When Your Spouse Won’t Use Your Love Language

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I’m sure you have heard of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. Lots of us have read the book. Others have learned the languages from magazine articles or workshops.
If you and your husband or wife share a Love Language, it’s easy to show your love for each other. For the rest of us, there is a giant pitfall you might want to avoid.
If you expect your spouse to use your Love Language just because you shared which one means the most to you (Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, or Acts of Service), you are setting yourself up for resentment. And resentment is one of the most corrosive things you could bring to a marriage.
Why would your spouse not even try to use your Love Language? Well, first, because it doesn’t feel loving when your spouse does it. We’ve all been raised with the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What your spouse wants done unto him or her is not this.
If Quality Time feels loving to your spouse, it’s likely that performing Acts of Service feels like time apart, doing chores. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about doing it. Doing it doesn’t feel like he or she is showing you love.
If your spouse was raised by someone disingenuous or manipulative, Words of Affirmation are probably highly suspicious. Delivering them without any real sense of why you long to hear them probably feels phony, not loving.
Another reason your spouse might not want to engage in your Love Language is the risk factor. First, there is the risk of failure: how do you do something well if you can’t even understand the value of doing it? How does someone who dislikes gifts or who grew up receiving gifts with strings attached or gifts that tried to push them to be someone other than who they are even begin to choose a gift you will love? It’s like asking a blind person to choose a painting for you.
And then there is that bigger risk: doing it so badly that they lose your love. They know how much this matters to you. The stakes are huge. I am married to someone whose Love Language is physical touch. He’s a master at massage. I stink at it, even after taking several classes. I cannot tell what I am feeling under the skin. I simply don’t feel the differences someone good at massage feels. And before me, my husband was engaged to and living with a massage therapist, so I know he knows how bad I am at this. It feels like I am trying to show love by calculating his rocket trajectory without any knowledge of physics. I feel tested, not loving. And I feel like I am failing the test, no matter what he says.
A third reason for not using a wanted Love Language is an inability to do so, thanks to neurological or physiological differences.
So, what can you do if your spouse can’t or won’t learn your Love Language? First, never, ever try to manipulate your spouse into using it. Don’t invest days or weeks in showing your love their way and expect this obligates them to use yours. It doesn’t. Sure, you can end a relationship over this (or over any other expectation) if you feel shorted, but why would you want to?
Instead, learn to recognize when your husband or wife is showing you love in his or her own language, and show that you noticed and appreciated this loving. As you have probably already noticed, it’s pretty frustrating to show love that goes unrecognized. Eventually, you just quit trying and pull away. You don’t want your spouse to do that, do you?
Then, with your relationship chugging along healthily, take charge of your needs. If you need Quality Time together, schedule it. Accept that you may get turned down on some of your invitations, but keep making plans and don’t blame your spouse for not making any. If you feel the need for words of reassurance or celebration or kindness, speak them out loud and ask for an “amen” from your spouse.
If you long for Gifts, get creative. Ask a good friend to take charge of choosing them for your spouse whenever the urge to show you love hits. Or ask your spouse to pay for your order of monthly flower delivery. If you are married to someone whose Love Language is Acts of Service, request whatever you would like as a gift and asked that it be delivered in nice wrappings, turning it into an Act of Service. Or ask your spouse with a Words of Affirmation Love Language to put them in a frame or a song or on a cake, so they look like a Gift. And be sure to also exchange gifts with your friends and family members who will get a kick out of choosing something surprising for you now and then, the cherry on top that your spouse probably will never be able to come up with.
If your language is Physical Touch, schedule yourself for frequent spa treatments, even if it’s just exchanging them with a friend who also enjoys them. Then find hobbies to try with your spouse that involve lots of touch, like couples dancing or bobsledding or some forms of exercise. Go ride the Scrambler together! And make sure you make sex fun for your spouse.
Want more Acts of Service? Don’t wait for them to be offered. Ask for what you want. And take no for an answer. Nagging will just push you two apart. Hire help. Or barter for it. Ask your Gift-loving spouse to give you gift certificates for chores. Ask your Quality Time-loving spouse for an afternoon of working together, and let him or her choose which jobs to tackle.
Remember, not speaking your Love Language is not a sign that you are not loved. And it is not a sign that you are getting less than you deserve. You deserve love. And you will get less of it if you reject loving acts that don’t fit the model you adopted as a toddler.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

20 Comments

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  • To sum up this article by Patty. she is basically saying if you’re not getting the love language from your spouse then you need to go get it somewhere else. Eg. go get a massage, etc.

