Many have likely heard about the five love languages, first described in the 1995 book for couples written by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., with later books applying the concept to children and also to singles.
In summary, he describes the following five ways of expressing and experiencing love with your partner:
1. Receiving gifts. In this language, a tangible expression from his or her significant other is what makes this mate feel special, appreciated and loved.
2. Spending quality time together. Just the two of you, focused on each other, is deemed most valuable here.
3. Words of affirmation. Verbal or written expressions of love, consideration, understanding, and praise from an intimate partner speak volumes.
4. Acts of service. Helping with needed tasks or chores (especially without having to be asked!) is a much appreciated, valued expression of love.
5. Physical touch. Not necessarily a sexual act; perhaps holding hands or getting a foot massage is more meaningful.
According to Chapman, we not only express emotional love in one of the above five ways, but we each tend to have a primary or preferred method. There is a quiz on his website that can help you determine your primary love language, and it ranks the strength of each of the others, according to your cumulative answers. However, some people may not find one clear preference standing above the rest, but perhaps two or three love expressions of equal or closely ranked importance.
Chapman further points out that everyone needs to receive emotional love, but the major key to how well this is accomplished is in how it’s delivered. We should not use the love languages that we like the most, but rather the love languages that are most important to our loved ones.
There are three ways to help discover your primary love language:
1. Observe how you naturally express your love to others. If you’re inclined to hug, then physical touch is a preference. Do you tend to verbalize your feelings, or show them through other actions? This can clue you in as to which of the five languages you favor.
2. Notice what you complain about to your partner. “You never give me gifts/never compliment me/never touch me unless I initiate it” may reveal your primary love language. Even if it’s not necessarily your main one, if you’re complaining, it’s up there.
3. Similar to #2, but stated more positively: Think about what you ask for the most. Do you need more cuddle time, more date nights, more verbal affirmations, or tokens of love from your partner? This determination can also help in discovering your primary expression.
It’s important to realize that knowing your own favorite love language(s) is only half the battle; you want to know your partner’s preferences as well. I recommend that couples take Chapman’s quiz individually, explore the three ways described above to help each identify his or her primary love language, and then compare the results. In order for each partner to feel loved, it’s important to make efforts that matter most to one another. In other words, direct most of your efforts at speaking your partner’s top one or two love languages.
Suggested steps to improve your relationship using the five love languages:
1. Take the quiz twice, answering once for you and once as you think your partner would, and have him or her do the same. (Answering for your partner will provide valuable information as to how far off, or close, you were to knowing what your partner prefers.) This could also provide interesting and beneficial info for future conversations, depending on the state of your connection. Remember that in addition to the quiz, some couples may need to reflect on the three ways discussed above, to help pinpoint their primary love language(s).
2. Discuss with your partner the specifics and details of speaking their primary love language. For example: What types of gifts are appreciated? Which acts of service really matter? What words of affirmation are most important? What kind of physical touch does your partner value the most?
Apps of all kinds are out there for almost anything you can dream up. Relationship apps are yet another technology advancement that have the potential to enhance and improve your life; specifically, your intimate relationship. All are designed to strengthen and maintain your connection with your partner. There are apps that keep track of your finances, create budgets, and help you save for your future together. There’s another that establishes lists for a couple to share, such as a grocery store list, where items can be added or deleted for your partner’s immediate viewing in order to avoid duplicate purchases.
Not surprisingly, the most popular relationship apps focus on one’s sex life, where the goal is to enhance the intimacy in your relationship. These apps create a social network just for the two of you. Some are designed to help you share and store memories. You can document your entire relationship together, updating as needed. “Love Maps” is an app developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who are famous relationship researchers who founded the Gottman Institute. This app assists you and your partner in learning more about each other’s inner world, from daily life experiences to personal hopes and dreams for the future. Knowing and understanding more about your significant other, and his or her preferences, is an important way to strengthen your relationship.
Another example of how apps can improve relationships is by acting as a buffer between partners in conflict. One app called “Fix a Fight” has a “self-soother” feature that is invaluable. It can help couples take a step back and regain their composure, before returning to a heated or controversial issue they may be struggling with at the time. Fix a Fight also uses humor to help diffuse anger, which can be another invaluable tool to help couples calm themselves when in conflict.
Other apps can even help you decide where to go on a date, or recommend conversation starters, and suggest ideas or options you might not otherwise consider. Apps may assist partners in identifying their feelings, deepen their intimate connection, restore calm, and work through conflict. They can encourage thoughtful and meaningful communication.
In my experience, couples who are motivated to try these apps show they are willing and want to make the all-important effort at improving their relationship. This motivation to work on their relationship may, in fact, be much more valuable than any one relationship app. In my practice, I’ve continually seen how a couple’s motivation level can easily become the difference between a largely stagnant and dissatisfying relationship that is “going through the motions,” and one that is flourishing, or at least one in which a couple is continuously striving to enhance their relationship.
The reality is that apps are an inexpensive (and often free) way to work on improving a relationship, and are significantly cheaper than attending couples counseling. While I think they can assist with some of the basic issues couples may be experiencing, using apps is not a substitute for professional counseling.
