Love Languages Can Change in Sobriety, And That’s Okay

flowers and notepad

What makes you feel loved? Is it when your partner praises you for something that matters to you? Or is it when they take the time to put the phone down, and be fully present with you? Perhaps your love language is words of affirmation, or quality time. These are examples of the five love languages, a model created by Dr. Gary Chapman. These languages describe the different ways love can be communicated in a relationship.

The five love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch
  • Acts of service
  • Gift giving

Of course we all thrive with a combination of the five, but we are drawn to some more than others. Love languages can be used to examine how you and your partner communicate your needs to each other, and how you can become more intimately connected. They can also give you important insight into how you can best give yourself love.

Chances are the love languages you have today are not the exact same as those from five years ago, or even last week. Life experiences, personal changes, and overall wellness factors impact how you care for yourself and your loved ones. It is hard to fully appreciate how much these languages can and will change over time, especially as you change your relationship with alcohol. So, how can you best express and receive love as you work towards sobriety or moderation?

A great place to start is by dispelling some common myths.

Embracing How Love Languages Can Change in A Relationship

Myth 1: I am burdening my partner with my changing needs.

Not wanting to impose changes on your loved one can make you feel hesitant to mention how your needs have shifted with your moderation or sobriety goals. There may have been a history of feeling like loved ones have “put up” with the unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and to ask for anything else would feel selfish. Let’s put debunk this myth with a few reality check questions:

  • Would it really be an imposition? Would needing more words of affirmation, for example, really be a detriment to your partner or loved ones? How would this be a “hardship” on them? Are there other underlying reasons you’re hesitant to make the ask?
  • Would you feel imposed on if they asked you the same request? Let’s say you’re looking for help in getting alcohol out of the house. (An act of service!) If you knew how much they were struggling, chances are you wouldn’t hesitate to support your partner in this way.

Reality: Giving your loved one the chance to show you their love is a sign that you trust and appreciate them. Your vulnerability is the strength you offer to make the relationship thrive.

couple holding hands

Myth 2: My partner should know my changing needs. They should automatically shift gears to align with them.

We often assume our partners must be mind-reading, never-ending sources of support. But if we take a step back, we can logically appreciate how our partners have their own minds and “should” only do what they are capable of in the moment.

I encourage everyone to ask themselves “how much do I rely on my partner for fueling my happiness tank?” Brainstorm ways you can regain your control of what fuels you. You can then fully accept and appreciate the love they give you as a partner (and not a dependent). Learning more about the signs of codependency may aid with this process.

Chances are you already have recognized the need to take back the steering wheel. Share that awareness with your loved one, so they have the freedom to start looking at how to develop their own self care too.

Reality: The greatest gift you can give your loved ones is listening to your own love languages.  They can only work with what you’re able to acknowledge as well.

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Myth 3: We are both incapable of change and our love languages are just as immune to change. 

This may seem obviously untrue, but we often unknowingly fall into this fixed mindset. When we start feeling this way, perhaps it’s time to face some internalized messages of inadequacy and immobility. What were some personal experiences that kept you from accepting change as something natural, necessary, or valid? Has anything else in your life shifted you to the recognition that progress involves change? The same goes for the way we feel love. Remember you are allowed to change when you learn new information and evolve your understanding of what it means to love and be loved.

Reality: No different than your sobriety goals, your relationship goals thrive with a progress over perfection mindset. You are two beautifully messy people sharing your beautifully messy lives. Embrace this truth, celebrate your connection, and allow yourselves the ability to grow together.

couple on beach

By reflecting on what love languages work best for you right now, it’s my hope you and your partner will be able to better communicate your needs to each other, or at least have a place to begin that process.

Now how do you remember to also direct these love languages towards yourself?

Applying The Wisdom of Love Languages Inward

Love languages can provide a valuable framework as you work towards your own personal goals. If you are looking to build your self-esteem for example, you may want to dive into the words of affirmation language. Develop a daily habit of writing what you are grateful for about yourself, or repeat positive self affirmations. Let’s say you are trying to shift your relationship with alcohol; perform an act of service to yourself by not keeping it in your house. Explore all the new ways you can spend quality time with yourself when alcohol is out of the picture. Let yourself see the value of honoring your love languages, while allowing for shifts whenever your self-love expands to new territory.

If you need support with figuring out how to build and practice this self-love alongside your sobriety or moderation goals, a therapist can help you through this process and more in alcohol therapy. Perform an act of service towards yourself and try our free, therapist-moderated, online alcohol support groups. Find your community of accountability and compassion.

man on rock

Genuine intimacy requires an understanding of our changing, individual sets of needs. Love languages can be a great place to start in this exploration of yourself and your partner. Wherever you are in navigating your relationships, especially those that may have been affected by past drinking behavior, we’re here for you. Join us in our community. We’re here to help you with every step, like how to ask a partner for support. Remember that your sobriety or moderation will offer its own clarity as you continue to find the best way to self-soothe, receive love, and care for your partner. You are capable of great change, and your love languages will reflect that.

To help you put them into practice, we’ve curated an alcohol-free gift guide inspired by each of the love languages. Check out these 5 ways to show your partner (or yourself!) a little extra love.

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Sabrina SpotornoSabrina Spotorno, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an affinity for working with children, adolescents, individuals, and families. She is a therapist on the Monument platform, and is trained in several modalities, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Narrative Therapy. She’s passionate about empowering her clients to recognize their strengths amidst their life transitions to optimize their sense of efficacy and alignment of their actions with their beliefs and dreams.