by Nicole Cain N(MD), MA
The wisdom of the Sixth Love Language has the power to transform marriages, relationships, and even the way you identify with yourself. While the Five Love Languages empower communication of love, it falls short when fostering a sense of experiencing that love in a deep, powerful and intimate way. The Sixth Love Language will take those behaviors and give them meaning and empower you to connect with your partner and your loved ones like never before.
Humanity is built with an innate drive for connection. We experience it from the earliest moments of our existence; it’s a footstool driving our behaviors, thoughts, and decisions throughout our lives.
Humans are not unique in the need for connection. The famous study by Harry Harlow, a psychologist from the 1900s, shows us how the need for connection is more important than safety and even nourishment.
Harlow conducted controversial experiments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison involving baby rhesus monkeys and two types of surrogate mothers. One “mother” was made of terry cloth and had no food; the other was a wire “mother” that had a source of nourishment. Findings showed that the babies always preferred the soft terry cloth mothers, even when they were hungry. They would only go to the wire mother for food and then jump immediately back to the terry cloth mother.
The question raised is: How can a terry cloth mother create a sense of comfort and connection for a baby monkey, but communicating according to the love languages does not?
The answer is based on the unique needs of the person, and the ways those needs are met. Some people feel satisfied and connected through communication of love by spending time together, receiving or giving gifts, touching or being touched, giving or receiving words of affirmation, and acts of service. Others emerge from those encounters feeling empty, alone and confused.
If a sense of connection is an end point, and behaviors are not getting us to the final objective, than what is missing?
This is where the Sixth Love Language comes into play: “I Thou Presence.”
I and Thou is a book written by German philosopher Martin Buber in 1923. Originally penned in German as Ich und Du, Buber discusses how human life finds meaningfulness in relationships. He proposes that we find meaningfulness in relationships in two ways: “I” toward an “It” and “I” toward “Thou.”
“I” toward an “It” references the “I” or self, in relationship to the “It,” or the other that is separate from us or outside of us. The “It” is something we can interact with, but are fundamentally separate from.
In other words, “I” toward “It” refers to how we experience interacting with something else. An example of this is the way an artist may experience the interaction or connection with the paintbrush she is using. The “It” is a representation of something separate.
Contrastingly, “I” toward a “Thou” references the “I” or self, in relationship with another. In the “I” toward a “Thou” interaction, the other (or the “Thou”) is not discretely separate from us but rather they are
a part of us. “I” toward a “Thou” describes the world of relations — how we relate, identify, connect, understand, involve, associate, ally and engage. “I” toward a “Thou” involves deep, intimate connection.
Neither method of connection is inherently superior or inferior than the other, but what does cause trouble is if one partner is inclined towards an “I” towards an “It” connection and the other finds meaning in an “I” towards a “Thou” connection.
Here are some signs that you and your partner may not deeply connecting.
- Feelings of being alone and isolated. This can occur when you are alone and even when you are together.
- Feeling like you are more roommates, than partners. Roommates take on singular projects; they function as an independent unit, and ultimately may live separate lives.
- When communicating, you do not feel heard and understood. You might not feel as though you hear and understand your partner, also.
- Your partner gives you attention, but you do not experience a feeling of connection.
- You seek out alternative sources of connection- whether from a friend, family member or even a clinician.
- You are no longer physically intimate with each other, if you are physically intimate, it feels more like getting a box checked off of your list instead of feeling a sense of deep, spiritual, and emotional connection.
- You spend less time together. You may have your room in the house, and your partner may spend time in another, or maybe one or both of you take trips separately.
- You stop dating. Dating is doing little things to keep the connection and romance alive. This includes going out of your way to make your partner feel really special and desired.
If you relate to any of these in your relationship the cause may be that one or both of you are interacting as an “I” toward an “It” as opposed to an “I” toward a “Thou.”
Connection goes beyond mere understanding; therein lies the difference between knowledge, wisdom and I Thou understanding.
Knowledge is where one possesses information that is acquired either through education or experience. Wisdom is the ability to understand and make good decisions based on experience and knowledge.
“I Thou” understanding is characterized by an understanding that dips below the conscious surface into intuition that is grounded in a deep and curious empathy for the other.
When You Listen, Really Hear
It always starts with listening. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and even though they were nodding and saying “uh-huh” at all the right times, you felt like they weren’t really listening to you? That may be because they were engaging in “I It” hearing. Contrastingly, “I Thou” hearing is listening in a manner that involves relating to the other person and what they are sharing — identifying with their words, involving and associating with their experience and engaging with the unfolding narrative.
When You Look, Really Look
Practice the art of concentration, fascination and curiosity about the person you are engaging with. Imagine that they are the most entrancing being you have ever spoken with and engender insatiable curiosity about who they are, what their needs are, and what they are sharing through either words or body language.
Be Where You Are
Be here now. When you are with someone, really be with them. Set intentional time to spend with your loved one — no screens, no distractions, no kids, just time to be together. This can be for five minutes or one hour. Whatever it is, make sure that it will be an uninterrupted block of time.
Non-verbal communication is powerful, as well. Whether or not you realize it, you are continuously emoting non-verbal cues. Sometimes it’s the way you angle your body toward or away from your partner. Maybe it’s the flicker of an eye roll or the crossing of your arms. Or, perhaps it’s how you lean in and tilt your head in genuine curiosity, the way your brow wrinkles empathetically as your partner tells you about their difficult day or how you laugh from your belly with true amusement when they tell you a funny story.
Here are several ways to be attentive to and improve your body language skills.
Is your partner crying? Laughing and joyful? Angry and irritable? Consider what tone of voice is most compassionate and relatable for you to use in each of these examples.
Does your partner seem to want you to comfort them, are they leaning toward you, or are they shying away and averting their gaze. Noticing these subtle changes may allow you to behave in a way that is the most comforting to your partner.
Crossing our arms can often give off the feeling that we are standoffish or disinterested. Relaxing your hands in your lap or mirroring the behavior of your partner may foster a deeper sense of relatability.
Sometimes we can inadvertently look angry, bored or have an expression that does not match the given scenario. By engendering a sense of true curiosity about your partner’s experience you will have more space to cultivate authentic expression of connectivity.
Are you looking around the room while your partner is sharing, or are you looking into their eyes? Sometimes eye contact is difficult, but conveying that they are the only focus of attention at the moment they are sharing may compel them to share more and more deeply.
What you are doing with your hands? Are you fidgeting, tapping or otherwise occupying your self? Sometimes people may perceive this as agitation or boredom.
Subtle cues reveal a couple’s appreciation of the other’s values, their experience of unity, how deeply they are tuned into each other’s wants, needs and desires. Practicing these cues with intentionality will not only convey a sense of “I Thou” connectivity to your partner, but it can foster a blossoming sense of deeper appreciation of your partner within yourself.