So, is utilizing relationship apps a good way for a couple to spend their (sometimes limited) quality time together? In my opinion, relationship apps can serve as helpful tools and are a decent choice for motivated couples in some situations. However, they certainly do have limitations. Apps are not able to guide partners in gaining insight into their underlying relationship dynamics, or help examine the feelings behind those emotional buttons that are repeatedly pushed. The use of certain apps (such as Love Maps) can be helpful for partners to use between therapy sessions. Their couples counselor could utilize specific apps and incorporate them as homework assignments.
Overall, experimenting with relationship apps is certainly worth a try. If you find one that helps, keep using it! If not, it may be important to seek professional help, to ensure you’re taking all possible steps to maximize the quality of your relationship.
In our busy society, we schedule almost everything important in our lives. We set aside specific times for business meetings, doctor appointments, parent/teacher conferences, gym class, lunch dates, vacations, pedicures—the list goes on. So why not schedule intimacy with our significant other? The very short answer is that if you consider your sex life important, there’s NO reason not to schedule it!
Although some people may cringe at the idea of a sex date because it lacks spontaneity, I challenge that belief. I have found that most of the partners who cling to the notion that sex must be spontaneous are often using it as an excuse for why they aren’t interested in being intimate. They may be avoiding other relationship issues that are preventing connection and intimacy.
The truth is that good sex does NOT have to be spontaneous. In fact, the idea that sex needs to be spontaneous is a myth; it’s really not based in reality. Think back to the earlier stages in your relationship, perhaps after you’d been a couple for a while, but were still living apart. When planning the next time you’d get together, sex might not have been “scheduled,” but wasn’t it implicitly understood to be part of the date? You may never have said to your partner that “we’re having passionate sex at 2:15,” but BOTH of you knew that activity was absolutely on the agenda (and more than likely near the top)!
Here are some of the benefits of scheduling your sexual intimacy:
1. It won’t happen otherwise! Unfortunately, for many couples, sex just won’t happen if it’s not scheduled, or it happens too infrequently. This reason should be convincing enough!
2. Making a date allows a couple to revitalize their romance, sustain intimacy, and stay connected.
3. The saying “anticipation is half the fun” definitely rings true here! Planning the encounter can actually be the beginning of foreplay.
Tips for Reigniting the Passion:
1. Start slowly! Scheduling intimacy might not always be a good idea in the beginning, particularly if your sex life is not currently active. Plan time together at first to work solely on increasing affection, and agree on reaching a certain intimacy level before proceeding. To bring back the affection, go here.
2. Discuss with your partner how frequently to schedule a sex date. This may ultimately not be based on desire, but on what’s practical and doable with your other life commitments. Be realistic with your scheduling.
3. When planning your first sex date, stay open-minded, be patient, and be prepared to be flexible. It’s important to keep a sense of humor, remembering the whole purpose of this reserved time is to reconnect and have fun together.
4. Pick a timeframe when both partners feel energetic. Mornings instead of evenings may be better for some, while a certain day of the week may be the less hectic choice for others. Perhaps Saturdays at 5:00 am is best for early risers with kids. If that’s your window, it works! Be creative. Varying your date helps keep it interesting.
5. Be prepared for trial and error. It won’t be perfect in the beginning, but when you find what’s working for you and your partner, make a commitment and stick with it. Life can get in the way sometimes, but making your sexual intimacy a priority in your relationship will make it easier to get back on track.
While some people might be turned off by the thought of scheduling sexual intimacy at first, it’s often a knee-jerk reaction. Sex doesn’t just magically happen. Not all couples need to schedule it, but those with a less active than ideal sex life can really benefit from some advance planning — rather than rely on that chance, spontaneous encounter which rarely ever occurs.
Think back to the beginning of your relationship with your intimate partner. When you were first getting to know each other, try to recall how you showed your affection. There were probably lots of “little things” you did to show how much you cared, and you were probably quite attentive to your partner as well. The unfortunate reality is that as time goes by, disconnection and life stressors (jobs, kids, financial and health issues, etc.) cause many couples to show increasingly less affection to one another. Sometimes, it can disappear totally from the relationship. This decrease may not be intentional at all. Affection and attentiveness can fade with familiarity, and often we begin to take our partner for granted.
However, by reintroducing the “little things” back into the relationship – those sometimes subtle signs of caring and connection—we can refresh and reignite our bond. Taking time to sincerely compliment and praise your partner will let him know you value his skills, talents, or simply himself as a person. Sending a quick and friendly text, email, or voice message during the course of your work day is another easy way to let this most significant person in your life know that you’re thinking of him. Acknowledging one another’s presence with an embrace, when greeting or departing, takes mere seconds but reinforces your heart-to-heart connection, and boosts feel-good endorphins for the whole day!
These small acts of loving kindness have many long-term benefits. Expressing affection and becoming attentive helps couples connect and increases their level of intimacy, which in turn can lay the groundwork for rekindling a stagnant sex life. In fact, reinstituting these “little things” may be particularly beneficial for couples who don’t have a regular sex life.
