Learning to love again

You’ve probably heard of the five love languages. But what happens when you lose your ability to use the language that comes most naturally and need to communicate using other ways?

The theory goes that there are five ways by which we might show or feel affection; physical touch, presents and gifts, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Most people will have one primary language that resonates with them, and the language by which you feel loved isn’t necessarily the same as the one by which you show people you care about them.

For me, I’ve primarily shown people that they matter by spending quality time with them. I’m the one in our family who initiates the phonecalls, for example. My secondary language, and the one I’d tend to show in less familial settings, is acts of service. So it’d be very natural for me to respond to a colleague under pressure by making them tea or getting the printer working for them, rather than encouraging them to keep going. But these methods doesn’t always work.

Not quality time

Recently I’d been looking forward to a houseparty because it afforded the opportunity of spending quality time with one of my friends. She lives hours away and we rarely see each other, but when we do it’s brilliant. We both arrived about 2pm, and she had until 5pm before she needed to find a train home. So far, so good. But as I arrived, I felt very sick, and spent the next 90 minutes or so vomiting violently and feeling very dizzy and faint. By the time I surfaced into the party, I was pale and shaking, my time didn’t have much quality to it! We chatted while I worked myself up to some dry toast, but the opportunity to reconnect was lost.

Giving gifts doesn’t come naturally to me at all; I find it awkward and uncomfortable. (I’ve previously bought gifts for people, only to bottle out from handing them over.) But I remembered that my friend had mentioned at the party that she was getting a new bike, to replace the one that was crushed in her horrific road accident. So I decided to send her a bicycle bell in the post, painted with her name, to show my support for her getting back on the roads after her injuries. To me it didn’t feel the same as the quality time we’d lost, but I think it made her happy.

Not acts of service

This one’s obvious – I have very little physical energy. To spend that energy on serving someone else would probably mean I couldn’t safely get myself home, or chew and digest my food. So as much as I wanted to care for my friends while camping by sorting out their tents, making them food, or washing up, it would just have been foolish. Clumsily, I started trying to use words of affirmation to build them up, complimenting the way they did things. But I’m naturally quite cynical, and find it hard to say nice things without wondering if I sound disingenuous!

Conversely, I’ve never felt particularly loved when people do things for me, despite how often they do. I’d much rather have a hug or a present. So I can easily and almost physically remember from my holiday the two times somebody hugged me that weren’t just to say goodbye, the hands that helped me up, and the four times somebody brought me something (hot chocolate, wellies, lunch, hot chocolate again). The value of these gifts needn’t be significant (80p, £10 which I reimbursed, free, 80p again) and it doesn’t matter if I asked for them first. Maybe it’s a second child thing, but when somebody brings me something they’ve got just for me, I’m overwhelmed.

Which languages are being spoken to you?

You can’t always choose how people care for you. Now I have physical and obvious care needs, lots of people do small acts of service for me. But I’m rarely hugged – crutches or my wheelchair kind of get in the way. I spend most of my time alone, resting, so quality time with others is hard to come by – I lack the stamina for it. Twitter is odd, in that all of those friendships are built solely on words of affirmation, as no other language is possible. But it’s still a place of real friendship.

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried to be more conscious of the ways in which I am loved, to be thankful for them, and for my friends and family. I’ve tried to show friends I care by being generous with gifts and praise, rather than giving up because I can’t find the words in my native love language. This loss of eloquence is a side of my illness that I never realised would be so disabling.

How has it been for you? If you’ve acquired a disability, has that changed the ways you’re able to care for people? Or if you don’t have one, in what environments are you more or less comfortable in expressing affection for your friends and family?

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