Recovering from Loneliness in the Age of Covid-19

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Feeling Lonely? So many people feel like you do.

Before the social distancing and isolation brought on by Covid-19, there was an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A recent poll identified three out of every five Americans as suffering from chronic loneliness. Among millennials the percentage is even higher. 

With Covid-19 even more Americans feel lonely. It’s not just about being physically alone. It’s a feeling that no one really cares about you. Yes, there is social contact online and by telephone. There is maybe even talking with someone six feet away. But none of this contact is the same as interacting with co-workers or others on site. The deep connection is missing.

Several of the patients in my practice as a clinical psychologist tell me they feel the pain of not being touched physically nor emotionally day after day.  They begin to think of themselves as not really mattering to anyone. 

Because I am also a psychology professor, I try to give my patients some ways of thinking about being alone that psychologists have found are helpful.

Realize Loneliness Is a Label about Yourself Put on a Feeling

Being alone can create a feeling of emptiness, anxiety, dis-ease.  Humans are social animals with a need to bond with others.  When this need is not satisfied, there is a feeling of lack.  Yet, it is not the lack itself, but the label attached to this lack that creates the pain of loneliness. 

In trying to figure out why there is not someone there for you, you might label yourself as not loveable.  Or you think that something is wrong with you, which whomever you are with will quickly notice. That lonely feeling, then, comes from thinking of oneself as a loser.  And when you label yourself as a loser you lose the motivation to begin or renew a relationship with others.  You then isolate even more, creating the very conditions that are distressing you.

Notice and Then Change What You Are Saying to Yourself

If you thought of yourself as loveable you might be more comfortable being alone. And you might also be more willing to seek out opportunities to be with others. 

But how do you see yourself as more loveable? First, notice what you are saying to yourself that is not helpful. Are you labeling yourself as flawed and that everyone eventually will see those flaws? That is a sure way to not venture out of your shell. Now change the flawed message to one that is more helpful.  Identify some of your attractive qualities and remember these each time you see yourself negatively.  In this way, the flaws are balanced out with the attractive qualities. 

Reach Out to Others

Now you are ready to connect with others. Yes, you will have to initiate the connection. That can be uncomfortable but, if you are now giving yourself the message that you have some positive qualities to share with others, it might be a little easier to reach out to others.

Yet, another thought might quickly enter your mind and keep you from taking action to connect with others. You might be thinking, “When I’m with others I think they are constantly evaluating me—what I say, how I look, what I do.” That self-talk holds you back so you have to change it into something more helpful.

Challenge that thought by saying “I will focus on the other person instead of focusing on the anxiety I feel when I feel I’m being evaluated.” Focusing on the other person instead of yourself takes the pressure off of what you are feeling.

Let the other person know what you noticed or heard instead of worrying about what you should reply. Stay with this stance. Everyone wants to be acknowledged as noticed and heard. It starts the connection and it deepens it.

Where to Find Others

If you don’t have some friends or relatives that you can reconnect with, try volunteering to help others. Volunteering increases your sense of really mattering to someone, which is the opposite of what you might have been thinking when you were isolating. 

Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, teenagers, adults in special circumstances, senior citizens?  Then do an online search for where you might be most needed.  The search terms would be the name of your city and the word, “volunteer”.  Or, you can make the search more specific, by adding the name of the group you would like to help (e.g. neighbors, homeless, migrants, special needs). VolunteerMatch.com and CreateTheGood.com are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your local community.  Not only would you be making a positive change in your community, you would be meeting other people who are also volunteering. And in this time of the Covid-19 crisis, so many people need so much help.

If you want to help but still want to stay home, there are many ways you can volunteer virtually.  You won’t have quite the same experience of connection but you are taking the first step in reaching out to others.

Thus, by opening up your mind and focusing on the needs and words of others you will start to recover from loneliness.

Finding Real Love Online

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You meet someone on line.  Then you text.  Then you Zoom or, if possible, meet for coffee.   But why, as the interaction increases, do so many of these possible lovers turn into duds?

Maybe it is because what is presented online is not who the person really is.  Or maybe it is because spending so much time with people online leaves no time to build relationship skills.

So, what should you look for online in a possible partner?  And how do you best present yourself online?

