Happy Valentine’s Day from TSG! This week’s blog is all about love and strengthening the relationships in your life.
As Valentine’s Day arrives this year, the topic of love and relationships is at the center of many of my client conversations. As a therapist in Washington DC working with adolescents, young adults, and families, I spend a lot of time exploring relationships with clients – friendships, romantic relationships, and parent-child relationships. The need for relationship and connection is at the core of our beings; to feel loved, seen, and understood by others is a basic human need, and we truly suffer when it is not met.
Whether the love in your life is friend love, family love, or romantic love, getting your relationship needs met relies on self-awareness and communication: noticing your feelings, recognizing your needs, and being able to express those feelings and needs to someone in order to enhance or resolve a feeling and meet your need. For example if you feel sad about a loss and need to feel supported or soothed, being able to receive comfort. Tension, frustration, and conflict arise when we don’t have our needs met – for instance in the above example if you feel the need for soothing when you’re sad, and your partner gives advice or tells you how to move on, you might feel invalidated.
I frequently coach people on enhancing their relationships by improving the process I listed above. Before you enter an interaction when your emotion is running high (good or bad), first focus on your feeling, then ask yourself what you would like to get from your friend, family, or partner: are you looking for a hug? A shoulder to cry on? A cheerleader? A quiet nonjudgmental listener? Don’t expect others to mind-read, and don’t get angry if they offer the wrong response – instead, communicate your need directly. “I feel really upset about what my friend said to me today, and I want to just vent about it to you. I don’t really need advice, can you just listen?” As a listener, focus first on the feelings and ask your partner, friend or child : “What would be most helpful for you right now?” in order to know how to best meet their need.
Lastly, how each person likes to feel loved can vary greatly from one person to the next. I suggest to any family or couple having relationship challenges to take the “5 love languages” quiz and reflect on what their love language is. You can take the quiz for free here, with versions for couples, children, teens, and singles: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/
This quiz breaks down categories for giving and receiving love: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. Often, we give the love that we are most interested in receiving for ourselves, and we are frustrated by receiving gestures other than our preferred love language. A common mismatch I find with parents of teens is that teenagers stop wanting hugs from their parents – they want acts of service and words of affirmation, while parents want quality time and physical touch that they had before their children entered adolescence. Being able to talk through these differences and give your child or partner the love they most want, and being able to have your needs met with the type of love that you most want, can truly strengthen your relationships and bring more joy into your life. This year for Valentine’s Day, give yourself and your relationships the gift of awareness–pay attention to your love language and your feelings and you will feel more loved and loving.