The love doctor

Dr. Sam Hamburg weighs in on lasting love

LOVE Love Languages June 2024 image

It's often said that true love stands the test of time. While no relationship is perfect, Jewish Chicago-based psychologist Dr. Sam Hamburg believes long-term success often comes down to choosing the right partner to endure the many phases of life.

Hamburg has committed a major portion of his multi-decade long career to counseling couples on the importance of intellectually and emotionally informed relationships. In his book, Will Our Love Last?: A Couple's Road Map , Hamburg draws upon both professional and personal experiences to guide couples.

Jewish Chicago spoke to Hamburg about the importance of love languages, compatibility, conflict resolution, and more over the phone in May.

Q: Why are love languages important when it comes to compatibility?

A: When I hear that people have different love languages or that they don't know each other's love languages, that sets off flashing red lights for me. It means that in some important way, the two partners don't understand each other. There is a lack of mutual understanding and that's very serious. Lasting love is based on mutual understanding.

How do these communication issues come about?

The word "communication" has been overused in couples' therapy. Couples' problems are not communication problems, they're failures of understanding. And when couples have problems dealing with conflict, it's not because they lack communication skills. It's because they lack anxiety tolerance. They lack the ability to stay physically and emotionally in a situation where the person who they love is angry at them. 

How do you advise couples as they face conflict?

What happens most of the time is one, or both, leaves the conflict. That's why they don't resolve it.

I advise couples to use a turn-taking procedure. When you realize that you're in a dispute, one of you says these magic words: "Let's sit down." Identify a place where you will have your fights and grab your timer. Set the timer to one minute and begin to talk. When the timer beeps, you stop talking and it's your partner's turn. This helps people keep their anxiety in check since they know they will be able to talk for a minute.

How important is friendship in romantic relationships?

Friendship is very, very important in romantic relationships. We aren't friends with just anybody, much less best friends with anybody. There has to be a level of mutual understanding. And friendship, especially best friendship, is based on empathic understanding, which is extremely important for the longevity of a relationship. 

And, finally, how do kids change relationships?

Kids are the greatest thing in the world. You love them more than anything in the world, but they are such a big pain in the neck and an interference on the couple's relationship. Kids are generally a stressor. One of the most robust findings in social science is that the happiness of couples goes down with the arrival of the first child and continues to go down with the arrival of subsequent kids and goes up again once the children leave the house.

A major reason why their happiness goes down is that the couples aren't mindful enough to protect their own private romantic relationships. They let kids intrude far too much and take up too much of their time. That's to the detriment of the relationship and, ultimately, the kids if they are unhappy. Childproofing your relationship is important. Couples have to be ruthless about taking time for themselves.



The Five Love Languages

First introduced by Baptist pastor Gary Chapman in 1992, love languages describe the way that romantic partners express and experience love. The concept of love languages has become increasingly topical over the past several years. 

Here is an overview of Chapman's love languages:

Words of affirmation: Verbal expressions of affection are most valued in your relationship.

Quality time: Preference of spending uninterrupted time with your partner. 

Acts of service: Thoughtful actions from your romantic partner make you feel loved.

Receiving gifts: Tangible or intangible objects are symbolic of care and affection.

Physical touch: Physical expressions, such as holding hands, represent love. 


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