From Dating to Parenting: How my Love Language Has Changed After 12 Years
My husband and I have now been together going on 12 years—married for almost 5—and have a 16-month-old. In this time, I’ve noticed my love language change.
Knowing your love language and communicating it to your partner is essential in a relationship—otherwise, your partner might be expending so much on gestures that mean nothing to you. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman claims that of the five, most people will only really have two dominant ones. According to him, the five love languages are:
- Gifts: Gifts and thoughtful gestures are important. Even small gifts go a long way to please such people.
- Quality Time: Focused and uninterrupted one-on-one time time is key. Special moments.
- Words of Affirmation: They want to hear you affirm your love in spoken words, a note, text, or card.
- Acts of Service: They want you to help and alleviate their workload.
- Physical Touch: Be near, in person; hold hands. They value physical touch and intimacy.
In the early years of our relationship as University students, gifting featured occasionally but it wasn’t the way to my heart. Not long after we started dating, I recall him slipping a new wristwatch into my pocket. He didn’t bother presenting it with the case because it was pretty early on and he thought I’d refuse it. On a couple of occasions, his gift presentations seemed like proposals. The first was an Arsenal football jersey—he knelt to ask me to become an Arsenal fan. (So dramatic, I bet he wouldn't even attempt it today.) The second were a pair of gorgeous earrings in a case resembling an engagement ring box. For the record, I'd have said no at that time. It was too soon.
Words of affirmation didn't mean that much to me then, either. I didn’t care much for the phrase “I love you.” It was nice to hear, but words can be easy, no? I needed more, and my primary love language seems to have been quality time. It was important that I got to know him and enjoyed spending time with him. And we did spend a lot of time together. Our faculties were just across from each other, so even though he lived outside the campus, he’d make the fairly long drive to school so we could catch up. I enjoyed our time together and he went to great lengths to speak this language. From a surprise birthday dinner on my 20th —complete with a two tiered cake and the words “ich liebe dich” , to a random drive to Bowers Towers—the spot from where you can see all of Ibadan. Ibadan didn’t have much of a social scene, but we made time to explore the little it presented. If a new restaurant opened in town, we’d try to check it out. Another time, he drove me to church for a private mini-session about the essentials of a relationship—eyebrow-raising, but interesting.
Our quality time together wasn’t always activity-filled. Many times, it was simply good conversations or even boring activities like studying together (I know I studied, can’t say the same for him) or long walks while holding hands. Even when we weren’t together—holidays, for instance— quality time happened via phone calls or text messages. Interestingly, our first Valentine’s was significant because we didn’t speak that day. He was on holiday in London and I was with friends. According to his version of the story, he walked miles in the freezing cold to make a phone call to me and I didn’t answer. Now that I’ve lived in London in February, I reckon he must have been exaggerating. I pictured icy snow and road blocks. But c’mon how cold can it be in February?
Without a doubt, his love language was also quality time. So, those three years in university definitely cemented our relationship. When he left university before me, quality time (in person) became hard and more appreciated. So his showing up at about 9 pm on the last day of my LLB exams—having left Lagos at about 7 pm and driven to Ibadan—it was the most thoughtful surprise.
He left Nigeria for his master’s in the UK in 2011.
Being so far apart, without real knowledge of his environment and activities (I’d never been to the UK), words of affirmation became very necessary for me. Thankfully, he spoke this language fluently at that time. It was probably the season of our relationship in which he wrote to me the most. Long distance relationships can be hard, and his long emails and handwritten letters—reminiscing about the past, dealing with the present and hopes for the future—made this season less challenging. Yes, I probably needed to hear “I love you” every day.
In the absence of quality time, gifts became my secondary love language—perhaps also because I was surrounded by people in their mid-twenties, getting employed and in the neck of dating who received gifts very often. I wanted nicely-wrapped surprise gifts, gifts on my birthdays, “no reason” gifts, “thinking of you” gifts. It didn’t have to be lavish or expensive, but thoughtful. I guess it’s the only tangible way to show love when you’re apart? A funny story about one of Tee’s gifts: Just before my Call to Bar, I was about to watch The Lincoln Lawyer with my friends and I texted him about our plans. He got frantic and replied, “No, no! Don’t watch that movie. I can’t tell you why now, but don’t.” It turned out he had got me the book and wanted me to read it first. Soon after, I received the law novel personalized this with a handwritten note which read “here’s wishing you the best in your legal career. You have planted the seed of greatness and I know you are on course to be one of the greatest the profession has ever seen. I am more than proud of you.”
