel uncomfortable engaging in physical touch with their teen daughters, especially throughout puberty. But withholding appropriate physical touch is a huge mistake. Make the necessary changes to ensure comfortability on both sides, but don’t withdraw loving touch entirely.
#3 Quality Time
These days, most parents are overbooked and overworked. Taking time to give your teen a piece of your life is critical to their well-being. That means giving your teen undivided attention. No multi-tasking, no texting, no distractions. This can be the most challenging language to speak because it requires more time than a quick hug or a routine “I love you”. The central aspect of quality time is togetherness, which has to do with being present and available. Dialects include:
- Quality Conversation: This type of dialogue requires parents to speak with their teens, not at them. Skills to practice: ask open ended questions that can’t be answered with yes or no, listen with curiosity instead of judgment, make eye contact to convey interest, express understanding, refrain from interrupting, listen for feelings, ask permission to give your perspective.
- Quality Activities: Some activities are part of the natural flow of life—school, extracurricular events, religious groups, etc. When your teen sees that you show up at these activities because you want to see her perform/play/etc., she is learning that you are interested in her interests and that nothing is more important than being there in that moment… that speaks volumes. Other activities, outside the normal routine, are also powerful in establishing a loving connection. Choose an activity that your teen likes and plan a special time to do it together without distractions.
#4 Acts of Service
Parenting is inherently a service-oriented process. Just think about the number of diapers you’ve changed, clothes you’ve folded, dishes you’ve washed, etc. But teens speak a different dialect of service given their budding independence and individuation. When acts of service are performed out of parental obligation or with an intention to coerce your teen into following the rules, the love is lost. To sincerely express love through acts of service, remember these dialect details:
- Modeling and Guiding: A true act of service that is meant to express love reflects an internal desire to give your energy to others. Loving service is a gift, not a necessity. In this way, parents are not only speaking the love language themselves, but also guiding the teen in learning how to effectively serve others.
- Distinguish Between Duty and Service: Choose your acts of service wisely, otherwise you will create a dependent teenager who takes but never learns to give. A good rule of thumb is to do acts of service for your teen that they cannot do for themselves. For example: Assist your teen on a tough homework assignment, do a chore that is your teen’s responsibility when they are especially overloaded with homework, fill up the teen’s gas tank the night before a big test so they can use the extra time in the morning to study.
This one is especially tricky given that we live in a time of great privilege but also great entitlement. The Greek word for gift is “charis” which means grace or an undeserved gift. By its very nature, a gift is not something your teen deserves, but rather it is given because you desire to share unconditional love with your teen. The purpose is not simply to pass an object from one person to another, but to convey care. How can we identify a gift as something special and to be cherished as an expression of love? Here are a few dialectical tips:
- Create a Ceremony: Think about some of the most meaningful gifts you’ve received. Chances are the more effort the giver put into packaging and presentation, the more love you felt. Go above and beyond to present gifts in a way that indicate intentional effort and meaning: perhaps give the gift in front of others, wrap it in extra special paper, or combine the gift with another love language like words of affirmation or quality time!
- Private and Treasured Gifts: Some gifts are enhanced by a private presentation (creating a loving memory) or by their significance (like a family heirloom). These are the kinds of gifts to which we attach the most emotional value. Consider something special you can gift your teen that creates a lasting and meaningful expression of love.
- Consider Their Interests: The truth is, most people shop for the gift they want to give, not the gift the receiver wants to receive. Be sure to consider your teen’s interests before you purchase a gift. Remember, above all else, the purpose of giving the gift is to communicate, “I love you.”
Now it’s time to put this knowledge into action! The only way to become fluent is to practice, practice, practice. Let me know in the comments below how YOU plan to increase your fluency in love!