Finish this sentence:

“I feel most loved when …..

Do you know how your partner would answer?

If you don’t know—or if you think “love language” means cooing in French or singing in Italian—you need to read this. Your primary love language is the main way you’ve learned to give and receive love. It could be one or more of the following:

1. Words of affirmation

For example, “I love your big arms”; “You were the prettiest girl there”; “Thanks for being so patient with the children”; “You’re so much fun”; “Really appreciate your effort.”

You may think this is too simple, but words can inspire people and love is kept alive by a basic human need: appreciation. Sincere compliments also help you to focus on the best things about your partner, rather than thinking about their weak points.

And the best way to make sure someone repeats a good action is to appreciate it—to “catch them doing something good” and make a fuss. (If you do it to manipulate, they will see through you.) Remember to affirm someone for who they are at least as much as what they do. If this does not come easily to you, start with small things and watch the effect.

2. Quality time

This means just being together—not watching TV, not working, just relaxing and talking and focusing on each other. So many busy people forget how important this is, and lose their romance and closeness.

Quality time should include fun activities and real listening and attention: eye contact, not fiddling with something else, listening for feelings and facts, watching their body language and refusing to interrupt. It also means taking your turn to talk with deep, kind honesty.

3. Gifts

For some people, gifts are proof that you love them and have thought about them. And it needn’t be pearls or BMWs—if you are broke, try a handwritten card or a bunch of flowers (don’t tell her you got them from the cemetery).

The emotional significance of the gift is less to do with its cost than what it says. (Hint: don’t give bathroom scales.) Practical gifts (for example, a vacuum cleaner) do not touch the heart like intimate gifts (great underwear, or a $5 bottle of massage oil and a voucher for 10 massages), humorous gifts, or something they’ve been wanting for their hobby (which shows you listen).

4. Acts of service

Some people appreciate a simple home-cooked meal more than a five- star restaurant. Repairing someone’s car, sewing on a loose button or fixing their computer can be a powerful way to say you notice them and care about their happiness.

These may be small things and they can even include housework (which is often underrated as demeaning work), but they mean a lot. Serving doesn’t mean being a doormat. Jesus said, “The greatest among you is the one who serves.”

5. Physical touch

Everyone knows that babies who are hugged a lot develop healthier emotions, but what about adults? Some people feel most loved when they are touched—playing footsies, holding hands, kissing, a massage, cosy cuddling on the sofa and, of course, sex, which is a whole dialect of its own.

Simply put, the aim of these languages is simply to keep filling the “love tank”, the emotional need in every person, so that love does not empty away in a marriage.

“the confusing part is that each partner may have a different primary language.”

“the confusing part is that each partner may have a different primary language.”.

• In the middle of a blazing row, he roars, “Of course I love you. Why else would I work 80 hours a week to buy you all this?” She snaps back, “I could live without a new Mercedes, Jack. I want a husband around.” He is speaking the language of gifts, but she only understands quality time.

• He says, “When she touches me out in public, I feel so proud. And sex somehow blows away conflict and makes me feel really close to her.” She says, “Good, but if he hasn’t said nice things to me and complimented me through the day, I find it hard to get my heart open enough to get turned on.” His primary language is touch. She vaguely understands that as a kind of second language, but spoken affirmation is what really feeds her emotionally.

What can you do with this?

1. Understand

Understand your primary love language. What did you say made you feel most loved? What category does that fit into? What about your partner’s answer?

2. Learn

Learn to speak your partner’s primary love language. It may not seem important to you, but it is to them. Even if it feels a little false and awkward at first, it will still be appreciated and it will start to come more naturally to you. This may sound too simple, but it will build love into a marriage.

3. Ask

Ask for what you need. Don’t expect them to mind-read. And don’t ask with criticism, but with positive expectation of them. Be patient if they don’t instantly get it.

4. Realise

Realise that if you and your partner have full “love tanks”, conflict will be much less threatening.

Counsellors will tell you that most couples can’t believe this can help put the spark back into their marriage because it seems so simple. “What! You’re telling me that if I give her two sincere compliments every day, that will make her feel loved?

It seems such a small thing.” Not if she’s starving for it. “You claim that if I just drop everything for half an hour and listen with interest to what happened at his work, it will make that big a difference?”

Try it and see.

Sex and intimacy

Let’s be realistic: sex can just be an indoor sport.

But at its best it involves intimacy and is a language of love between two people. Your major sex organ is the 15 centimetres between your ears. (Interestingly the biblical word for sex is “to know”, which means intimacy.)

Bill  invited me round to see his race car. After half an hour of V8 heaven, Bill got a serious face on.

So, how do you make a woman lose interest in sex?” he asked.
Marry her.” And he laughed a bitter laugh. “Seriously, I can understand guys getting a girlfriend as well.” He said women were a mystery to him, then asked, “So what do I do?”

I said, “OK, let me ask you: My car is hard to start and doesn’t perform. What do I do?”

It could be a few things. Electrical system, fuel supply, blocked air breather . . .”

“Right, and there are only a few basic systems that affect a person’s sexual desire. One, physical health.”

No, she’s fit and healthy.”
“OK, so it’s psychological. Things like her general happiness, whether she feels OK about herself and her life.”
She’s OK on that. What else?
“The quality of your relationship generally.”
Ah, well, we’ve been having a few hassles, but that never seems to worry me when it comes to sex. I can enjoy the sex for its own sake. But women,” he waved his hands around, “they’re always worrying about the relationship!”

He said “relationship” like a foreign word or a disease. “Relationships are so vague!”
“Unlike engines, which you find easy. You can listen to your car for 10 seconds and work out what’s wrong.”
“But someone taught you that. Whoever taught you about relationships? Your father?”
He laughed. “No way. What could he teach?”

