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When Words of Affirmation Don’t Come Naturally

Have you heard of the book The Five Love Languages? It was all the rage with my friends when I was in college, so naturally I read it. I actually flew through it and would highly recommend it for anyone in any kind of relationship: friends, family, partner, etc. It helped me understand a little bit more about myself, but more importantly, it heightened my awareness about the needs of the people around me.

A quick summary about the book: there are five love languages people use to express love, and usually the ones that they use are the ones they need to receive to feel loved. Those five love languages include: physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time and receiving gifts. At the end of the book, there is a self-examination test to do a quick evaluation of your love languages, ranked in order.

Unsurprisingly, my No. 1 is acts of service. I am a doer. When someone needs something, or I see that someone may need assistance at a party, I feel uncomfortable not helping. In reverse, that’s how I feel loved as well.

When my husband does the dishes without me asking for help, I feel like I have died and gone to heaven. So darn loving, those newly clean dishes and empty sink! This is especially true living overseas without a dishwasher.

Midway down my list is words of affirmation with receiving gifts ranking at zero. This is helpful in our marriage because I am fairly certain my husband is also a zero in the receiving gifts category. We frequently forget to get gifts for all occasions: i.e. Christmas, anniversary, and birthdays. We both sigh with relief when we realize the other forgot again this year, too.

It can make me feel guilty, though, in some friendships in which this is clearly the other person’s love language, and I just have the hardest time even keeping it on my radar.

The one love language I want to focus on is “Words of Affirmation.”

Men get the reputation for needing to have their egos stroked for helping with even the most menial tasks. You have seen the memes. I would argue that this is probably because the majority of men feel loved by words of affirmation. I know that it is my husband’s No. 1 love language, and although it took me a little time to realize it, all I had to do was listen.

My husband is constantly affirming me, telling me I look beautiful, thanking me for dinner, and just generally being positive with his words. He is even more so with our daughters.

And then there is me: “Uh, oh yea, thank you, you are handsome, too.”

I am the worst.

However, I am getting better. And I am getting better because I am trying. It is not easy for me. But, I think it is really important work because when was there ever a person who did not like to be affirmed, dare I say, need to be affirmed? It may not be my first love language, but I would surely feel less loved if those affirmations came to an end. I want to be old and grey with this man and still be telling each other how great life is. 

It is important with our children too. I am not encouraging false affirmations like, “You’re the best at everything ever,” but real affirmations.

“I am so proud of all the hard work I see you putting into school.”

“I think you are doing a great job speaking Spanish although I know it makes you nervous.”

“I appreciate that you put your clothes in the dirty clothes bin without me having to ask” instead of refraining from saying how I really feel, “FINALLY! How many times have I asked you in the past?!”

In reality, my affirmation and gratitude will encourage that behavior to resurface again next time my kids change their clothes.

I have come to realize, through having an affirming husband and a great friend who is the same, that affirmations are just all around an incredibly important part of life. I think the world would be a better place if we all just vocalized our gratitude and encouragement a little more.

That is all affirmation really is, encouragement and gratitude. I consider myself a realist and believe I struggle with verbally affirming because it means someone needs to be coddled. But, it isn’t about being coddled. It’s about recognizing someone or something for exactly what it is.

Expressing gratitude out loud not only makes the other person feel loved and appreciated, but it keeps my focus on optimism instead of honing in on those feelings of “Finally, you put your darn clothes in the basket for the first time, why has it taken you so long?!”

The more we can express our gratitude and encouragement out loud in affirming others, the more positive and joyful the world would be. If we make it a habit, it won’t be so hard anymore.

So, I would argue that wherever “Words of Affirmation” falls on your list of love languages, hearing them can never be undervalued, and it is vital to everyone.

Affirm your spouse. Affirm your kids. Affirm your friends. Affirm your coworkers. It will make you and everyone around better for it.

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