To find the partner you really want, make a list of the qualities of that person that you feel are important for a good relationship.  Consider whether you are looking for a short-term or a long-term relationship because, in one study, both men and women focused on sexual desirability when evaluating a prospective short-term relationship.  They cited qualities such as physical attractiveness and athleticism.  Yet, when a long-term relationship is desired, honesty, warmth, kindness, and intelligence were cited.

Next, prioritize these qualities.  The first three priorities will then become what you will look for in online descriptions.  A person who really has those qualities will list them rather than just presenting superficial desirable qualities.

If only one of the qualities you desire is listed, you can use later interactions to ask questions that might elicit the other qualities or even some surprising other desirable qualities.  For example, you could ask what qualities the online prospect is looking for.  Then you will know whether there is a mismatch in what you both are seeking. Or you could ask about a time when the person told a lie and how they felt about it. 

What you often do not see immediately online are some qualities that are red flags.  Everyone is initially trying to present an ideal self. And you might be so enamored at the beginning that you are blind to the subtle cues that indicate that person is not a keeper. Often, it isn’t until you are much deeper into the relationship that these red flags begin to show.  For example, does the person want others to do things their way; blow hot and cold; get highly threatened by differences of opinion?  (More of these red flags can be found in Beverly Palmer’s Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life).  We all show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the insistence and persistence of them that create problems in relationships. 

How do you find out about characteristics that do not bode well for a long-term relationship when you are just interacting online?  One strategy is to ask how they would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you when you were trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?” Or, “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone didn’t think or act the way you expected them to.”

Now focus on yourself. How are you presenting yourself online?  There is not a long list of qualities you have to have in order to be loveable.  There is only one main thing you have to do: listen to the other person.  Online communication or texting can present some impediments to getting the full message that is being communicated.  But, if you pause before shooting off your reply, you can pick up the essence of the message and you can let your partner know what that essence is.

Everyone wants to be listened to and acknowledged that they were heard.  Showing you have listened to others makes them feel appreciated and valued.  They then love you because you make them feel this way.

To listen closely enough to the other person to understand what they are trying to communicate is not easy.  First you have to de-center and focus on the other.  You have to let go of any anxiety or concern about how you should respond.  Focus entirely on the other person instead of what you are thinking or feeling.   After you have heard what was said, do not give your instant reaction.  Instead, repeat back the essence of what you heard.  After you have acknowledged that you understood what was communicated, you can say what is important to you.  Throughout your conversation you have to let the other person know you have listened before stating your point of view.

You might also want to assess how good of a listener the other person is.  Since two people showing they are really listening to each other could be the start of a loving relationship.

Regan, P.C., Levin, L., Sprecher, S., Christopher, F.S. & Gate, R. (2000). Partner preferences: What characteristics do men and women desire in their short-term sexual and long-term romantic partners?. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 12 (3), 1-21. https:// doi.org/10.1300/J056v12n03_0

Too Much Togetherness?

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Here’s How to Keep the People You Are Cooped Up with from Getting on Your Nerves

Sue and Sam are both working from home (and their tiny home is feeling tinier by the minute).  Alisha is bored out of her mind and has never felt so alone even though she rooms with Jordan.  And then there is Luz who is losing her mind trying to entertain kids nonstop day in and day out. 

You might be working from home or have children at home–all day long.  Does it seem like every five minutes someone wants something?  And do you find yourself sometimes snapping at those in your home or even those on the screen?

You probably have discovered that criticizing or trying to control the behavior of other people in your life just doesn’t work.  So, what, then, can you do to not have frayed nerves?

First, set aside a personal space and a time of no interruptions for each person in your home.  It’s the constant demands for attention that get on your nerves.   Even in a small home, find a corner where you can set up a table and a chair, or if you have particularly pesky people around, you might even have to close a door or cordon your space off with a rope and hang and sign on it that says “shhh”.  Some private space and a quiet moment can help everyone decompress. But don’t forget to also set aside a mutually agreed upon time to interact.  After all, you don’t want to look like you are never approachable.

