My first few months postpartum were really hard on me as a mom, but they were honestly much harder on me as a wife. After griping to a friend about how things were going, she recommended that I read The Five Love Languages. Now, while I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author has to say, I found the metaphor of a love language incredibly useful, and was pleasantly surprised at what a difference it made for me. Not only did it change a lot in my relationship with my partner, discovering my love language made me a better parent.
Once I learned about the different love languages — receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch — and discovered my own, I realized why postpartum life was so tough on me. My primary language is words of affirmation. My partner’s is acts of service. My child was completely nonverbal, because he's a baby, and my stepdaughter was far away, living with her mother. So I went from spending my days having a variety of interpersonal interactions, including many where people would affirm me, to spending my whole day with just my husband and son, where that was happening far less frequently. Given how physically exhausted I was, and how much I was doing for our new baby, I was starting to feel depleted and resentful. Those feelings took a huge toll on our relationship.
You know how, when you’re around people speaking a different language that you don’t understand, it can turn into background noise? That’s what their expressions of love were like, so I didn’t really pay attention to them. Once I recognized what those actions meant for them, I was able to understand them better, and give them more credit for showing me love the best way they knew how. It’s still not the same as being loved in my native language, of course, and now that I know to ask for that I'm better able to get what I need, particularly from my partner. But even when our kids don't or can't speak my primary love language, being able to interpret more of their actions as the expressions of love they're intended to be feels infinitely better than erroneously feeling ignored or taken for granted.
It Helped Me Understand My Own Needs Better…
Once I figured out what my love language was, I realized that I feel very low and depleted when no one around me is speaking my language — words of affirmation, closely followed by physical touch. Being able to pinpoint why I was feeling unloved, even though my family members felt they were being loving toward me, helped me understand my own feelings better.
It also made it possible to see that the problem wasn't that I was wrong and they were right, or that they were wrong and I was right. It was just a classic case of miscommunication. No one was being bad and no one was broken. We just weren't speaking each other's language.
...Which Helped Me Become More Intentional About Getting Them Met
Knowing what I needed to feel loved helped me ask for it, as well as put myself back in the kinds of situations where I was getting them met — spending time with my friends who intuitively speak my language, and interacting with colleagues and others who appreciate my work.
It Helped Me Prioritize My Interactions With My New Son
As I started to think about my own love language more, I started to think about my brand-new baby's, too. I realized that because he couldn't necessarily understand my words or intentions, I had to rely on physical affection, quality time, and acts of service (meeting his physical needs quickly and fully), which helped me commit to attachment parenting and feel secure in my choice. Instead of feeling at all pressured to make him less dependent on me, I was able to accept his desire to constantly be with and near me. That's what he needs to feel loved in this moment in his life, and that's OK.
It Helped Me Focus On Helping My Kids Feel Loved, Instead Of Assuming They'd Feel Loved
Recognizing that there's a difference between what others do for me and how I perceive it and feel about it, helped me realize how important it is to figure out what, specifically, makes our kids feel loved. I don't want to bust my butt to the point of resentment doing things that don't even register for them, while ignoring the kinds of actions that make the biggest difference for them. It would break my heart for them to spend their whole childhoods feeling unloved, even as I drove myself to the breaking point trying to show them how much I cared.
Feeling Loved Again Energized Me
Feeling loved makes you feel fuller, happier, and more secure in yourself. Once I started to recognize how loved I was again, I started to feel less worn out. I was still fatigued, physically — being a mom of young kids is often exhausting, even under the best of circumstances. However, I was no longer feeling burned out, like I was on the verge of collapsing, or snapping. I could be tired, and still be generous, and patient, and caring, instead of short-tempered.
Recognizing The Ways My Family Expresses Their Love Helped Me Feel Less Resentful...
Once I learned to recognize that many of the behaviors I didn't give a second thought to were actually expressions of love, I started to feel less taken for granted. That freed me to be more generous with my time, energy, and attention, which no longer felt like gifts wasted on ungrateful recipients. When it comes to love — in healthy relationships, anyway — the more we give, the more we get. It's a lovely, joyful cycle.
...Which Helped Me Be A More Present, More Patient Mom
Instead of feeling burdened and taken for granted, I started feeling more understanding, and started giving everyone in my life more of a break, including my kids. They're not trying to mess with me, or give me grief, I'd remind myself. They're doing the best they can, and they love me.
Instead of wishing I was in the past or the future, I started to get comfortable being right where I was. I started taking the time to really pay attention and see what our kids were doing in the best possible light, instead of assuming my first, usually way less charitable, interpretation of their behavior was the truth. That made it much easier to take the time to teach them how to do the right thing, instead of getting frustrated with them for things that are often beyond their control.
It Strengthened My Partnership…
I don’t think I, or any mom, have to be partnered to be a great parent. But if we do have a partner, it’s important for that relationship to be healthy. Otherwise, we’re modeling bad relationship dynamics for our kids, and subjecting them to our unhappiness, which they unfortunately absorb.
By understanding what I need to feel loved, I became better able to articulate my needs, which made it easier for my partner to meet them, and vice versa. That made us both happier with each other, which helped us be able to do more for and with each other.
...Which Makes A Happier Home For Our Kids
One of the best things any of us can do for our kids is give them a safe, happy place in which to grow up. Discovering my love language helped me figure out how to be my happiest self, which helped me share that happiness with my family.
By learning how to express and interpret love in multiple ways, I also became better able to not only show love, but better able to navigate conflict and frustration in more productive ways. I found myself getting less frustrated in situations (with my toddler especially) that would normally upset me, and I became better able to see that even when I and my family don't see eye to eye, we really do love each other, and we really are always on the same team. That makes it so much easier to presume positive intentions about my family's behavior, and way more possible to find win-win solutions to problems we face in our day-to-day lives.