Many people have heard of Gary Chapman’s five love languages®. They’re based on the premise that each of us expresses and experiences love in a different way. These differences can lead to conflict in a relationship if the couple (or parent/child) is unaware of each other’s love language.
For example, Ella is a romantic who loves to be shown physical and emotional affection. She craves sweet notes, warm embraces, and thoughtful romantic gestures. Accordingly, Ella shows love to her husband Mike in these ways. Mike, however, is more practical and though he likes kisses and physical touch, he doesn’t need love notes or romance. Accordingly, he doesn’t think to do such things for Ella, which bothers her. He does start her car to let it warm up on frozen winter mornings and fix things around the house that he knows she uses. On one of these cold winter mornings, Ella wakes up to find a card (inscribed with a personal love note) that she’d given Mike in the trash. Seeing this, she gets upset and resentful. When Mike walks in the door from starting her car, she says he doesn’t appreciate the things she does and an argument ensues.
Knowing each other’s love language and – more importantly – showing love in the way the other needs could positively impact this couple. If you’re interested in learning more about the five love languages®, Gary Chapman has written extensively on the subject. Visit his website to take the love language quiz.
Now let’s take a look at thinking preference conflicts in a relationship context. For this, I’ll use a situation from M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans (a poignant story of what we do for and in the name of love). Don’t worry, this is but a mere page or two in the novel, so no spoiler alert needed if you haven’t read the book.
Isabelle has moved with her husband Tom to a remote island where he is the lightkeeper. Tom encourages Isabelle to maintain certain routines to stay sane in such remote circumstances (eating at proper times, keeping a calendar, etc.). As Isabelle roams and discovers their little island, she realizes not only does she not know the names of the coves and landmarks, but that they don’t in fact have names, which troubles her. Thinking to normalize her life as Tom suggested, and as a surprise to him, she asks Tom for a map. She then spends time naming spots on the island (for example, Tom’s Lookout, Izzy’s Cliff, Paradise Pool, Treacherous Rock) and annotating the map accordingly. When presented with her gift, Tom is perplexed. His first thought is that he never considered parsing the island in such a manner but rather thought of it as a whole and one that certainly did not belong to him; he was merely a visitor on this island, a keeper of this lighthouse, until the duty fell to another. What’s more, his role and his world revolve around rules, timing, things running smoothly, and continuity. As such, his second thought is that Isabelle has marked up government property, a terrible breach of the rules, which will cause a problem during his next inspection. Tom says nothing of his dismay to Isabelle, just accepts her gift for what it is and tries to see her perspective. As a side note, their thoughts and behavior foreshadow future events, but I don’t want to spoil it for you.
In this story, both characters share a love language (physical touch), and experience very little conflict from that aspect. So what’s going on from a thinking preference standpoint and why is it important to consider? Both Tom and Isabelle are operating in the lower half of their brains, the visceral, emotional, and instinctive part. Isabelle’s act of naming spots on the island is a very interpersonal one that stems from the lower right side of her brain: she does it to not only relate to the island, but to relate to Tom in the present, to show love, and to show him that she’s normalizing and taking ownership of her new life with him. Tom, on the other hand is operating from his lower left brain, the part concerned with history, with rules, with standards, none of which concerned Isabelle. Visually represented in alignment with the Whole Brain® Model, their conflict would look like this:
Let’s look a little closer at Isabelle’s action. Note that she does use the same part of her brain as Tom (lower left B quadrant) in the detailed work of naming and annotating the map, but this is in service of her interpersonal (lower right-brained C quadrant) efforts. Even so, they use the same part differently: she for keeping track of details; he for rules, history, and continuity.
What’s more, Tom’s preference for big picture thinking and his holistic view of the island comes from the upper intellectual and right (D quadrant) part of his brain, the part diametrically unconcerned with detail. He chafes at Isabelle’s dissecting the island into good/bad and safe/dangerous bits and pieces. The conflict would then look like this:
Thus, the events that ensue between this couple do not necessarily stem from personality issues or love language differences, but rather from the way each perceives and processes information and actions. It’s easy to see how conflict, misunderstanding, and miscommunication can easily occur because of different thinking preferences. I highly suggest reading the story if you want to see how these thinking preferences play out in life altering ways.
Understanding the Whole Brain® Model can be another useful relationship tool. Understanding your thinking preferences, and those of the significant others in your life, can help you learn to increase perspective and communication, to decrease tension and conflict, and to learn to flex your own thinking when needed. To learn more, consider taking the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® assessment as a pair with your partner, spouse, child, or significant other using my Whole Brain® Thinking based coaching services.
Image credits here, womansday.com.au.