  • Patty, this article summarizes why my marriage failed. My ex-husband refuses to feel loved unless I make him feel I am interested in him (his love language is acts of service and QT) – mine is physical touch and words of affirmation. He knows I love him. He knows I am interested in him, but he didn’t feel that way which made him frustrated and depressed. For 9 years, I tried to speak his love language – but I just couldn’t. And we ended up divorcing. Now that we’re not married we get along so much better because that expectation is gone. But we still love each other and both want to get back together, but he is stuck on me making him feel a certain way, and me feeling like what I do will just never be good enough.

    In contrast, I know he sucks at physical attention but I do what you say – it I get massages and lots of cuddles from our 2 children. I don’t get frustrated or depressed, I create my own happiness.

    Thank you for this article. I’d love to read more on this topic. Maybe I can show it to my ex and he will see the light (but probably not, because he’s never wrong….)

    • Thanks, Cheryl. Sounds like a great topic to write more about soon. Is it possible that he’s not asking for more acts of service and quality time but rather for you to learn to “hear” his love for you when he offers you acts of service and quality time? This might not actually be as hard for you as it might be for some, because you enjoy showing your love through words of affirmation. This difference might also have something to do with love and respect, as explained in Emerson Eggerichs book, Love & Respect. This book was an eye-opener for me, not on first reading but on hearing the audience of marriage educators respond differently (men vs women) when he spoke at a marriage conference.

  • I wish my husband would show me the lovey dovey touchy feely that I show him. Unless it’s sex, not much physical contact. Not even when I ask for it, so I stopped asking. If my needs aren’t met and I don’t feel wanted, I’m not going to be “in the mood.” I would simply fall out on the floor if he doted on me, or told me I’m pretty or I look good without the pitch in his voice to make it sound like a joke. It’s heartwrenching to me because I love him.

    • Kmt, it’s so hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to understand their distressing choices. But you know his background, his character strengths, his pitfalls by now. If you can figure out what makes it difficult for him to show you love the way you want it shown, even though he loves you, I’m betting you’ll find ways to invite and encourage gradual change. It will also take a good bit of the sting out of not just missing out on what you want but believing that this is a sign you’re not loved.

  • So one spouse should just accept that their spouse is so self absorbed and narcissistic that they won’t treat them, they are supposedly in love with, the way they need to be treated. Oh, and don’t treat your spouse the way they are treating you. Stay in a marriage where you are being emotionally neglected and abused by a partner you have explained your needs to and they refuse. Listen to this lady at your own risk.

    • Danielle, I did not say stay in the marriage. I said if you’re staying, and you want to stop being full of anger and resentment, let go of the expectation that’s making you miserable.

      • Let’s all keep in mind that this is just from a woman’s perspective
        Hence, the nurturing approach of change to accommodate
        Putting your own selves aside and all of her needs
        Not once that does this article, blog, address the husband. The role of the man, who has so much to offer in love and kindness and touch and vision and strength!
        I read over and over again the hurt that women feel on the receiving end of a neglectful husband, neglect abuse dismissal, undervalued, lack of care, lack of basic appreciation
        These are very real and daily experiences in marital relationships
        Are there any men responding? Are there any men putting in their two cents here? Or is it all women, hurting wives and spouses
        Why aren’t any men responding? Or do we already know the answer

  • In the last year my husband and I have been working on love languages. i explained that i felt he wasn’t meeting my needs. I told him how i need them met with some examples and he is still struggling to meet them in the way that i really need to see them. i need reciprocation and he half asses it which interprets that to me as I’m not worth the extra effort or intention when he clearly knows that’s exactly what i did to meet his needs. Its frustrating because i remind him time and time again and threaten to leave. He makes me promises of what he wants but i keep reminding him that there’s effort and work behind the wants. he feels he will never be enough for me and I tell him if he can’t be enough for himself how will he ever be enough for me? he struggles with low self esteem from childhood sexual trauma.
    he has gone to counseling and so have i and we are currently in couple counseling but he dosnt want to go on his own anymore or go to couples counseling anymore. i love him but struggle with my needs not being met.

    • There are all sorts of reasons people find themselves unable to use a particular Love Language. If the actions don’t feel loving and he fears not being good enough for his wife, they can be very hard to do them well. If your dropped dead tomorrow, how might you get those needs met? That was the question I faced, and I learned so much from the experience. It serves me very well in my second marriage, but it took eleven years to find another man I could love. By then, I no longer believed that I had to get those needs met by a husband to feel his love.

  • There was some question about male perspective in the comments on this topic. I am too struggling with different love languages. I am very physical touch, While we have never taken the quiz, I am quite certain she is acts of service, followed by quality time. Perhaps she would put them in reverse order, but it is definitely those two. This has been difficult for me. I have come to the conclusion that I need to find acceptance on this issue. I need to accept the physical touch she does give, which is by no means never…I just wish she would reach out, even the smallest touch, more often. It’s an extension of her not really reaching out when we are not together. The combo is hard, I feel like she doesn’t care sometimes, even though I know she does. Point here is, as is stated, you need to find that acceptance and know that the entire relationship is worth so much more than an every minute fufilment of your love language.