Perhaps you can’t avoid those taxing people (you may even be trying to homeschool them), but if you find yourself starting to snap at others, use this phrase instead of the snippy one to state your concern. Fill in the blanks in this phrase: “When you….I feel….and I want/need to…..” For example, “When you interrupt me, I feel harassed and I need to focus on what I’m doing for the next half hour.”  A statement like this does not criticize nor try to control the other person, because there is no “you” in this statement.  It simply states what you are feeling and what you need.

Another way to respond to triggering behavior is to monitor your rising tension or anger so you can do something to reduce it before giving a curt response. Stand up, stretch, and then take 3 slow, deep breaths.  Periodically do this even if you are not tense or angry because it can head off those feelings.  The deep breaths create a relaxation response as well as giving you a moment to re-group and re-focus.  If all of this fails and you catch yourself starting to yell, take a walk outdoors (but do tell the people in your house when you will be back).

Sometimes writing your complaint down on paper instead of saying it can be helpful.  The irritation is then on the paper instead of on your mind and you can even toss that irritation in the trash.  Or you can stash it away for a time when you can voice the complaint more calmly.

A great way to break the cycle of irritation and keep the peace is to say something positive.  Psychologists John Gottman and Robert Levenson found that it is not the amount of negative statements that dooms a relationship but the ratio of negative to positive statements. For a harmonious relationship there must be five positive communications for every one negative communication.  If a complaint or criticism does slip out, follow it with telling the other person what you appreciate about them.  It will keep them from feeling attacked and defensive, and may remind you why you choose to live with them in the first place.   

It only takes one of you to follow these suggestions and improve your household vibe.  Your choices can create the model for how to treat one another.  Then the people you interact with will tend to follow your lead. An example of the other person following your lead is seen in empathetic communication.  If you put aside your concerns and listen intently to the other person, you will be able to give that person empathetic feedback.  When someone receives empathy, they are more likely to give you empathy. These minor changes can help to create a happier relationship with those at home with you during these trying times.

4 science-based strategies to tame angry political debate and encourage tolerance

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“Climate change is a hoax,” my cousin said during a family birthday party. “I saw on Twitter it’s just a way to get people to buy expensive electric cars.” I sighed while thinking, “How can he be so misinformed?” Indeed, what I wanted to say was, “Good grief, social media lies are all you read.”

No doubt my cousin thought the same of me, when I said Republican senators are too afraid of the president to do what’s right. Not wanting to create a scene, we let each other’s statements slide by in icy silence.

As a psychology professor and clinical psychologist in private practice, I know my relationship with my cousin would have improved if we could have discussed those issues in a nonthreatening way. If only.

I’m not alone in my frustration – and my desire for change. A December 2019 poll conducted by Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos showed more than nine out of 10 Americans said it’s time to reduce divisiveness, which they believe is exacerbated by government leaders and social media. People want to stop the animosity and relate to one another again. But how?

Based on my knowledge of psychological research, here are four approaches you can use to overcome divisiveness.

Don’t isolate yourself from people with different points of view.

1. Connect

Avoiding interactions with people who have different opinions perpetuates divisiveness. Risk connecting with these people. Relate through activities you enjoy such as volunteering, joining a “Meetup” group or starting a book club. You could even invite people from various backgrounds to a potluck dinner at your home.

What activities like these share is a common goal, which creates a cooperative atmosphere instead of a competitive one. Research demonstrates that contact alone does not ensure cooperative interaction. To truly connect, you both have to demonstrate respect while working on a common goal.

2. Find common ground

It’s important to remember the basic need to feel secure is shared by all people. Focusing on commonalities can lead to a deeper understanding of another person, while focusing on differences will lead to arguments.

An argument involves two people asserting one is right while the other is wrong. But what gets lost in this scenario is the common ground of the problem they both are trying to wrestle with.

Restate the problem. Together, brainstorm all the different ways it might be solved.

For example, a person might say the only way to protect America from terrorism is to sharply limit immigration. Instead of challenging that immigration must be limited, you can restate the problem – then ask if there might be ways to deal with terrorism besides limiting immigration. You might find some solutions you agree upon.

3. Communicate

Listen more and talk less. Show the other person you have understood what they said before jumping in with your thoughts.

Everyone wants to be acknowledged as heard. If they are not, they will continue to press their point. So, to stop an argument in its tracks, start listening and reflect back what you’ve heard.

