Even in the happiest and healthiest relationships, partners will inevitably find areas in which they don't align. Depending on factors like the importance of these issues and how willing each person is to come to a mutual understanding, these disconnects could end up being a big problem. Take the example of having mismatched love languages: In some cases this might be a deal breaker, but therapists say there are some things you can do if you and your significant other find yourself in this situation.
First, it might be helpful to define what exactly the so-called love languages are, and why they can be so important. As Rachel Thomasian, therapist at Playa Vista Counseling and co-author of BreakUp & BreakOut, explains, there are five: Words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. And while you might identify with all of these to a degree, the relationship expert shares that most people will value one above the others. "Love languages are the way in which we communicate and receive our love," she says. "While we may use all five to communicate love, we all have one or two ways that feel most natural when displaying our love and one or two ways we feel most loved when displayed by our partner. "
That said, just because you identify personally with a particular love language doesn't mean you're naturally attracted to someone who aligns with the same one. And what's even trickier is that how you communicate love and how you receive it are not always the same, as Thomasian shares. So how can that affect your relationship? "If someone who is used to getting gifts as the way they are shown love is paired up with someone who thinks tangible gifts are worthless and instead prefers physical touch, they may miss their partner's acts of love and think they don't love them enough," she explains. Conversely, you may find very little value in physical affection, and if that's your partner's preferred method of receiving love, your intimacy can suffer.
What makes these situations difficult is that often you may have never given any thought to your love language — or perhaps your significant other hasn't. "Sometimes when something comes so naturally to us that we haven't given much thought, such as the way in which we feel loved, we think that the preference we naturally lean towards is the 'right' or 'better' way to express love, and this is not true," says Thomasian. "We're all hardwired a little bit differently and instinctively feel loved in various different ways."
While Thomasian admits that total opposites are prone to breaking up early on when their core needs for love are not being met, it is possible to meet each other halfway if you keep communication open. "The work to overcome differences in love languages starts with a genuine interest and understanding of one another's preference," she says. Step one is figuring out what each of your love languages even is — which you can do via online quizzes. It's also imperative that you both understand that one love language is not superior to another.
"Next, start to recognize when your partner is engaging in their own love language," Thomasian says. "For example, in the past you may have ignored your partner getting you an oil change, but when you recognize that it falls under their 'acts of service' umbrella, it will take new meaning." And once you decipher how your partner receives love, the therapist says to consciously engage accordingly. "You may never value quality time as much as your partner does, but understanding that he or she genuinely feels loved when [by] just hanging out can compel you to do more of that for him or her."
To Thomasian, having mismatched love languages in itself doesn't need to be a deal breaker, but pay attention to how that translates to your partner valuing your way of feeling loved. "You don't both need to be fluent in the same language, but you need to know enough to communicate to each other," she says.