I recently wrote about how much damage can be done to a person or an entire network of relationships in polyamory when everyone involved isn’t pulling their weight.
I forgot to mention that we need to be careful when considering what people are contributing. All work does not look the same.
Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages changed things for me. I’ll warn you up front. The author is a little goofy. But the conceptual framework is absolutely solid and translate well to polyamory.
Chapman writes that there are 5 ways that people express love for one another:
1. Words of Affirmation
This involves saying loving things, giving compliments, praising a partner for accomplishments or attributes. “I love you, I’m proud of you, you are an incredible person,” etc.
2. Quality Time
This is spending time together. And not just being physically present in the same room. Actually doing stuff and interacting. Going on a date, for a walk, to the movies.
Pretty self-explanatory. Gift-giving and not just on birthdays or holidays.
4. Acts of Service
Being helpful to the person you love. This could include cooking, doing chores for them, fixing things (car, computer, appliances), cutting their hair, etc.
5. Physical Touch
This includes all physical contact from a nonsexual hug or massage all the way up to red hot fun sexytimes.
While people occasionally show love from the entire spectrum of love languages, they tend to have a primary love language they use the most and then a secondary that they use less often but still more frequently than the other three. Most people know their preferred modes pretty intuitively once they hear of them, and I find that if you’re in doubt, then you should just talk it over with your partners. They likely know. There are also questionnaires in the book. Chapman also has a little quiz on his website, if you don’t mind giving him your email address. I haven’t done that though since I have trust issues about that sort of thing. My poor email is bombarded enough as it is. But I digress.
What’s interesting about the theory is that it goes both ways — you show your love for other people in that way and you FEEL loved when people do it to you.
The trouble comes when you and your partners all have different love languages. It’s a bit like you’re screaming German at the top of your lungs, and they’re answering in French, and no one can figure out what the heck anybody is saying. Polyamory is difficult enough without messages getting lost in translation.
In my anchor relationship with Skyspook, we run up into love language conflicts all the time. Skyspook and I love each other to bits, but sometimes things get a little lost in translation.
My primary love language is — surprise-surprise — words of affirmation, which follows as I’m a writer and notoriously chatty. My secondary is physical touch with a decidedly sexual bent.
His primary language is acts of service. He is always showing he cares by fixing my computer, solving a tech difficulty I’ve encountered, and doing repairs on my car. His secondary language is physical touch, and while sex is definitely in the picture for him, he’s a big cuddler, gives massages, and actually changed the time he got up in the morning so he could hug me before I leave for work.
This sounds all peachy and good. Except sometimes I’m standing there elaborately complimenting Skyspook in increasingly affectionate ways while he is staring back at me getting embarrassed, vaguely distracted by the living room rug I forgot to vacuum.
It’s goofy, but when I do chores for Skyspook (like making the bed, vacuuming, washing the dishes), he feels really loved and cared for. And he can move Heaven and Earth for me and love me with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but if he never says how he feels aloud, I’ll start to suspect that he hates me.
Thankfully, we share physical touch as a secondary language. Skyspook confesses that when I’m really down in the dumps that the first thing he tries now is sexing me up, and it works with astonishing consistency. (“Have you tried turning her off and on again?”)
Your approach of course will vary depending on who your cast of characters is. As I’m dating new people, part of the challenge is getting a hang of what their love languages are and adjusting accordingly.
Seriously though, learn this shit. It will help you with polyamory. You need it even more than monogamous people since you’re busy and always meeting new people. These patterns are everywhere. Knowing what’s what about the five love languages has saved my bacon more times than I can count.