Part of the Better Sex Series
In the movies, there’s no asking. Two individuals lock eyes, draw closer, and gracefully remove their clothes. It seems effortless – like it’s scripted or something. While this may be a beautiful goal, the problem is that we aren’t always (if ever!) this smooth in real life. Asking for sex often does involve words, awkwardness, and even practice.
Communicating with our partner takes skill. It’s not always natural to know how to communicate love, affection, support, and gratitude – and that’s what sex is trying to communicate, right? Sometimes we need to learn techniques that can facilitate communication with our partner. In a previous article of the Better Sex Series, we discussed how to ask our partner for more foreplay in a way that encourages empathy and discourages defensiveness.
While these techniques for asking for specific behaviors are important, we also need to look at the larger picture of how we communicate with our partner. Really this means
what language are we speaking?
Did you know that you are probably speaking a different language from your partner? Have you ever wondered why you two can’t seem to just hear each other or compromise? Why do you keep telling him what you need but he never seems to hear you? How is she not understanding the requests that you are making? This is about much more than just asking for sex, isn’t it? This is asking for love.
In 1995, Gary Chapman published The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts – and he was definitely on to something. Chapman brilliantly reframed the way we can relate to our partners. It changed the way we understand communication in a relationship and opened the door for opportunities to finally learn how to hear each other. The big news from this book?
It’s not that we aren’t hearing, it’s that we are speaking different languages.
The way we communicate affection to our partner is through a specific set of cues that we learned somewhere in our childhood upbringing or in early relationships. This means that our partner also communicates their own affection through cues that they learned in their childhood upbringing and early relationships. And that means that when we come together, we are most likely not speaking in the same set of language cues.
While the book is definitely worth a read for more comprehensive information on how this works, I can at least provide a glimpse into how I understand these five language and how I use them with couples and individuals in my office. Something to get you excited for more.
There are five different types of Love Languages that we learn growing up. Each type of love language comes with its own set of cues in which we communicate and interpret affection, love, compassion, support, and all those wonderful emotions to and from our partner. We need to know our own language and we need to know what language our partner is speaking. But it doesn’t stop there! We also need to know what these languages mean and how to speak them. Knowing your partner speaks Spanish while you speak German isn’t helpful unless you know some vocabulary.
One easy way to know what language we speak is to look at what we do for our partners. If we often find ourselves speaking through a particular type of affection, that’s probably our language. In other words, we find comfort in speaking that language and we know how to interpret that language from our partner.
If our partner speaks a different language (as they probably do) that means they don’t know how to interpret our language when we try to show our love for them. You can understand how confusing and frustrating this could become.
Words of affirmation
Individuals who speak in a language of words of affirmation often appreciate words that affirm them. They value compliments, verbal processing of emotions, verbal notes of affection, love notes, and any other written or spoken fondness. This also means insults and criticism are especially hurtful to these partners.
Acts of service
Individuals who speak in the language of acts of service appreciate when their partner does things for them. They feel valued and loved when their partner helps around the house, runs errands, and in general takes action to show their love. This love language often increases after life changes such as the birth of a child or a changing role at work as it seems to be saying, “I understand life is hard and I want to help you out.” For these partners, laziness is internally interpreted as “I don’t value you.”
Individuals who speak in the language of physical touch feel loved when their partner is close to them. Physical touch means many things for many people. It can mean sex, cuddling, holding hands, sitting next to each other, spooning during sleep, or butterfly kisses. Physical distance makes these partners feel unloved and disconnected.
Individuals who speak in the language of quality time feel especially close to their partner when they have undivided attention from their partner. This one often needs quite a bit of clarification just as physical touch does. While some individuals may find quality time to be sitting on the couch watching a show together, many who speak this language define quality time as being engaged in a mutual activity or in a dialogue together – or some other way of receiving full focus and attention from the other. For these partners, distractions such as playing on our phones or postponing plans and date nights are the most painful. Be sure to ask your partner what quality time means to them and learn how to define it for yourself.
Individuals who speak in the language of receiving gifts often feel loved when their partner gives them tangible items. This can mean spending money on items but it doesn’t have to be. This often simply means a meaningful or thoughtful present – which sometimes can be free!
Now that you are starting to understand the five types of love languages, sit down with your partner and take this quiz. Learn your language of love, understand your partner’s language, and then work together to define what these mean for you. Think of it like giving your partner a dictionary to interpret what you’re needing. Once we can become bilingual in our relationship, asking for sex becomes part of our everyday interacting and one day it seems just as effortless as in the movies.
Stay tuned for more articles in the Better Sex Series to learn more about asking for sex – and how to reject it.
If you’re needing an interpreter for your love languages and you just can’t seem to find the right way to speak to each other, schedule a session with Kelsey, a couples therapist, sex therapist, and specialist in sexual health.