Archive for relationship advice

Let Me Count the Ways: 5 Love Languages for Better Communication

Couple Kissing in the Park
In our last post, we explored tips on building better relationships from couples guru John Gottman, PhD. We will continue this theme by drawing lessons on better communication from the #1 bestseller on marriage and adult relationships.

And while this may seem like a stretch for a business coach and consultant to be delving into, it’s not. When I coach, I coach the whole person. How you show up at work is affected by what’s happening in your personal life and vice versa. Please read on and see how this information can make your life better and more fulfilling in all aspects.

Over two decades after its original publication, Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts not only tops the marriage and relationships category, but it is also the #1 bestseller in both Relationships and Religious Studies—and it currently ranks #45 of all Amazon book sales (see Top 100 Books).

Clearly, Chapman is onto something fundamental, even life-transforming. So what’s the big secret? It’s simpler than you’d think. Practicing it is another story.

In-Love Phenomenon

Two years. That’s the average lifespan of the in-love phenomenon according to research conducted by psychologist Dr. Dorothy Tennov.

After the biological buzz fades, we need to make ongoing efforts to achieve a sustainable, mature love that is capable of surviving the 69% of unresolvable marital conflicts; the accumulation of irritations we may have once considered adorable quirks; the vicissitudes of time; and the daily stresses that life, work and family place on the relationship.

Love Tank

Gottman’s principles of positive and negative sentiment override can be mapped to Chapman’s metaphor of the love tank. When your love tank is full, you are more forgiving of your partner’s foibles because your emotional needs are being fulfilled (positive sentiment override). As poor communication erodes the relationship (negative sentiment override), the gas in your love tank dwindles, eventually reaching Empty.

How does a couple maintain a full love tank—or replenish an empty tank? By understanding and practicing each other’s primary love language, Chapman contends.

The 5 Love Languages

Each of us feels loved in different ways, and Chapman categorizes those ways as 1) words of affirmation, 2) quality time, 3) gifts, 4) acts of service and 5) touch.

Words of Affirmation

People for whom words of affirmation is their primary love language perceive compliments as expressions of love. This is not about flattery, generic praise, or simple thank-you’s—although expressing gratitude is always important. This is about specific praise of specific features and behaviors.

Contrast a generic response like “Nice” with a particular comment like, “I really respect how sensitively you handled that situation—you diffused the tension with humor and grace.” What the second phrasing tells the recipient is that you not only affirm and approve of her behavior but also that you noticed it. It is a way of letting her know she is not alone and that her efforts are appreciated.

Sincere, kind, and encouraging words do wonders to fill the love tank of a words-of-affirmation person. At the same time, negative and hurtful words can have a deeply damaging effect.

If the person you are trying to communicate with falls into this category, always remember, words are important.

Quality Time

Workaholics may think they are expressing their love by working hard to provide for their families, but what they often fail to realize is their partners would rather have fewer amenities in exchange for more quality time with their loved one.

Although watching favorite shows and movies together is enjoyable, this is not what Chapman means by quality time. You may both be in the same room, but you are focused on the television—not each other.

Rather, by quality time Chapman means one-on-one encounters where you have opportunities to look into each other’s eyes, discuss meaningful subjects and experience shared passions. These are the types of bonding experiences you practiced when first dating.

Cultivate your curiosity about your partner’s inner life, history and experiences and ask questions reflecting that interest. Find a shared hobby, project or even chore you can collaborate on. You may be surprised by how much closer you feel after performing a task together, whether it’s as simple as washing the dishes or as involved as rebuilding an engine.


For some people, gifts are a tangible expression of love. No matter how small, a gift communicates to your partner that you took time out of your day to think of him.

The more thoughtful and specific the gift, the more meaningful it will be. Maybe your partner cut his finger on a faulty can-opener in the morning. Bringing home a new one that evening tells him you noticed and empathized with his frustration.

Pragmatic individuals often cannot understand why giving their partner a bouquet of flowers matters because all they see is ephemera that will end up in the garbage days later. What they don’t recognize is the feeling of appreciation that wells up in the recipient, who sees not the dying stems but the beauty that symbolizes their partner’s love.

Acts of Service

Living daily life can be exhausting, especially for those who feel they are shouldering the burden of household responsibilities. Housebound partners may develop resentment for the working partner, who feels they have fulfilled their responsibility by trekking to the office each day and doesn’t see why they should help around the house as well.

For those who speak the love language of service, even the smallest contribution can alleviate stress and convey love. Cleaning the litterbox, washing the car, emptying the dishwasher—just 10 minutes of your time can lift the spirits of your beloved. It’s tells the other person you know and appreciate the stresses they are under, and you are doing your part to help relieve those stresses.


This seems like an obvious expression of love, but there are people who haven’t grown up with touch as part of their emotional vocabulary, so they may not realize how meaningful it is to their partners.

A person whose primary love language is touch may feel slighted or neglected by someone who doesn’t think to express their love through handholding, hugs or back rubs. The withholding partner may be completely oblivious to this effect and thus may be perplexed when conflict, resentment, or passive-aggressive behavior emerges.

All of these are a sign of a depleted love tank, and a gentle touch is the first step toward replenishing it.