You’ve probably experienced listening for only what you want to hear – and possibly found yourself not listening at all. You may just be waiting to give a knee-jerk reaction to what the other person is saying.

To listen well, you need to first open your ears, eyes and heart. Examine your biases so you can hear without judgment. Suspend your self-interest and stay with what the other person is saying. Then tell that person what you heard.

Showing empathy does not mean you necessarily agree with what the other person is saying. It just means you’re reassuring the other person you have listened before making your own statement.

Now, it’s time for you to share where you’re coming from. Take a deep breath. Cool down and reassess your thoughts so you can give a considered response, instead of a quick reaction. You can disagree without being disrespectful.

Communication using the above process leads to a conversation instead of an argument and builds a more trusting relationship. It takes only one of you to create an empathetic conversation, as empathy begets empathy. The more compassionate understanding you give, the more you get.

Be skeptical and learn to recognize when you are being manipulated by divisive content.

4. Learn to critically evaluate media

Don’t passively accept all that you see and hear. There are too many sources of distorted facts, unsupported opinions and outright lies available today. Critically evaluate what is being presented by considering the source and fact-checking the content.

Above all, if the message seems fake, don’t share it. Google has a fact-checking tool, and First Draft News has tools to evaluate false content and the way it is disseminated. You can also consult Full Fact and CUNY’s fact-checking guide. So, when you hear or see someone sharing fake information, don’t challenge it. Instead, show how to fact check the information.

Avoid anger and hate in the content you consume. Evaluate whether it is seeking to pit you against another person or group. Follow media that supports empathy, compassion and understanding. But don’t get lulled into a bubble by reading only content you agree with. Help children and teens, not only to critically evaluate media, but also to become kind and caring toward people who are different from them. Teach tolerance by showing tolerance. Yes, you are only one person trying to create change, but your influence does matter.

As for me, the next time I see my cousin, I plan to listen with empathy; let him know I understand his point of view; and try to identify a common goal around which we can share our perspectives.

(The above article was first posted in The Conversation.)

How to Stay Connected on Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day Approaching, Try These Tips To Make This Day A Special One.

Does Valentine’s Day make you wish you had someone to love (and to love you)? Don’t despair—there are ways to dispel loneliness during the Valentine’s Day hype, and help get you out doing something you enjoy. When you are deeply involved in an activity with other people you have a common goal and interests that connect you. Frequent exposure to others increases their liking of you, so besides having an enjoyable time, you might find a new love by engaging in some of the following suggestions from Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., professor and clinical psychologist.

  • Volunteer

Think about who you would get the most satisfaction from helping.  Would it be children, the homeless, migrants, senior citizens?  Then, search online for where you might be most needed. VolunteerMatch.organd CreateTheGood.org are two sites that list volunteer opportunities in your community. Not only would you be making a positive change, you would be meeting others with similar values.

  • Foster or Adopt a Pet

You may find a pet to be a loving companion. A cat can give you comfort as it curls up on your lap, while a dog will get you out of your house on a daily basis where you will meet neighbors and other doggie lovers at the park. You then instantly have something in common with those around you and something to talk about. Petting a dog or cat releases the “love hormone”, oxytocin, in both the person’s and pet’s brains, according to a group of Swedish researchers.  Oxytocin creates a feeling of being loved and insures a strong bond, so your pet can help you feel less lonely.  Contact your local pet adoption group or borrow a friend’s pet before taking the plunge.

  • Join a Special Interest Group

If you have a hobby you could join a group of people who share that interest. Every city has an abundance of special interest groups, professional association functions, alumni events, and civic organization meetings. Find group activities on websites such as meetup.com. These may involve hiking, cooking, developing a new skill, discussing a topic, or participating in a sport.

  • Sign up for a Course or Fitness Center’s Program

If you have a regularly scheduled event where you are with other people, you already have a way not to be lonely during the upcoming Valentine’s Day.  Seek out adult classes that interest you at your local university, or join a gym.  Both men and women are attracted to the other’s sweat, reports a Swiss study, which explains why health clubs are such popular hunting grounds! Don’t forget to reach out and connect to others by asking for advice or noticing when someone needs help.  Don’t wait for someone to find you—smile and start talking with someone who is engaged in the activity with you.

