Words of Affirmation: I Need to Hear It
There are five languages of love that were made popular by author, Gary Chapman in 1992. The other four languages are touch, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. I am not convinced these are the only languages of love (which I write about here), but they are a helpful place to start.
I was reminded of the power love languages during my last session of the day. I had seen this couple many times before. They are interesting people with unique and independent personalities; both are quite smart, well-educated, and equally very likable. They are funny too.
She likes to be right. She is usually clear about her frustrations and what she would like to see different in their home and in their relationship. I could always tell from her curiosity about how her partner feels, her laughter at her partner’s jokes, and her soft eyes when she looks at her that she also admires her. As you’ll see though, I don’t think her partner could always tell.
Her partner wants to get things right, to make her happy. It has always been obvious to me that they feel great love and friendship for each other too, but it was never evident through her words. Her words were used to process what wasn’t working and what needed more attention.
She started with, “I worry that my anxiety is hard on you and the kids.” With genuine concern, she continued, “I know you don’t like that part of me and I wish I could compartmentalize it so it doesn’t affect you.” Her partner listened to her with her usual soft eyes and open heart as she struggled to share her feelings. When she finished, she repeated what she said so she could be sure she understood her. As she did so, her eyes began to water.
While visibly working to hold back tears, she said, “Yes, anxiety is a part of what you bring to our family, just as you bring love, thoughtfulness, humor, helpfulness, and much more.” Then the first teardrop found its way out of the corner of her right eye, and she continued, “I cannot wish for some parts of you and reject the others; you are all of it, it is what makes you you, and I love you.”
She was done talking. She just shared genuine words of affirmation and vulnerability filled the air.
I could tell she felt like she had said more than she was accustomed to sharing already. So, I did what any good therapist does, and asked her to share more. When I invited her to explain what she felt as she told her partner that, she gave up the battle to hold back her tears (and no, this is NOT the goal of therapy – to make people cry – so stay with me here as the magic unfolds). She said, “It makes me sad to think that you feel alone with your anxiety. That you believe I may not love part of you because of that.” Then she went on to say, “I am here for you.” “I love you.” “All of you.”
Who doesn’t want to hear that?
People who rely on words of affirmation to feel loved must hear it.
Let me say it again because if you love someone, this is exactly what they want to hear (as long as you mean it, of course).
I AM HERE FOR YOU. I LOVE YOU. ALL OF YOU.
Turning to her partner, I anticipated that she might reciprocate with her own endorsement of love for her. However, her response surprised me. She seemed skeptical, untrusting of her partner’s words. I asked her to share with her partner what she was feeling as she listened to her. “Embarrassed, really,” she said. “You don’t talk to me like that, and I don’t know what to do with those words.” She continued, saying, “I feel embarrassed…maybe vulnerable is the word, because this is not how you talk. It feels unfamiliar, foreign.”