Akin and Ese have been married less than a year. Although they were good friends throughout University, their friendship never crossed the line between platonic and romantic. So it was a surprise when Akin returned to Nigeria after a few years studying in the UK, absolutely convinced that Ese was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He pursued her in earnest, and she soon fell for him, seeing in him a man she could love, respect and build a life with. They bonded over their shared interests: stage plays, tennis, Chess, and charity. On their wedding day, they were all smiles.
One would imagine that with such a foundation, their marriage would be as perfect as can be. The problem is, Ese does not feel Akin loves her as he once did. Akin can tell that she is slipping away from him, but he doesn’t know why, or how to make things right again.
He says: “I tell her I love her, every day. I buy her everything I think she would like that I can afford. I’m shocked to hear that she feels unloved.”
She says: “I don’t know how to explain to Akin that I would gladly trade the jewellery, phones and the iPad for an hour of quality time with him, without coming across as ungrateful. I feel so disconnected from him.”
The problem isn’t that Akin isn’t trying. He is giving a lot, just not enough of what his wife needs.
Sadly, it’s not only the partner who feels unloved that suffers. I am well aware that when my husband irons for me, mops the house or chauffeurs me around– even waiting in the car for me for over an hour at times – he is saying loudly, “I love you!” I know, and honestly I want it to be enough (I don’t want to stress him!) but it just doesn’t meet my needs the way his sincere, heartfelt words do. And I only have to step into his shoes for a minute to understand how he feels sending me all that love and seeing it bounce off.
Expressing love is somewhat like translating something from your own language into another person’s language. You often hear people say of a phrase in their mother tongue, “I really don’t know how to explain it in English” and even when they do give a literal representation in English, the essence of the phrase is often lost in translation.
Loving your partner in a way that they understand may not come naturally to you, but like a foreign language, it can be learnt. So before you conclude that you’re incompatible, or that your partner “loves you but isn’t in love with you”, try learning their language and speaking it to them. Then encourage them to do the same for you.
If she needs to hear you say how glad you are that you found her, how proud you are of the woman she’s becoming, or how beautiful she is to you, you need to focus more on this than buying her expensive gifts. If he needs your research skills when he’s working on that proposal, or he feels especially loved when you do his laundry or prepare his favourite meals, all the hugs and “I love yous” in the world can’t replace your acts of service.
She may not need you to help her with anything. She may just be saying “Spend time with me. Get off Twitter, get the office out of your head, be here with me.” Even if you wrote her a love song or went shopping for her, it wouldn’t be the same.
If your partner feels your love the most when you get them a gift that says “I was thinking of you” please understand that they’re not necessarily materialistic. This is just how they receive love. The same goes for women who interpret every touch as sexual. There are men who just want to hug and cuddle, without sex in mind. One unhappy husband once wrote, “Do you know what it feels like to live with someone who never touches you?” He wasn’t talking about sex.
Some may argue that this fosters selfishness; that you should try and hear when your partner is saying “I love you” even though it’s not in a way that satisfies your needs. I disagree. The way I see it, it is more loving to make the effort to speak your partner’s love language than for both of you to spend your lives “managing”. It’s an investment that actually makes your relationship more fulfilling if you’re in for the long haul. If I’m going to be with you, it makes sense to learn how to love you, doesn’t it?