I wake up. Go to write. And it’s one of those sessions in which the words flow well. The words are making sense to me. I’m making sense to me.
It’s a markedly peaceful morning.
And then it occurs to me: Why aren’t the cats bothering me? They usually hunt me down, demanding breakfast, scritches, cuddles.
But they’re off somewhere, probably sleeping.
Practically right on cue, an explanation arrives.
I fed them kibble this morning so they wouldn’t harass you too much, my partner texts me.
I smile. Because I know what he means by that. The part he isn’t saying.
Learning to Translate
My partner demonstrates his love by doing things for the people he cares about (in love language land, this is known as acts of service). It’s also the way to make him feel loved, by doing things for him.
It’s a perfectly reasonable way to be, but I’m not like that. I don’t typically work that way. It’s normally a better approach to tell me that you love me or give me a compliment. That’s how I tend to easily feel appreciated. (This approach is known in love language land as words of affirmation.)
We’ve been working towards a middle ground for some time now. A way to translate between his way of loving and mine, mine and his. A way that we can do something that feels loving to us but also comes across as loving to the other person.
Something he’d been doing is to tell me what he did and then add on the words “because I love you.” But it’s not natural for him so he’s been somewhat inconsistent about it.
And this time, he’s left it off by simply saying I fed them kibble this morning so they wouldn’t harass you too much.
But it’s funny. This time I hear it when it’s not there. This time it’s implied. I’ve started to fill in the gap myself.
Maybe this is what meeting in the middle actually looks like, I think, beaming.
Doing His Laundry Without Telling Him
He’s stuck in the midst of a particularly nasty work week. At the mercy of a matrix of strange time zones (I believe he’s working with people in 3 or 4 different ones). Broken infrastructure. An 80-hour work week.
I notice that the hamper looks suspiciously full.
So I do our laundry. His laundry. Making sure to fold everything and put it away properly.
It’s something I historically haven’t done much. We’ve never discussed why, but I’ve had a number of incidents over the years where either my clothing or a roommate’s was damaged in the laundry process. I’ve lived with a number of people who were very particular about the way they did laundry. Whose systems actually conflicted with one another (and if those folks had actually lived together surely would have caused some rumbles).
And what I personally know about how to wash and dry clothes could fit very comfortably on a Post-It Note.
I suppose it doesn’t help that there was an incident about a decade ago, early on into our living together, where I washed a bunch of stuff with the hot water setting still activated (he’d been washing some whites or something), and he got very irritated with me for not noticing and changing it back to cold. Thankfully, nothing shrank or got damaged. But I didn’t even know it was a risk and didn’t know to check the settings before I started a load.
So I’m quite scared of doing other people’s laundry. Because I never know what new thing I will screw up with the laundry by not understanding how the process works.
I normally wash my own clothes. But not other people’s.
Anyway, he’s working like crazy. Seems exhausted. And he’s almost out of underwear, so I take a deep breath and wash his clothes.
Expressing Appreciation in My Language
He’s sleep deprived to the max and loopy when he notices what I’ve done.
I’m not sure what’ll happen. If I’ll get yelled at or something for making a rookie mistake with laundry (because I don’t know what I don’t know).
Instead, he beams from ear to ear. It surprises me since he’s never really asked me to do his laundry, not complained about it as a pain point. (And he has mentioned other chores in the past as things he wants me to do.)
But he seems thrilled that I did all the laundry.
“You even put it away,” he says.
I’ve rarely seen him smile that widely. “I feel so loved,” he says.
And then I light up on the inside. Because not only has he heard what I said in his language, he immediately translated it back into a form I can understand. He tells me — with words — that he appreciates what I’ve done for him with my actions.
Well, I think, there is hope, after all.
The most important thing to remember here is that it’s a process. On both sides. A continual back and forth. Ideally, you make an effort to say things in their language and you also make an effort to translate what they’re saying to you, even if they forget to bridge the gap for you. Reminding yourself that that’s how they show love.
If you’re both trying to do both sides of it, that’s when you make the real progress. That’s how you can safeguard against the fact that what you’re doing doesn’t come naturally — and it’s easy for one side to forget one part of it now and again.