I remember in college reading about a lawyer who had argued dozens of times before the United States Supreme Court. No lawyer wins all the time, but he had been surprisingly effective before the nine justices. The key, he said, was to understand that to make his case, he could not just make one case, but he needed to make nine. In other words, a legal case that persuaded one Supreme Court Justice would not necessarily persuade another one, and so his job was to learn about each of the nine justices as well as he could, and then specifically tailor an argument for each of them, that individually then might be persuaded. This is how he became a successful lawyer before the Supreme Court.
Marriage Counseling - what do most couples want?
What does this have to do with love? Well, for most couples I talk to, their desire is to be in a relationship where they love each other, and love each other well. Often, their next question is, “How do we do that?” The answer, of course, is that there is no universal answer. If the goal is to not just love someone, but for the person to receive and experience that love, then the way we love must be individually tailored for the person we love.
The challenge is that this is not always easy, and as humans, we tend to default by loving people the way we ourselves want to be loved. This would be perfect if we were in a relationship with ourselves, but when we are in a relationship with somebody else, this tends not to work as well.
One example of this in practice is The Five Love Languages, made famous by Gary Chapman. Chapman talks about five ways that people give and receive love: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. All of these are important, and in a love relationship we should be seeking to express love in all of these ways. The reality, however, is that not all of these have the same “bang for the buck”. For each person, there are probably one or two that are more powerful and meaningful than the others. In a relationship, we should make it our business to find out what the best love language for our partner is, and use it often. If we don’t know, we are likely going to use the one that best suits us. A husband could bring flowers to his wife every day, but if her primary language is quality time, and he is not spending time with her, she most likely will not feel loved no matter how many flowers she gets.
This is why, when I begin with a couple, I will often say that one of our first goals is to (figuratively) get a Ph.D. in the other person. In other words, we want to know the other person so well that we know exactly what makes him or her feel cared for, supported, and loved. There are several ways to do this. John and Julie Gottman have an app called “Gottman Card Decks”, that includes many excellent resources for a couple, including one called “Love Maps” which gives questions designed for this very purpose. Another are the 36 Questions that Lead to Love, which lead from more surface-level questions to deeper subjects.
My goals for Marriage Counseling
As a marriage therapist, I want couples to do more than just resolve conflict better, I want their relationship to thrive and be stronger. When we love each other well, it makes our relationship stronger, and that strength helps it to be resilient through whatever challenges life may throw at us. Click to read more about the author Kent Bertrand.