Good relationships involve both practicing the five love languages and avoiding the five un-love languages
THE FIVE UN-LOVE LANGUAGES
By Bill Cottringer
The book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, certainly continues to make a big plash in the relationship and marriage world. Practicing positive behaviors that nurture love just makes good sense; but that is really only half the picture. It is almost ironic that the circle of psychology started out by focusing on negativity, pathologt and failures, only to switch focus to the positivism, wellbeing and successes of people, only to arrive at the necessary understanding of balance in the bigger picture. But that seems to be the common path to our understanding of the important things in life.
If we are really going to be successful in love and relationships, we have to catch our selves in time and avoid doing the negative, un-loving things that make a relationship go south before we can stop it, as well as practicing the positive things in the meantime that nurture the relationship and keep it moving in the right direction. We already know the things we need to be doing to be successful in anything, including relationships. Positive psychology has identified these things pretty clearly, as evidenced by contributions such as the five love languages. But here’s the rest of the story.
I have spend more than four decades studying love and good relationships—building a practical model of a healthy relationship. A few years ago I was discussing this model with a new friend. She agreed 100% with my observations of what makes a better than average relationship, but said something that made my rethink relationships altogether. The comment was something to the effect of, “I am not as interested in knowing what makes a relationship good, as in understanding why good relationships go bad. This is a very profound point. Below is the research I did in identifying some un-love languages that can take the good out of a good relationship in a hurry and turn it into “The Break-up” syndrome in the recent movie with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn.
Probably the hardest thing we can ever try to do is to live together with another person in harmony. We usually go into a relationship with slightly different agendas, expectations, needs, wants, skills and habits. These things usually aren’t put out on the table, often because we really aren’t even clear on these things our own selves. That makes communicating such basic information very difficult. Typically a couple tries to tolerate the differences until something snaps inside and all the resentments come out in a major complaint tirade, like Brooke had in The Break-up.
Complaining is a negative, un-loving language that guarantees failure in a relationship because if doesn’t offer anything positive, especially in the way of solutions. There are always going to be annoying differences in any relationship that can get in the way and there is no way around that reality. But it is the way our reactions to these annoying differences are communicated, that is the real problem. The only loving way to approach these potential deal-breaking points of no return, is to be assertive as you go rather than saving resentments to dump all at once at the wrong time.
In the recent movie The Break-up, when Brooke finally told Gary what was bothering her and why without “complaining,” she made the impact that could have saved the relationship. That is if it had been done earlier to match his comment, “Well why didn’t you just tell me that before, I’m not a mind reader you know.” Taking the complaining and historical flavors out of the issue is more likely to help gets heard the way you need to be heard. It also helps you see the truth at hand.
I find it very odd, that the one thing we demand for ourselves—freedom—is the one thing we can be very quick to try and take away from another person in a relationship. No one likes to be controlled and we will all invariably react negatively when we perceive we are being controlled by another person. Whenever we see this going on, we become emotionally defensive and that state shuts down the further communication that is needed to get through the conflict.
Actually, it is not the overt power struggle of controlling behavior that is the problem—but rather the more subtle controlling attitudes that are denied. “You are trying to control me. No I am not, it is you who are trying to do this right now.” Such attitudes will always get in the way as unloving language, until we realize the only thing that we can really control is our own behavior, especially our reactions to someone else’s behavior. The only workable solution to conflicts that require some sort of control, is for both people to be willing to give up what is least important to them and to be open to exploring a creative compromise on the other side of where they are at.
Conflicts are a very natural part of life and relationships and they are not the real problem at all. It is the attitude we adopt about a conflict that is the driving force behind this un-loving language and the dreadful consequences that this kind of negative communication almost always brings. The main choice is to see a conflict as something to passively avoid, aggressively attack, or assertively approach. When you do things to passively avoid conflicts, they just go underground on you and eventually come back to bite you on the butt. When you try to bulldoze yourself over and through a conflict…well we all know the sad results of that approach.
The healthiest most positive viewpoint about a conflict is that this type of situation is an opportunity for everyone to learn something important and to grow forward, more skilled to handle the next, bigger conflict that will inevitably come along. When we get unsettled and disordered, which usually happens during a conflict, we become more motivated to deliver our best performance, or worst, depending upon our openness to learning, growing and improving and ability to live with creative compromises.
The main negative behavior to avoid during a conflict is stubbornness in not being able to recognize when an issue is more important to the other person. It is necessary to be honest here in order to let go and give in, when that is the best answer. But beware of “keeping score” because that takes you right back to unloving controlling behavior.
The danger of this behavior is that it can quickly go from well-intentioned, helpful criticism to very harsh judgment and sentencing in a New York second or quicker. What we all crave, right up there with freedom, is equality. Condemning judgments strip equality away with one swipe and replace it with superiority, leaving the victim with a defensive posture of being inferior and inadequate. From there any conversation will go downhill faster than you can ski down a 180-degree angle.
The best way to avoid the unloving effects of judgment is to take the time to truly understand the issue at hand from the other person’s perspective, not your own. This means learning to ask questions that you don’t already have your own answers to. Usually, when you take the time to understand why a person is thinking or acting in a particular way, two good things happen: (a) you are communicating love and respect to the other person (b) you will get closer to the truth which is always easier to accept and live with.
This commitment thing is a two edge sword, but the object is to know what behaviors not to commit—in short the things that offend anyone’s soul, especially the three A’s—Abuse, Adultery and Abandonment. And once any serious negative behavior is committed—like verbal or physical violence, addictions of any sort, mean-spirited name-calling, or acts of dishonesty—they leave permanent scars and can’t be taken back. It is better to not even think about crossing the line in some things.
All good relationships are based on confident, willful, persevering, honest and reciprocal commitment and once this commitment is violated there is no turning back. One big positive, honest commitment is a constant choice that may need to be affirmed on a daily basis and the littler negative, dishonest commitments need to be questioned continually to keep them from spreading roots. Be positively committed to a permanent positive commitment and avoid the termites of negative commitments.
So, in practicing the five languages of love, also avoid the 5 C’s of unloving communication—Complaining, Controlling, Clashing, Condemning, and Committing—and go from surviving in a mediocre relationship to thriving in a fabulous one.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA. He is author of You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too and The Bow-Wow Secrets. He can be reached at (425) 454-5011 or bcottrigner.pssp.net