Appreciation in the Workplace

Although the love tank metaphor is geared toward romantic relationships, it can easily be mapped to parent-child, sibling, friend, coworker, and employer-employee relations. In the workplace environment, it would be called the “appreciation tank.”

Indeed, Chapman has written a book specifically applying the above principles to that context: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People.

We will explore this book in my next blog post. Chapman and coauthor Paul E. White show how coworkers and managers can use the appropriate language to express their appreciation, letting colleagues and employees know they are valued.

As we have repeatedly explored on this blog, feelings of being valued and appreciated are crucial to employee happiness—and ultimately productivity, performance and loyalty.

I encourage you to begin practicing languages of love and appreciation in all of your relationships. When you match the right behavior to the recipient’s language, she will not only feel valued, but you will experience the reciprocal effects of kindness and gratitude.

What is your primary love language? You can take the tests for Love, Apology, and Appreciation at the 5 Love Languages website. Have fun!

How Do You Build Relationships?

Take This Waltz Still

How healthy are your relationships? At work, at home, with friends, with relatives, with neighbors? The ability to develop strong relationships is the final reward in becoming emotionally intelligent. It flows naturally out of the first steps: be self-aware; regulate and motivate yourself; and exhibit empathy. With those in place, you are ready to benefit from strong relationships.

We can learn much about building healthy relationships from the research conducted by relationship expert John Gottman, PhD. Although his work focuses on couples, his findings can be mapped to any relationship, from coworker to friend to parent.

In his lecture Making Marriage Work, Gottman summarizes the key discoveries made during three decades’ worth of studying more than 3,000 couples with collaborator Bob Levenson.

Gottman and Levenson can predict the likelihood of divorce with 94% accuracy. How? By studying how a couple argues.

The Four Horsemen

Gottman contrasts how masters (successful couples) and disasters (those heading for divorce) handle conflict in a relationship by examining what he calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse:

1) Criticism

Disasters: Complain in a way that suggests their partner’s personality is defective (“You did this terrible thing. What is wrong with you?”).

Masters: Discuss how their partner’s behavior makes them feel (“You did this thing, and it made me feel this way.”)

2) Defensiveness

Disasters: Meet a complaint with righteous indignation (often delivering a counter-complaint) or play the innocent victim (whine that they didn’t do it).

Masters: Accept responsibility, even if it’s only for a small part of the problem.

3) Disrespect/Contempt

Disasters: Feel superior to their partner and regard them with contempt, usually practicing name-calling and insulting.

Masters: Feel respect for their partner; they thank their partners for small things with affection and appreciation. Instead of scanning the environment for things to criticize, they scan for things to praise.

4) Stonewalling

Disasters: Withdraw emotionally from conflict (no eye contact, facial movement, or vocalization); the speaker doesn’t think they’re getting through, which intensifies the conflict.

Masters: Base their relationship on friendship and intimacy.


How does a couple establish a healthy friendship? Gottman outlines three critical factors:

1) Love maps. Masters spend time enhancing their internal roadmaps to a partner’s inner psychological world, getting to know their loved one’s dreams, hopes, values, stresses, and fears by asking thoughtful questions.

2) Fondness/admiration. Masters communicate affection and respect in small ways (“Thank you”; “I’m proud of you”; “I respect and admire you”), and they express appreciation for specific behaviors and traits.

3) Bids for emotional connection. These subtle calls for attention can result in a turning away (disasters give little or no response) or a turning toward (masters may offer an enthusiastic response that reciprocates the bid for connection). As bids for connection are rejected, the bidder doesn’t rebid. This painful lack of connection leads to gradually diminishing communication and levels of trust.

Just because the masters practice the above behaviors doesn’t mean they don’t argue. They do, however, experience a positive sentiment override when conflict does arise, so they are more likely to respond with humor and understanding in situations that would make disasters (negative sentiment override) react defensively.

Practicing gentleness in presenting concerns to the partner (softened startup) is another key to successful relationships.

For the marital conflicts that are unresolvable (69%) due to fundamental personality differences, masters can move past gridlock to dialogue by examining the subtext of what they’re arguing about. When they understand the life dream and personal philosophy that lies behind each position, partners can come to appreciate and empathize with the other’s perspective.

Physical abusers always reject their partner’s observations and never accede a point, whereas masters graciously accept influence from their partner.

Calming down is another habit masters practice during conflict. When tempers flare and your heart rate exceeds 100, your body pumps out adrenaline, your arteries constrict, you start sweating, and your blood pressure increases. All of these physiological changes prevent you from processing information clearly, being creative, and solving problems. By stepping away and self-soothing, you can return to the conversation with a cooler head and increased chances of reaching consensus.

In a 2010 blog post, Collaborative Couples Therapy developer Dan Wile gives some wonderful examples of how couples bid for emotional connection in their daily lives. As I suggested to my Working with Emotional Intelligence class, you may wish to read this piece and then take notice of your pattern of bidding and response. How do your patterns serve you? Your relationships? Are you surprised?

I encourage you to take stock and make the changes that will serve you and all those you are in relationship with. Be self-aware, be self-motivated, practice empathy and develop stronger relationships. Life’s better that way.