If the relationship is sexless, and has been for quite some time, it’s hard to jump right in again at that level of intimacy. To reduce the awkwardness in approaching each other, back up and remember how you made your partner feel special and appreciated when you first met. Did you send flowers, write love letters, or extend an invitation to an event you knew she’d enjoy? Every time you thought of her, did you let her know verbally or by sending a message, as was mentioned above? Affection is often equated with romance, so bring back the romantic gestures—wine and dine your partner (figuratively and literally), giving as much attentiveness as you did when dating—and see where it leads!
A renewed focus on each other can also provide a cushion between you when life gets stressful. It’s easier to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, and show more patience, respect, and empathy when you’re feeling connected emotionally. Working through problems respectfully strengthens your bond, and enhances your life journey together.
Every couple has their own baseline of affection; some want/need more and others less. It’s important to find the ideal level that meets the needs of both you and your partner. A mutually satisfying amount of give and take, affectionate words and deeds, lends itself to a happier home. It serves as a good role model for children and all others who may live with you. Even your pets will sense and benefit from the increased harmony in their environment.
Tips to Get Started:
1. Discuss and share with your partner the forms of affection you each enjoy the most. Common forms of affection include holding hands, back/shoulder/feet massage, snuggling, hugs, and kisses.
2. Decide to focus on each other’s favorite way of receiving affection for a week.
3. Re-evaluate after one week and discuss how to improve the affection.
4. On your own, experiment with how you’d like to be attentive to your partner (appreciations, text messages, compliments, voicemails, etc.).
5. Evaluate and modify as needed.
Giving and receiving affection in our lives only becomes more valuable as we age. As people grow older or decline in health, maintaining an active sex life may not become the number one priority. Learning how to stay connected in the “little” ways and strengthening our emotional connection will benefit our intimate relationships for a lifetime.
Think for a minute about what you know about your partner. I imagine most of us can name our partner’s favorite foods, movies, TV shows, preferred conversations, political leanings, and hobbies. However, not very many of us really know the details of our partner’s preferences in the bedroom. While sexual issues are among the most common issues in relationships (at the top with financial issues) they are frequently not discussed in much detail, if at all. Generally speaking, when things are going “okay” in a couple’s sex life, they aren’t discussed. And unfortunately, couples often don’t discuss their sex life issues even when things are not so okay! Specifically, issues about sex are usually off limits, unless it’s about having it or not.
Even high-functioning couples who say they’re happy and have a good sex life don’t routinely discuss the subject, although it’s certainly a focal point in almost every relationship. Even if your sex life is good, why not make it better?
As mentioned above, sexual frequency is often the most common sexual issue that is discussed between couples. Although it’s definitely an important one, there’s a decent chance that the quality of your sex life might be what’s affecting the frequency. If the experience isn’t pleasurable and satisfying for one or perhaps both partners, it’s understandable that sexual interest would diminish. Overlooking or ignoring the importance of quality in your sex life can impact the quality of your overall connection.
While sexual compatibility seems fundamental to any lasting relationship, emotional distance can make the subject very difficult to discuss. Sometimes one’s family upbringing, or past (relationship) experiences, has made sexuality a taboo topic. Most couples find it much less threatening to talk about disciplining their children, dividing household chores, or planning a family budget than discussing their sex lives.
An ability to share the intimate preferences of your sexual needs and desires requires a deeper connection, and a willingness to become much more vulnerable with your partner, than a discussion on how to divide household chores. Without that connection and a willingness to be truly vulnerable, it’s much too scary to confront this highly sensitive topic. There may also be an underlying fear: “What if we both make the effort, but the quality of our sex life is not better?” Couples who are not connected emotionally are simply not ready to share any details of what they want in their sex life.
Consider the following list of steps to help you “break the ice,” and discover ways to improve your sexual relationship:
1. Examine the level of your connection to determine if you’re ready to take the leap and can respectfully communicate with each other. Without this closeness, it will be hard to go any further in the process.
2. Express the desire for a discussion. Together, pick a good time and place to talk in privacy – not before or after sex—and away from the bedroom.
3. Use “I” statements instead of accusations or insinuations that you know how your partner feels. “I want to make our sex life better” is a good conversation starter.
4. An exercise to try (maybe even before your talk): On a blank sheet of paper, have each of you draw your own body and mark the places you like being touched, as well as where you don’t like being touched. Unless you’re a talented artist, this approach can add humor and help keep the conversation lighthearted. Be willing to laugh at yourselves, and enjoy learning more about each other.
5. “Let’s practice and experiment and schedule a good time to learn more about what we like,” or “let’s see what works for us and what doesn’t,” are nonthreatening, introductory statements that encourage respectful communication and mutually-benefiting attitudes.
6. Don’t make this initial conversation a one-time event; plan to revisit the topic every few months to make adjustments. Remember: Change naturally occurs in every stage of our lives, including our sexual preferences. Stay flexible and open to your partner’s suggestions.
If the above ideas seem too uncomfortable to manage on your own, couples counseling can help implement the needed steps to effectively communicate with your partner. It’s well worth the long-term investment. Why not have the best sex life possible?