What is your love language?

Mine is ‘Acts of Service’ according to Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages Profile.  I don’t tell people I love them, I show them I do. My love is expressed when I cook a nice dinner for my husband, when I bring him a cup of tea or when I bake a cake for a friend. Every little act of self-sacrifice, no matter the size, is a demonstration of my love. My husband, on the other hand, showers me in daily compliments and ‘Words of Affirmation’ – “I love you”, “You are appreciated”, “You are so beautiful”. I know how wonderful this is, but I’ve had to teach myself to appreciate and accept them — they’re not my love language, so I have to translate them in my mind and remember to return similar affirmative words, so he can feel loved too.

One of the traits of an ‘Acts of Service’ person is that even when a loved one does do something for that person, maybe by helping around the house, they often criticise them on how they do it. They can’t win. Even when they try to do something, they get told they are doing it wrong and to “Just leave it, let me do it instead”. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In many Irish households, I have witnessed some poor child or well-meaning husband ‘helping out’ and being brusquely told not to bother, as they wouldn’t know what they are doing anyway. The mother, on the other hand, is caught in an unrelenting cycle of self-sacrifice as she seeks to shower her love on all her family by making lunches, doing laundry, ferrying people back and forth and generally being the stereotypical ‘Irish Mammy’.

This all came to mind in a conversation I recently had with a close female friend. We both grew up in Ireland, went to the same school and there is only a year in age between us. Yet, we both identified how our love languages are different because of how our culturally different parents showed us love as children. My parents were, as my friend put it, ‘very Irish’; they were self-sacrificing, constantly putting needs of others before their own and showing their love in their actions. My friend’s mother was very tactile —‘very French’—constantly showering her in physical affection but didn’t ‘put herself out’ in the same way my parents routinely did. As a result, my friend said that now, as an adult, it’s that physical touch and affection she craves in her relationships. So this made me wonder, can growing up Irish influence how we love and the way we want to be loved as adults?

Research suggests that the relationships we have with our parents “provide a blueprint” for our future relationships [i]. However, most of the research on parenting styles in Ireland has focused on whether parents show authoritative parenting (i.e. warmth and reasoning) or authoritarian parenting (i.e. controlling)[ii], which is not so helpful in answering my question of how do Irish parents show love or how do Irish children experience their parents love? Yet, a closer look at some of the interviews completed with nine-year olds as part of the longitudinal ‘Growing up in Ireland’ study, is pretty revealing. In one of the reports, a nine-year old girl is noted to say; “I get on great with mummy ‘cause she is really nice to me and she does everything for me…”. While a nine-year old boy describes how his grandparents “…would go to the ends of the earth to get us, if we asked for anything they would go to the ends of the earth to get it” i. Both of these quotes suggest that these two children experience their families love through their actions. They know they are loved because ‘everything is done for them’; love is shown through ‘Acts of Service’.

 Over a quarter of Irish people have never told their parents they love them[iii]. I am one of those people. Many would say this is just another illustration of the Irish embarrassment with ‘love’ ‘sex’ and ‘relationships’ and our inability to face these subjects head on. I don’t see it that way. I don’t tell my parents I love them, because I don’t need to. I show them I do in my actions. They don’t tell me they love me either, but I have felt so loved all my life because they showed it in every action they took. I think for most of us ‘raised Irish’, we’d rather take our parents out for a nice meal on their birthday, send them a thoughtful gift or help them with some chores around the house, than say ‘I love you’. That is who we are, that is how we are raised, and I tentatively suggest that for many an Irish person, an act of love is probably more powerful than ever being told they are loved.

[i] Growing up in Ireland, 2011. Growing Up in Ireland: Qualitative Key Findings. https://www.growingup.ie/growing-up-in-ireland-publications/

[ii] Halpenny, A.M., Nixon, E., Watson, D., 2010. Parents’ Perspectives on Parenting Styles and Disciplining Children. https://doi.org/10.1037/e530922013-001

[iii] https://www.image.ie/life/survey-quarter-irish-never-parents-love-132579

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