  • Read a Good Book

Visit your library or bookstore. Selecting a book from browsing the shelves gives you an opportunity to interact with others before going home to read. Escape to another world through an engrossing fiction.  Learn something new through a helpful nonfiction book, such as Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life, which will give you even more suggestions on how to avoid the Valentine’s Day blues.

The Science Behind Why We Find Certain People Attractive

Give Love This Christmas

christmas-gift-ideas-2.jpgNeed a unique Christmas gift for the young adult on your list?  Help them have a successful love life with Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life.

No matter where on the road to love someone is, this book will help them to avoid or work through the inevitable bumps along the way.  This book gives tips on each stage of a relationship, from finding a partner and making sure it is the right “one”, to creating a lasting love.

Instead of opinionated advice one might get on the internet or from their social media, this book gives them tips and techniques based on the science of what actually works.  The gift keeps giving because they will refer to it both now and throughout the years, because as their love life evolves new chapters will become relevant.

Available as a paperback or e-book at Amazon.com (amzn.to/2Kft05b or amzn.to/2YvQJls).

Oh, and if you are a young adult who is reading this, buy a copy of Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life for yourself (and maybe even one for a friend).

A (Short) Guide To Better Boundaries

I was honored to contribute to this article which appeared on Page 5 of the Wellness Section in the Sunday New York Times on October 30th. boundriesblog

Why Do I Use Baby Talk With Pets? Experts Say Your Habit Has Its Perks

BY MARISA CASCIANO

EliteDaily.com

OCT 8, 2019

As I get older, I’m becoming more aware of my quirks, such as my ability to fall asleep in the middle of a crowded room, and the fact that I throw a hot popcorn bag in the sink instead of the trash.But when it comes to my interactions with cute animals — ranging fromfully grown dogs to tiny kittens — I take things to another level. I’ve gotten into the habit of changing my voice to a higher pitch when I speak to animals. It didn’t occur to me until recently that some might consider this odd, but now I kind of agree. Why do I use baby talk with pets?

I’m well aware I’m not the only one who does this, but when I step away from the overwhelming joy I feel at the sight of a cute pet, I wonder why I drastically change the tone of my voice to higher octaves when I talk to cats, or introduce words like “doodle” and “nugget” into my vocabulary when interacting with dogs.

The way I touch my finger to the top of a puppy’s wet nose and say, “Boop!” or squeal when I rub my cat’s belly when she rolls over, isn’t unique or overly concerning. But it is basically the same way a new mom would play with her 4-month-old child, or react when that same child takes their first steps. So, it was time to figure out why.

In an interview with Elite Daily, Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner, and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, NJ, says baby talk is a natural instinct that stems from wanting to connect with a pet on a deeper level. She notes when you use this kind ofhigh-pitched and slow speech to talk to actual babies, you’re acknowledging they can’t understand you yet, but are able to react, hopefully in a positive way. As a result, you opt for this kind of speech because “usually babies react well to it and some pets may as well.”

Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., professor emeritus from the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Lifereveals baby talk can even be effective when you want to discipline your pet. This kind of speech can even come in handy when you want your furry friend to listen and behave, in addition to showing them you enjoy their company.

LIKE A HUMAN BABY, OUR PET NEEDS TO BE PROTECTED (NOT YELLED AT), IS DEPENDENT, AND FULFILLS OUR NEED TO BE NEEDED, WHICH IS EQUATED WITH BEING LOVED.

In a study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine titled, “Oxytocin enhances the appropriate use of human social cues by the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) in an object choice task,” 62 pet dogs — 31 males, 31 females — were given intranasal oxytocin (otherwise known as the “cuddle hormone” or “love hormone”) or a saline control before a session where they were supposed to respond to pointing or gazing cues. During those sessions, the oxytocin improved the dog’s performance; they reacted more positively when responding to human cues.

In layman’s terms, the “love hormone” made the dogs feel more connected to their humans and willing to be disciplined. Palmer suggests this means that, rather than using a stern voice when your pet isn’t doing something they should, you can keep talking to your pet like you would a baby and encourage them that way. In essence, your love goes a long way.