    It’s hard…it’s a struggle…but I choose to keep fighting and giving love where I can. I also choose to accept what love is given and continue to hope for more, while accepting her as she is…that’s really a huge part of real love. Acceptance.

    • Well said, Jason. And keep in mind that if touch consistently leads to more touch, instead of to quality time or acts of service, you could be accidentally discouraging it. And vice versa if your together activity leads to more of what she offers instead of what you seek. We sure can get into some unhelpful routines, even with the best of intentions.

  • My husband and I fight about love languages and past actions regularly. When he gets mad he says some hurtful things such as “if I’d known m life would be like this I wouldn’t have gotten married.” I have mental disorders and I checked out for ten years. I am clawing my way back. He says “ you’re back” to “you aren’t back and flawed” depending on the situation. He blames me for his unsatisfactory life. “You’ve waiting to die. You don’t take accountability. Don’t make promises – you don’t keep them, probably because it’s me. We used to be active but you sit there.” He regularly says he wants his 10 years back and I haven’t made it up to him yet.
    Love language – mine is affection. His is family time, quality time, board games, etc. the struggle our son is autistic and isn’t interested in much and forgets a lot. It comes up at night when I’m at my sleepiest.
    I bring it up but he says I bring it up once a week which he finds insulting.
    I can say next to nothing or I am “shutting him down and denying him his feelings” I have to modulate my tone of voice and actions so as not to give away what I feel. I am then yelled at to not only say something but something new “to save our marriage” that I haven’t failed at before. He contradicts himself constantly. “ I don’t want to be alone. Not you – a friend” Alludes to suicide, won’t allow me to get hm help, and nastily reminds me that I tried it so I’m a hypocrite.
    I’m always the bad guy, I don’t talk, say anything new, go over his love language, go out and live life, I give up, a bad mother, cruel , sadistic, and don’t communicate.
    I try to remind myself that that is his pain but it crumbles when it’s directed at me or our son. Then I crumble and have to control my anger.
    Sorry for the long post I’m just raw from yesterday.

    • I am so sorry that I missed this when you posted it, M Sydney. Sounds like you have a really raw day that day.

      First, let me say that there is nothing even remotely hypocritical about trying to save someone’s life when they are thinking of taking it, especially not if you, too, have experienced that depth of depression. You won’t get any thanks, at least not in the short run, but please do whatever it takes. If you’re in the US, there is a national suicide hotline you can call for advice at any hour of the day or night. Just dial 988 on your phone. In Australia, it’s 13 11 14. In the UK, it’s 0800 689 5652.

      Your husband sounds like he’s experiencing burnout from trying to deal with your child’s challenges, your lengthy illness, and his own current depression. This would mean he’s probably getting flooded (overwhelmed by emotions he might otherwise handle thoughtfully) way too often. And that the things he’s saying to you are not his true feelings, because those are not what come out when we’re flooded.

      Please remember to tell yourself as often as you need to not to believe words that are spoken about you when his emotions are out of control. And if you want to help him find his way back from this state of overwhelm, to a state where you can appreciate each other, empathize with the overwhelm, over and over and over: “You had to deal with quite a lot during those ten years, and thanks to your stepping up the way you did, we have a shot at a much better life now.” Or “You’re right; it is still hard for me to always be accountable, and that’s hard on you. Our son is so lucky that this is your superpower, and so am I.” Or “You’re right, we really should talk about this, let’s set a time tomorrow and get some sleep first so we’ll be at our best.” Or “Having someone outside the family to talk with is really helpful when life gets this hard, so let’s make some time for you do do that.”

      One thing that I hear quite loudly in the words of his that you quote is that he wants to save your marriage. He just does not know how. And when he says hurtful things as his rational mind is overwhelmed by panic, you can’t think clearly if you respond to the words by shutting down or getting defensive. But it’s your turn next to be the one who calms herself enough to think of new solutions. How could you two play games together (which will make him feel loved) when your son’s boredom interferes? Brainstorm some possibilities on your own and with friends at a time when you’re not torn between being a caring mother and a caring wife who wants to show her love in a way that’s not her own. If you’d like some reassuring physical affection, brainstorm ways for the two of you to arrive in the bedroom with a lot less stress once or twice a week, ways to gracefully indicate your interest in him, and, just as important, ways to lovingly accept a “not tonight,” because you cannot know what’s rumbling around in another human’s brain that’s interfering every bit as much as a ceiling water leak can.

      I wish you great luck, and I hope you have a therapist or a wise friend to talk with when it gets too hard.

  • The person who wrote this is definitely a garbage partner. “If you make lots of effort but your spouse is too useless and lazy to make any effort for you…get over it!” What a moron. I hope you end up lonely and in despair like you and all other garbage partners deserve.

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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