March 26, 2020
Since I first posted this story, I’ve learned that Gary Chapman of The 5 Love Languages is homophobic. What I’ve shared below is in no way an endorsement of his horrific views. The reason I continue to share the information below is because I believe there is validity in the theory of love languages and that they can and should be used in all relationships. I believe in the beauty of documenting and photographing all love stories, and will continue fostering a business where all couples are welcome and all gender identities are celebrated.
My partner and I have been together for nine years. During that time, we’ve spent several good-sized chunks of time separated by hundreds of miles or even state divides. As anyone who’s ever been in a long-distance relationship can tell you, it isn’t easy.
But somehow, it always seemed a little easier for my partner. I didn’t understand why until I learned about the 5 Love Languages.
Once I realized that my primary love language involves physical touch and my partner’s includes words of affirmation, it all clicked into place. Of course he was OK to get through the day as long as we made sure to talk. I, meanwhile, agonized over not being able to hug or hold his hand.
That realization made a big difference in my relationship. It also made a huge difference in my work as a wedding photographer.
There are five love languages and we each give and receive them in different measures. In no particular order, the five love languages are:
Words of affirmation — Think of this as when you use words to build up the other person. For example, “Thanks for doing [insert household chore of choice]” or saying “I’ve been noticing how hard you’ve been working at your job, and I’m really proud of you.”
Gifts — Not what you think! This one isn’t necessarily about the item as much as “my person was thinking of me.” Big gifts, little gifts — they can all be special and meaningful.
Acts of service — You know when your loved one does something for you that they knew you would like, such as cooking a meal or handling a certain task? That’s an act of service.
Quality time — We’re talking undivided, screen-free attention such as taking a walk or catching up over a cup of tea or coffee.
Physical touch — Physical touch doesn’t just mean sexy time with your partner. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, cuddling — all of these count, too.
My work is about connection and to access a feeling of connection, it helps to first feel loved. That’s where love languages come into play.
When I meet a couple, I work with them to learn what their respective love languages might be. We do this through a combination of thoughtful observation — for example, do they hold hands throughout our conversation? — and through open, meaningful conversations about how they best give and receive love with each other. Then, I adjust my approach as I get to know them more and see what they respond best to.
For example, I might ask a couple, “How do you two feel about PDA?” If they’re like “Hell yeah! We love making out!” then that feedback points me in one direction. But if they’re like, “Nah, not really our thing” that points me in another direction. It’s really just about finding what makes a couple feel most at home with each other.
Last November I did an engagement shoot for Erin & Wendy at their home. During our conversation, they mentioned that they really like writing little love letters to one another.
“Do you keep these notes?” I asked.
“Yeah!” they replied before spending the next 10 minutes happily digging through cabinets, cupboards, and boxes to find favorite notes. Eventually, as their favorite band continued to play in the background, they gathered all of the love letters, birthday cards, and poetry scribblings into a pile on their living room coffee table.
At one point, they found a poem that Erin was originally planning to read to Wendy when she proposed. She’d done her best to both write the poem out in English and translate it into Wendy’s native language of Spanish, only to get too nervous during the proposal to go through with her original plan.
Now, they shared the poem together, reading it in both English and Spanish. It was one of those beautiful moments where I could tell how openly and deeply this couple was connecting and being their true selves. They weren’t worried about how their hair looked or if I was getting their “good” side — they were just genuinely being present with one another. And I was lucky enough to be there to take photos of those moments so they could see that love for years to come.
Fun Fact – You can read more about Erin & Wendy’s love story on this Dancing With Her feature!
Vows vows vows! Now’s the time to speak from the heart on the day you marry your love. Need a helping hand on crafting those vows? Wedding Officiant & Celebrant, Emily Sterling, hosts Vow Writing Workshops in the Portland, Oregon area and online too! If you’re feeling nervous about reading your vows during your ceremony, you can always do a private vow exchange beforehand, or write a love letter to your partner to read in private.
Surprise your partner with a little gift from the heart. This can take so many forms. Maybe it’s a fun and playful gift to make them laugh before the ceremony, like a funny inside joke or reference to your favorite tv show or movie. Maybe it’s a gift that has sentimental value to a part of your love story. Maybe it’s a locket or memento honoring a lost loved one close to your partner. The options are endless here, and the more meaningful the better.
This one may be easier to do in the time leading up to the wedding, like making your partner’s favorite meal without being asked, or asking what tasks you can take off their plate during the (often stressful) wedding planning process. I firmly believe that any couple getting married should have as little “to-do’s” on their wedding day as possible, so they can relax, and be fully present on enjoying their day. That being said, there are still ways to keep acts of service in mind on your wedding day. One way is to consider helping or serving someone who is important to your partner. Help escort an elderly guest to their car, or have a nice conversation with them if they’re sitting alone. Notice one of the kids at your reception looking bored? Challenge them to a dance-off on the dance floor, and invite other kids to join in on the fun!
Consider getting ready together to start off your wedding day. Carve out some private, quiet time for you two right after the ceremony to really soak in all the “just married” feels. A first look before your ceremony can be a good chance for some quality time before your guests arrive too. If you’re worried about not being able to spend enough “just us” quality time together on your wedding day (trust me, the day goes by faster than you think!) consider booking a day-after session or adventure session with your photographer so you can dress up in your wedding finery once more and adventure around with your love! Pre-wedding tip: find a jeweler, like Ringed Portland, where you and your partner can learn how to make weddings rings by hand for each other!
Hold your partner’s hand during the ceremony. Block out some time for couple’s portraits away from guests to have more time to embrace your partner. A first look could also be great. For me personally, I found the first look at my own wedding to be so comforting because I was able to hug my love and hold his hands to calm my nerves before the ceremony. Book yourselves a nice hotel or Airbnb to crash at after the wedding – trust me. You’ll be thankful for a quiet place, a comfy bed to relax in, and some newlywed cuddles.
Ragan and Max got married at the bottom of a cliff by a rushing river. I loved shooting their wedding but I was particularly gratified when they told me how they felt on their wedding day.
“From the start of communications, Marissa was clearly focused on making the wedding day perfect and comfortable for us. This was first evident when she asked us our love languages in order to better understand and prompt us on the wedding day,” they wrote in a review of our work together. “We warned her that we were not a very PDA-heavy couple and she managed to find a great balance with her directions, having us just be in the moment and focus on one another. You can see the love and connectedness in the photos and we never felt pushed beyond our comfort level.”
That’s what I want for any couple I work with: that feeling of connection. By knowing and discussing how you and your partner best give and receive love, I’m able to fine-tune my approach to how you two best communicate and connect. That’s what leads to the most genuine photos and ultimately, an environment where you can fall in love with your partner all over again.