What to do when you and your lover don´t share the same native language.
At this very moment, there are lots of couples all around the world receiving the same answers from their therapist: "You have communication issues, you have to improve communication, talk through your problems, listen to one another, communication is key!"
If good communication is so crucial for having a successful relationship, what happens to couples who don´t speak the same language?
This is not about the ability to express love in different ways depending on the person’s love language, or the fact that men and women are said to speak different languages because they come from different planets, but the very real and discouraging issues that prevent a couple from expressing their feelings in their entire meaning, just because they don´t have a common native language.
Does it mean these relationships are doomed?
Even though you might not be using the same native language, you are in fact communicating, in one way or another. That language difference might have actually been the reason why you fell in love with this person in the first place. Maybe you always dreamed of having a foreign lover whispering love phrases while gazing into your eyes, even if you didn´t understand what they said.
May that be the real secret of a successful relationship?
Although it might be funny to think about a situation where talking to one’s lover is completely off the table, the idea of being unable to express your feelings or frustrations, or even make yourself understood about something, is not quite so funny. In order to develop a relationship, it requires some sort of language. When we think that this shared language influences how we interact with the other person, that´s when we understand how important language really is in a relationship.
The things you say to your partner might not have the same strength or connotation as they do in your native language; therefore your words may not be fully understood. That could be the hardest problem to overcome, more actually than the inconvenience of not having an extensive vocabulary, or enough fluency, when speaking the other person’s language.
With that said, there are some things you can do to minimize the issues that may present when you and your lover don´t speak the same language, without having to keep a dictionary with you at all times:
- Don´t speak louder in an attempt to get to the other person: Remember, your partner is not deaf, or dumb. They just don´t know your language.
- Use hand gestures: If your message seems too complex to be expressed only with words, use your creativity and try to explain it using your hands, facial expressions, or even objects you may have around you that could be used as props.
- Have a paper pad and pencil at hand: In the same way, you could use drawings to clarify what you’re saying, or teach the other person a new word. If you are out on a date, use a napkin, or the back of a brochure, and hang on to them as keepsakes.
- Use comparisons: Simpler definitions and common objects or situations can be used to explain more difficult meanings or abstract concepts. For example, try saying something like: “you’re the butter to my toast”. Your lover will most likely understand what you mean.
- Hire an interpreter: I once heard a story of an American guy who was very frustrated because he couldn't speak with his fiancé's family. She was from Korea and her parents wanted to meet the lucky guy who was going to marry their baby girl. Fortunately for him, after several attempts of communication, he decided to hire an over-the-phone interpreter who helped him overcome the language (and cultural) barriers-- he also got him happy parents in law.
- Learn your lover’s language: Ideally, both partners could learn the language of the other, and then choose the one they´re more exposed to, or that they feel more comfortable with. However, if this is not possible, show your lover how much you care by improving your skills in their native language.
- Communicate with love: there will be plenty of times when you or your partner may feel frustrated, ignored or confused. Just be patient, both with yourself and with your lover. And a good resource to have in mind is: choose kissing instead of talking.
Remember that these times will be over sooner than you think. One day, in the near future, you will look back and laugh together remembering all the efforts and resources you used to keep your relationship going. And, no matter if you share a language or not, as a famous line in the Pocahontas movie says: "Listen with your heart, you will understand..."
Do you know any real love story like that? I'd love to hear it in the comments.