Love is something with infinite possibilities. It means something different to each person, the way they give it and the way they experience or receive it. The type of love experienced changes between relationships- that of two lovers is different to that of a parent and child, which is again different to that of best friends (which is different to the love I have for my cat Remus).
In all honesty, I cannot personally define love. I know that I love my family but I don’t know what love within a sexual-type relationship looks like. So a quick Google search provided some definitions:
- A strong feeling of affection (Google Dictionary)
- A great interest or pleasure in something (ie love of football) (Google Dictionary)
- Nature’s way of tricking people into reproducing (thanks Urban Dictionary)
What I do know is that people express love in different ways.
Now, why does this matter? Because the way that we express and receive love has a lasting impact on the relationships in which love exists. I personally feel that the psychological theory of attachment fits in well here (but then again, I think that attachment contributes to most areas of life). The theory of Attachment was first developed by John Bowlby in the 1960s in order to explain why children become distressed when separated from their parents. They determined that attachment was “A deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space”1. Bowlby performed experiments on young children to observe the response of the children when with and then without their significant figure/carer to prove his theory. There were two main theories important for the formation of attachment. The first was developed by Dollard and Miller (1950) who suggested that attachment is a set of learned behaviours in order to obtain food. The second, by Bowlby, was that babies were born with the innate need for attachment to achieve, not food as ascertained previously, but care and responsiveness.1
Both theories state that babies continue with the behaviours that get them what they need, be it food or care and responsiveness.
So back to love. The way that love is modelled by parents shapes the deep and enduring bond that children learn. When it comes to expressions of love, attending your child’s soccer game (which you hate) is different to giving them a hug when they score a goal. This is different again to verbally praising them, treating them to an ice cream for the goal or actually dedicating your time to physically help them practice in the back yard. Now, all of these ways of expressing love may sound the same to you but they are examples of the 5 Love Languages developed by Gary Chapman. And I think that children learn the love language/s that their parents express and it becomes the way that they understand love.
Chapman talks about 5 different ways to express love, the language of love if you will.
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Chapman provides a quiz on his website to help you to determine your own love language. For myself, I appreciate acts of service and quality time, however I have little want for gifts. On reflection, I realised that this is how my mother showed us love. She always did things for us, sacrificed for us and gave us her time. We had little money for gifts and she was not one to praise. So I know that I do not respond to those things. A gift, although very kind, means far less to me than someone helping to change a light bulb. And I have been so beaten down about every part of myself that compliments, although nice to receive on occasion, are brushed aside because there is always something I can be doing better.
I know that this will have implications on any future relationships I may find myself in. I will be asking a man to show me love in these ways, but he may not prefer to show his love like this. I already know that having sufficient quality time with him will be an issue and I already feel disappointed and ignored if I don’t talk to my internet guy daily. Not that I’m needy or anything, that is just how I understand and appreciate investment by the other person.
So what do you think of the theories of attachment and the love languages? How do you express love?