Based on their positive reactions in this study, it seems like most domesticated canines appreciate the higher-pitched way of speaking you (and I) have become so accustomed to using, because baby talkgives them a sense of love and affection they rely on.”Like a human baby, our pet needs to be protected (not yelled at), is dependent, and fulfills our need to be needed, which is equated with being loved,” Palmer tells Elite Daily via email.

Manhattan psychologist Dr. Joseph Cilona tells Elite Daily “exaggerating pronunciation of vowels and consonants” and using a higher pitch when you’re talking to an infantcan really help you bond with them. He says when it comes to talking to your pet, you can expect a similar effect and result, especially if you incorporate certain words and phrases.

Like Palmer, Cilona points to research. He says in the study conducted by Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe titled, “Who’s a good boy?! Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech,” research revealed puppies are more responsive and attentive to speech when it was directed toward them. The authors in the study “argue that DDS may have a functional value in puppies, but not adult dogs.” This speech includes dog-friendly phrases like, “Good dog!” and “Treat?” and proved fur babies will be attracted to humans who are addressing them with these phrases and specific “acoustic properties,” like a higher pitch or tone, according to the study.

OUR PETS ARE SMALLER THAN WE ARE, SO THEY REMIND US OF HOW WE TREAT OUR LITTLE HUMANS.

However, even if your pup responds well to being called “nugget” in a very high-pitched voice, you should be careful about when and where you opt for baby talk. Glashow says you might not always be in the right setting for it. You may find your habit creeping into other relationships and interactions where it doesn’t fit.

“Our pets are smaller than we are, so they remind us of how we treat our little humans,” Palmer says, and that’s definitely true for me. In some way, when I look at a tiny kitten or fluffy golden retriever puppy, my mind instantly goes to the same place as when I’m interacting with my cousin’s adorable 2-year-old. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean my habit is welcomed or in the right. According to Glashow, it may not be appropriate in professional settings, like an office party with a pet present, or in scenarios where others don’t have a pet or child and aren’t familiar with baby talk.

Ultimately, though, you can go about your usual business and embrace your baby talk, especially when you’re talking to your own pet.You can cuddle up with your bunny, German shepherd, Maine coon, or sweet rescue, and tell them they’re the greatest pet in the entire world in an incredibly high octave. You can reach the same falsetto notes while booping your puppy’s nose or reminding your new kitten they are so loved. I’ll be somewhere in the world doing the same thing, and not wondering why I do it anymore. This seemingly weird habit? Explained.

What It Really Means If Your Love Language Is ‘Acts Of Service’

mad cat

Show me, don’t tell me.

BY ARYELLE SICLAIT

JUL 26, 2019

If you want to know why you do the things you do, you might look to your zodiac sign. For intel about your social tendencies, maybe your Myers-Briggs personality. But for understanding what makes you feel special in a relationship? Well, that’s one for love languages.

If you’ve read up on anything related to relationships and romance, like, ever, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages at some point in your research (or, okay, at girls night).

A quick rundown: If compliments make you melt, your love language is probably Words of Affirmation. If you thrive on the thoughtfulness behind a present, Receiving Gifts is yours. Look forward to dinners for two all weeklong? That’s Quality Time. And if you’re all about holding hands or you feel most connected during sex, you speak the language of Physical Touch.

The language that tends to get a bad rap (aside from Receiving Gifts, which isn’t about materialism, btw), however, is Acts of Service. It describes people whose hearts swell at the thought of coming home to dinner on the table with the promise of an empty sink or a foot rub for dessert. If this sounds like you, you feel most loved when people do things for you, not just with you or to you.

But here’s the thing: The Acts of Service language doesn’t make you a high-maintenance or lazy nag. All it means is that, for you, actions truly speak louder than words. 

Okay, tell me more—what does ‘Acts of Service’ say about me?

At its core, this language is about demonstrations of love.

Since saying “I love you” doesn’t actually guarantee that the speaker means it, some people respond better to seeing someone show their feelings, says Beverly Palmer, PhD, clinical psychologist, professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills, and author of Love Demystified

That’s not to say you have trust issues (though it’s possible), or that you’re overly dependent (or codependent) on other people. In fact, you’re most likely super self-sufficient and ambitious.

