When discussing the Five Love Languages with people, every now and then someone poses the following challenge: why do I have to learn to give in the way my partner receives? Why can’t they learn to receive in the way that I give?
This is a valid question and is worth examining.
The truth, of course, is that both people in a relationship have to make changes for the other person. “This is just the way I am” doesn’t really fly if you want a successful long-term partnership.
There are parts of you that won’t change – like whether you’re an introvert or an extravert, whether you are highly scheduled or more laid-back – but that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you do and say “that’s me, take it or leave it.” (Well, you can; eventually you will probably find a lot of people choosing option B.)
So who has to change for whom in this case?
I’d like to suggest that how you receive love is much more intrinsic to a person than how you give it.
How you receive love is something that resonates inside you. It’s deep down and not a conscious choice. The feeling you have when you are given to in a way that matches your Love Language is not the same as the way you feel when you give in a way that matches your Love Language.
When you receive in your Love Language, you feel loved. It is a profound and meaningful experience. When you give in your Love Language, you feel comfortable. That’s the way you do things, and it feels okay. (The good feeling you get from being a giver and pleasing your partner is a different aspect of this act – and in fact, the more you push yourself to give in the way they need, the better this aspect will feel to you.)
It’s not easy to change how you give. But it’s a lot easier than changing how you receive. It’s not really clear that that’s even possible.
Usually what happens when someone tries to change how they receive is they are simply choosing to along with what’s being offered to them. They’re accepting what they get, not truly resonating with it in the deep way that happens naturally when they are given to in their own native Language.
Changing how you give, however, is a behavior. You can learn to use Words of Affirmation, even if it’s uncomfortable for you at first. Certainly you can push yourself to give a gift even if that’s not your natural way of doing things. And the impact on your relationship will be much greater than if your partner has to accept the love you give in the way you want to give it.
The long and the short of it is this: you will both gain a whole lot more if the giver stretches to meet the receiver where they’re at than if the receiver is the one doing the stretching.
(Hey, there’s another good point for you: if I’m the one who’s supposed to be receiving from you, why am I the one doing the stretching? Amiright?)
That said, there’s an important role for the receiver here as well.
First, the receiver has to make known their preferences. “He should just know” is another line that doesn’t fly in a relationship. Mr. Rogers had a great song, that regrettably I cannot find on YouTube, in which he notes that “Nobody knows what you’re thinking or feeling unless you share it.” Don’t expect your partner to know how to give to you if don’t tell them, guide them, and remind them.
Second, the receiver should absolutely take note of their partner’s attempts to give even when it is not in their preferred Language. It’s not nothing. The fact that she gave you a gift means something, even if you really need physical touch. You can appreciate the fact that your partner cares about you and wants to give something to you. And then, independently from that, you can ask them to give to you in a different way.
When I say appreciate it, I mean both verbally and mentally. Meaning, you should say something like “thanks, this is a nice gift,” and you should also tell yourself how nice it is that your partner cares. Allow yourself to feel loved, even if the wavelength they’re on doesn’t fully resonate with your natural Love Language. It’s still meaningful to an extent.
(Of course, if your partner keeps buying you sweets and you’ve told them you’re a diabetic, it’s hard to appreciate that. The responsibility goes back to the giver here, once you’ve notified them – perhaps a few times, because it’s admittedly hard for any of us to break out of our default assumptions – about your preferences, to change how they operate.)
Relationships are not black-and-white, mechanical endeavors. There’s no easy answer to who’s supposed to do what when. The bottom line on this one is this: everyone wins when you try to change yourself to give in the way your partner needs. Not only do they feel deeply loved, but you will also feel much better about how your giving impacts them.
Being a giver is a profoundly pleasurable experience. And the more effort you put into it, the more you gain too.