If you google “What is the secret to a happy relationship?” there will be enough material to fill a trilogy. Everybody thinks they know the secret to relationship bliss.
Wonky s**t, I used to think when I was younger.
But now, at the ripe old age of 30, I’ve come to realize that there actually is a formula to success. Sort of.
Here it is: Understanding each other’s love language.
Different people express and perceive love differently. There are 5 general ways. They are, in no particular order, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch.
Armed with this knowledge, I now recognize why some of my past relationships did not work out.
The Acts of Service Guy
I had a boyfriend as a teenager. We were both teenagers—young and stupid. After secondary school, I was going to leave the country for an indefinite amount of time.
So, he gathered my friends for a surprise farewell party at a restaurant at 1 Utama.
I was surprised. He put a lot of effort into the event and was good at things like that; it was his love language after all.
Halfway through dinner, he disappeared.
He went to his car, changed into a suit, grabbed a large bouquet, and—I kid you not—RAN through the mall.
He arrived back at the restaurant panting, his suit stretched against his pudgy physique and the flowers limp in his sweaty palms.
It was supposed to be some grand romantic gesture, and I was supposed to feel touched or something. But all I felt was… awkward.
The Gifts Guy
Photo credit: Cottonbro
Then there was this other guy.
He bought me all kinds of gifts, from jewellery to bags and other random stuff. The more expensive, the more affirmed he felt.
One day, he gave me enough soft toys to cover my entire single-bed. I am not exaggerating.
I knew I was supposed to appreciate all those gifts, and I kinda did. But the appreciation remained on a superficial level; it did not spread to my heart.
In all honesty, all he did was clog up my life.
The Physical Touch Guy
Photo credit: Tuan Anh Nguyen
Also, there was another guy.
When I look back, we pretty much just cuddled. That’s it.
I wanted to talk about movies, the weather… geopolitics of the Middle East? I can’t remember what I wanted to talk about, but I remember that I wanted to talk.
However, he just wanted to cuddle.
How Having Different Love Languages Destroyed My Relationship
At one point, I was in a serious relationship with a Chinese-speaking guy. I, on the other hand, am culturally very banana.
He understood basic English, and I understood basic Chinese, but that was where it remained—basic.
In other words, he expressed himself in Chinese, whereas I expressed myself in English. His inner voice was in Chinese; my inner voice was in English.
Heart-to-heart conversations were a struggle. When either of us has to continually translate in our head, that could be a barrier to organic conversation.
What magnified this issue was my love language: words of affirmation.
Photo credit: Ketut Subiyanto
Words are extremely important to me. Words are how I show love and feel loved. Words are what make me feel alive. As such, it is essential that I communicate effectively with my partner.
Furthermore, I’m constantly bursting with thoughts. Therefore, my partner must also play the role of a sounding board. I shoot ideas out like a machine gun.
I don’t expect my significant other to always agree with me; that’s not the point of a sounding board. The objective is to talk about those ideas, then interrogate another idea out of them.
For that to happen, my partner must at least grasp my contention.
But with this guy, due to the communication divide, he often didn’t even understand my assertion, let alone have the ability to discuss it.
Sometimes, when I struggled to relate in Chinese, he’d say, “Jiang ying wen (speak English),” but when I did, he would completely miss the point of whatever I was trying to say.
It was so frustrating. After awhile, I just gave up. And that was the beginning of the end.
Some couples do overcome their language barrier, so my experience is definitely not representative of every relationship out there.
But personally, merely speaking the same language is not enough. My partner must be able to relate in the same language too.
After that relationship blew up, he tried to win me back, falling back on his own love language: acts of service.
He showed up at my house one day and cleaned it. Now, this might be a swoon-worthy moment for some other girls, but all he did was prove how much he didn’t know me, because now he just made me feel useless.
I didn’t want a guy doing sh*t for me. I wanted a guy I could talk to.
The One Who Got It
Photo credit: Lưu Đức Anh
Then I met this Guy.
His voice sounded like Nasi Lemak with beer, if Nasi Lemak with beer had a tune.
Right from the beginning, I observed his ability to listen. Everybody has ears and most people hear, but very few listen. He is one of the few. He has a talent of absorbing everything you say in its entirety, like you truly matter.
Conversation with him is natural and effortless and engaging and fun.
He understands my opinions even if he does not agree with all of them. And we’d hash it out—with words.
He always thanks me for every little thing. Cooking, cleaning, gifts, sex, free uber service, spending the day with him…
Every year for our anniversary, he’d write me an anniversary poem.
Every now and then, he’d craft me some terrible Haiku, sometimes while we’re intimate.
Once, when I couldn’t sleep, he told me a bedtime story about an astronaut. The story had terrible plot and even worse character development. But every bit of it meant so much to me.
I married this one.
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