That’s exactly what makes you respond to this language: If someone can recognize all that you do on your own and wants to step in to help make your life a little easier, that, to you, is real love.

Their actions are actually less about the deed itself and more about showing you that they are on your team.

If your partner goes out of their way to pick your sister up from the airport, or call the realtor so you don’t have to, you hear “I care about you enough to sacrifice my own time for your benefit.” And that’s not something you find every day. 

Is Acts of Service ever a bad thing?

Okay, brace yourself: Acts of Service can be a little problematic if you’re not super self-aware.

While every relationship should be about balance, where both partners get their needs equally met, having this particular love language could make you more susceptible to letting expectations get in the way of an otherwise happy and healthy situation. In other words, if you think your partner should be doing X or Y for you, rather than letting them choose how to show their support, you could self-sabotage your bond.

“Unbalanced relationships where one person expects too much and thinks their partner must meet those expectations to prove that they love them” is when things get tricky, Palmer says. No one wants a relationship that comes with a list of chores.

Think about it: At work, you’d be put off by a new employee who feels like they’re entitled to certain things before they’ve even shown their commitment to the company. Similarly, your partner should feel like their demonstrations of love are reciprocated and their choice, at their will—not your demand. 

Want a stronger relationship? Steal this couple’s secrets:

Gotcha. So if this is my love language, how do I make a relationship work?

Communication, communication, oh, and um, some more communication.

When acts of service are involved, there’s no room for assumptions, says Palmer. Assuming your S.O. knows which acts of service you value most and expecting them to perform them at all is a surefire way to make your partner feel taken advantage of.

So here’s how to be straightforward without demanding anything in return:

Do

  • Clearly tell your partner which acts of service you value.This way they can prioritize those actions, Palmer says. Frame it in a way that explains why their help means something to you, like: “I haven’t been getting much sleep lately—would you mind walking the dog in the morning so I can sleep in a little longer?”

    If you have a hard time expressing your needs, talking to a therapist can help you feel more comfortable. Either way, if you prefer to be more subtle, try telling your partner about a time a friend or family member did something for you that meant a lot to you, suggests Palmer.

  • Acknowledge what your partner’s doing—say thank you.It sounds duh, but especially in if you’ve been together for a while, you may not notice some of the things they’re doing to show you you’re their #1. 

    So to ensure they never feel taken for granted, after you talk through which acts of service are major for you, keep an eye out for when they actually do them (or something similar). Say: “Hey, I noticed you picked up the dry-cleaning today while I was stuck at work. I’m going to need those pants this week, so thank you so much for doing that.” 

  • Learn the ways your partner feels most loved.There’s a chance they “speak” a different love language than you do (they might need touch or feel extra special when you tell them how impressed you are by their brain), so do what you can to suss out their love language. Straight-up talk about it (Palmer promises the convo won’t be awkward as long as you keep things positive), or tune in to what makes them light up day to day. 

    Once you figure it out, keep that intel top of mind and create opportunities to speak their language (surprise them with a massage, bring home their favorite cookie…you get the idea). Otherwise, you’ll find these acts of service you crave become less and less frequent when your S.O. isn’t feeling the love from you.

Don’t

  • Expect your partner to read your mind.While, yeah, it’s the thought that counts, if certain actions will make you feel especially warm and fuzzy inside, speak up. 
  • Scoff at no. Remember, acts of service really lose their meaning if they’re not at your partner’s will. So be okay with hearing “Sorry, I can’t right now,” and trust that if they could, they would. If you feel like they’re always turning down your needs, it may be a good opp to visit a couples counselor. Communication is everything, after all.
  • Fully rely on your partner to pick up your slack.Even if your partner has your back, keep up with your own responsibilities so they can live their life, too. Dumping your daily tasks on them, Palmer says, is a one-way ticket to Splitsville. 

Bottom line: The Acts of Service love language is just as legit as all the others. Don’t let anyone (including yourself) shame you for it.

As long as you’re offering your partner the biggest service of all—speaking their love language in return—go on and enjoy that empty dishwasher, guilt-free.

ARYELLE SICLAIT Assistant EditorAryelle Siclait is an assistant editor at Women’s Health.

 

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