“OK, well there are a few basic systems. Two marriage therapists named L’Abate and Talmadge described love as five main things:

1. Receiving care.

2. Giving care

So what’s the link to sex? Good sex has to be giving and taking—like a good relationship. Sex can be just two people taking, bargaining to get what they want. Or it can be one person usually giving and the other person being pretty selfish. But if you both enjoy giving the other person pleasure, and know how to enjoy receiving it yourself…”

“Then kaboom,” he was nodding. “If you’ve been pushing for your own way all day, it’s not easy to climb into bed and give.”

“Exactly. And if you think love is control and you want to keep your distance, or you think love is smothering and you want to be free to be yourself, or you think love must be earned, or even that you’re not a lovable person, you can’t receive.”

3. Seeing the good

In her and yourself. If you’ve felt like a useless loser all day, it’s hard to climb into bed and perform. Same if you’ve been telling her she’s foolish, even in subtle ways.

4. Forgiving

That’s what allows you to put mistakes behind you both, rather than let them build up. If you know your lover is critical in bed and in life generally, and any blunders will be held against you, then you’ll feel serious performance pressure and you’ll freeze up.

You need to be safe to try new things. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

Bill looked at me. “Then that’s the problem. I can be a bit critical. I admit it. Learned it from my father, I suppose.” And so we talked about that for a while.

He decided he’d ask her if that was a problem and then apologise. He decided to thank her more and appreciate what she did—in bed and out—and to shut his mouth when he felt critical. If it was a big thing, he would choose his moment and tell her nicely, but otherwise let little things pass. We never did get onto the next point, which was:

5. Intimacy,

which is basically letting the other person know who you really are, not keeping parts of yourself hidden from them.

This takes courage—what if your lover sees the real you and rejects you?

But intimacy is the difference between just having sex and actually making love. You can buy sex, but intimacy can’t be bought, prefabricated or bargained for. It can only be built with time. But Bill did say he wished someone had sat him down and taught him this stuff in plain language.

If you ask me, it’s a lot simpler to learn than a supercharged engine.

If headaches persist, see your counsellor.

If headaches persist, see your counsellor.

Most people think sex therapy is learning new techniques—how to hit the G-spot, perform a new gymnastic position from the Karma Sutra or maintain erection for a week using Zen meditation.

New techniques are great, and old-fashioned sex experts like Masters and Johnson used to focus on technique and ignore the non-sexual parts of the relationship. (It was the 1960s.) But more recently, sex therapists have looked at the couple’s relationship as well as their plumbing.

This surprises some people. A lot of us think sex is a natural physical thing that just works. We come from the “Just Do It” school of sex education, strutting through our fantasies as sexual masters on a James Bond level. We’re surprised how much sex has to do with relationship and love. But of course it does—if it’s making love!
For example, in the book Integrating Sex and Marital Therapy, Larry Hof asks clients with sexual problems how good their relationship is. He runs a range of tests that would put car mechanics to shame:

  • How included and connected do they feel? : Too clingy and smothered or too lonely?
  • Are they equally committed to the relationship?: If not, the more committed one can be manipulated.
  • How is power shared? : Are both partners happy with that?
  • Do they fight over having and doing, or are they happy just being
  • In conflict and negotiation, :how well do they read each other emotionally? How fair-minded and logical are they?
  • Do they express emotions : in a healthy way?
  • Do they think clearly?: They need to avoid:
  • overgeneralisations(“Everyone always leaves me.”)
  • all-or-nothing thinking (“Joe has a problem with anger so he’s totally evil.”)
  • taking things personally (“You don’t feel like sex, so I must be unlovable.”)
  • expecting mind-reading (“I need comfort, so why don’t you comfort me!”)
  • emotional slavery (“You know how I feel, so you have to do what I want.”)
  • saviour syndrome (“I should be able to fix whatever’s wrong between us.”)
  • How good are they at bargaining? Can they negotiate deals?
  • How well do they communicate? Can they ask for what they need without blaming or attacking?
  • Can they listen for emotions behind what is said? Can they listen actively, giving feedback and checking that they understood? If not, how can they listen in bed?
  • How well do they manage conflict? Can they identify and “own” their feelings, accepting them as theirs rather than blaming their partner for the way they feel?
  • Can they identify the real issue? (Often this is not the obvious one.)
  • Can they avoid dredging up past conflict, but stay in the present? Can they walk away when anger is about to become destructive, or take a stroll when they need some of the perspective of distance? Can they identify common ground and begin their discussion there?
  • What are each partner’s expectations for the relationship? For example, he thinks he has to earn the money and she look after the children. She thinks there should be equality in both. They may have fought over specific issues without ever talking about the assumptions behind it all. When they understand each other, they can begin negotiation. Each partner has beliefs on expectations of marriage—roles, frequency of sex, family size, how close and intimate.
  • Do they understand the influence of their families? Face it, to some degree your sexual future depends on your mother-in-law! (And your father-in-law of course.) What attitude did they pass on to your partner?
  • How intimate are they and how comfortable are both partners with that intimacy? People can be afraid of intimacy, fearing being laughed at, criticised, losing control or being taken over.
  • (Others list at least 12 types of intimacy: sexual, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, creative, recreational, work, crisis, commitment, spiritual, communication and conflict.)

While we’re talking intimacy, religions are about spiritual relationships. For example, six of the Ten Commandments are about how we treat other people and another advises a day of rest so that workaholism does not destroy relationships. So do religious people have better relationships? One study found that women who call themselves religious (whether Christians or Jews) are more sexually satisfied than average, more secure and— surprisingly to some—have fewer problems with frigidity. Other sex therapists consider psychological issues like body image and beliefs about sex.

So . . . sex.
What’s love got to do with it?

So . . . sex.
What’s love got to do with it?