Despite the woes of long distance, acts of service still featured in our relationship. Like Tee writing my first CV or reviewing my scholarship application essays a million times over. These definitely meant more to me than gifts.
When I moved to the UK for my master’s, quality time returned to the number one spot. Because this love language is his specialty, we had some good times, such as my 24th birthday—a spa date and dinner, complete with a saxophonist special number—and our first trip to Paris and Amsterdam, albeit on a lean student budget.
After marriage, acts of service became my primary love language.
There was nothing nicer than coming home to a clean sink, or not having to vacuum, and generally just having someone help out with house chores. And giving credit where it is so due, my husband was at my service—whether he was driving me to the salon, cooking, fixing stuff at home, or grocery shopping with me. Quality time came a close second and he consistently spoke this language, from surprise birthday parties like my 26th to getaways for my 27th and 28th, and more recently, a surprise baby shower.
For three and a half years, we created some awesome memories and spent significant time together. That coupled with a lot of acts of service and the occasional gifting was more than enough for me.
We didn’t even really do Valentine’s—we never have.
When our son arrived, my primary love language remained acts of service. What quality time? I was home most of the time and couldn’t even make a solo trip to the corner shop. Neither could we go anywhere together, baby-free. So I needed him to speak the language of changing diapers, bathing the kid, being a 110% hands-on dad. Again, he rose to the occasion. I mean, I still don’t know how to fit a car seat.
But parenting takes a toll on you and your intimacy. With all the sleepless nights and just trying to wing it, we weren’t spending enough time together. For the first time since being married, he wasn’t around for my birthday. In the midst of everything, we were still trying to forge our careers, and even the “holidays” we went on, felt more like work.
In fairness, it hasn’t been all routine, and there have been some really good moments. Like my “surprise” 30th dinner last November. I knew it was happening—but it was still a sweet gesture from him.
16 months post baby, what’s my current love language?
I actually can’t pick one. I want them all. But with a generous helping of “romance.” Does this have anything to do with being 30 and wanting to live more intentionally? Maybe.
But I want all of the celebrations—not necessarily lavish, just in the most romantic ways possible. Flowers are nice, but I’m still not a huge fan. Instead, I want the love letters in hidden places. I want the stolen kisses. I want the “wear this dress I got you and let’s go to dinner.” I want the getaway trips for two. I want to hold hands all the time. I want date nights, breakfasts in bed—I want all of the LOVE.
And I don’t just want to receive it—I want to give it.
Love is action. But if not fuelled, you run the risk of getting comfortable. Being with the same person for a long time can make you too comfortable. Add being a new parent to the mix? Ha.
Instead of lazily asking Tee to pick out gifts for himself which I may have done for his last two birthdays, I want to be more conscious. The spirit is willing; I hope the flesh doesn’t become weak.
Interestingly, I think he’s on to this as well. He’s been speaking of getaway trips, romance and being more intentional.
Did I celebrate Valentine then yesterday? When I told my colleague “it’s such a commercialized day,” she—an Italian (they love Love) who has been with the same guy for 22 years—responded, “And so? You’re young, you should celebrate love! Do something romantic. Buy something.”
Unfortunately, we only had this conversation on the 11th of February. Probably a bit too late to sway me.
But we’ll see…
For the record, if I walked in to love notes and roses, and a sink full of dishes, or still had to fold laundry, that would be no fun. But I don’t need my husband to do these things—let’s just get someone to do the boring stuff, while we jet away to Bali, yes?
And where shall we keep our son? Is this all wishful thinking?—I have no idea!
What’s your love language? Has it changed over time? Do you have one or two, or is it more of a combination? Some people say Gary’s categories do not cover their love language—which is food or money! Let us know your thoughts.
P.S: check your love language here