As a relationship counselor for over 15 years, I can tell you that the 5 love language stuff is a great start. (A good friend gifted me the self help book.) But in our therapy practice in NYC, we see more diverse types of relationships than maybe the original 5 Love Language gentleman did in his therapy practice. And like much of psychological and self-help literature, I found myself needing to translate to relationships that aren’t monogamous and/or Christian-based. Instead of love languages, I use the analogy "Love Tanks", of which there are seven.
The 7 Love Tanks
gifts - something thoughtful and meaningful to the other- don’t buy Marge a bowling ball, Homer
quality time - a meaningful shared experience to share together beyond “Netflix and chill”
words of affirmation - genuine loving sentiments, compliments and pep talks
acts of service - don’t tell me you love me, SHOW me you love me- just take out the trash without me asking you for once
physical intimacy - cuddling, hand-holding and various types of displays of affection both public and private - but this is something different than sex, and can happen between people who love each other or want to
future vision - this one comes up a lot in NYC with the we’re so busy trying to survive and live in the now mentality that we’ve no thought or plan of life beyond next month. Think relationship stagnation if this one is running on empty (Thanks Steven Universe)
sexual expression - thinking of it as a tank that we don’t want to dry up as opposed to something scheduled and perfunctory, sexuality a perfectly acceptable way to express love to your consenting sex partner, as well as understand that you yourself are loved - I list this one last because for some, it’s not part of their relationship- many intimate relationships between people who don’t have sex (family relationships, friends, etc)
If you think of your relationship as a machine- you want it to be working effectively and keep working for as long as possible. Do this by checking in on your love tanks! Are they full? Are you running on empty? Are you half a tank, but levels are going up? Or are you full and levels are going down? Or have they been empty for so long that lost the key to even get into the tank?
What we mean is this - If your primary love tank, the one that empties the quickest and fills the slowest, is quality time, and your partner's is words of affirmation, you both need to make sure you're filling each others' main tanks first, and check in frequently with the levels of the other tanks. Your partner is going to I love you until you’re sick of it, and you are going to try to plan your partner’s every free moment for them, because just spending time doing things together is how YOU feel loved. Therein lies the problem, kids! You’re pumping all of your energy into the wrong tank, and it’s overflowing. What happens when you overfill your gas tank? Kaboom. There are other tanks that are completely empty. And your partner is telling you constantly Iloveyouiloveyouiloveyouiloveyou because that is not only how THEY understand love in their world, but THEIR words tank is probably woefully empty. Skip the cooking class for once, because your PARTNER might just need an I love you right now, or a hug, or for you to just clean the bathroom.
It's when we're running on empty that we start to see conflict in relationships, and then all parties end up feeling unloved, misunderstood and potentially isolated (and maybe resentful. Which makes you less likely to want to check in with your partner's love levels, because you're walking around feeling unloved yourself. Where the 5 Love Language analogy posits that people have one primary language, in my experience, people have a primary tank, but need and want to have the other types of love addressed consistently, as well- not just their main tank- although some might need filling less often than others. To make things more complicated, each person in a relationship might have a different order of love tanks. Don’t try to have sex with me until you clean up the kitty litter like you said you would (*acts of service might be before sex, in this case).
Checking in on each love tank level, especially after a fight, can also be a great way to get you out of your own head and start moving some energy outward into the world, rather than focusing it inward until you’ve convinced yourself your partner actively hates you because if they LOVED you then blah blah blah. (we don’t do if/then’s in this style of therapy.) Thinking about all the ways you can help your partner feel loved, will help them into a space to be open to doing the same for you.
For newer relationships, have your partner give 3 examples per tank of ways you might be able to fill each tank in a meaningful way. (For example a gift that would be totally acceptable and filling might just be a candy bar from the store, not necessarily diamonds- and how will you know if you don’t ask?!)
The trick is doing this consistently. Over time. Check in. Weekly. Use whatever language you want that makes the most sense to you, bet it 5 Love Languages or 7 Love Tanks, or an analogy you design yourselves - but for goodness sake’s check in. Even asking “How can I love you in a way that makes the most sense to you?” is a simple way to start the convo. And you NEED to have that conversation. Probably with many people you find yourself in relationships with.
Dr. Michael DeMarco is a therapist and clinical supervisor, and CEO of MyTherapist New York | CounselorsNYC. (And really talks like this.)