Speaking the right language

The first book I read once counseling began was The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. Any book that tries to break down a subject as large as love into five neat boxes is bound to be an oversimplification, but I found the book to be enlightening.

I will start with a couple of quotes I highlighted from the book:
"Love is not our only emotional need. Psychologists have observed that among our basic  needs are the need for security, self-worth, and significance. Love, however, interfaces with all of those."
"Meeting my wife’s need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love  language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional need will be met and she will feel  secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank. In a state of emotional contentment, both of us will give our creative energies to many wholesome projects outside the marriage while we continue to keep our marriage exciting and growing."
He uses this image of each of us having a "love tank" that we need to try to keep filled if we are to lead full, enriched lives. While it is important for you to find many things in your life that "fill your tank", it is also an important part of marriage to do what you can to keep your partner's tank topped off.

His basic premise is that we both give and receive love in five basic catagories. They are:
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical Touch
The author's point is that though we express and receive love in many ways, we tend to gravitate toward one or two of these methods in our daily interactions. One of the main difficulties couples experience is when you are not speaking the same language (no surprise there). You may work many hours in order to buy gifts, when all your wife wants is quality time. You may think that flowery words are the language of love, when all your wife wants is for you to take out the garbage. You think you are showing your love in an obvious way, but it may go by unnoticed by your partner because that is not how they most easily feel love.

It was an interesting exercise to try and deduce not only what J's preferred language was, but my own as well. The book points out that it is typical for you to show love in the same way you wish to receive it. This makes sense, but I don't seem to fit into that neat box. Without necessarily realizing it, I seem to express love through acts of service quite a bit. This is especially true with my friends. I take pleasure in doing things for other people, and it is probably an expression of my love. But on the flip side, I don't wish that people would do things for me.

The more I tried to pigeon-hole myself into one of the catagories, the harder it became. I of course appreciate kind words, but they often make me uncomfortable at the same time. Part of that I am sure is the heavy-handed self criticism I have handed out in the past. "Don't tell me I'm great. I know better." I have been working to improve this, and I think I have made progress. I suppose if I had to pick, I guess I fall into the quality time and physical touch camp.

But the more important exercise (certainly as it related to our marriage counseling) was to see if I had been speaking J's language. The author mentions that your spouse is likely giving you lots of clues in the things he/she expresses, says, comments on, or complains about. I won't pass along my guesses as to what her language might be, but it is safe to say that I wasn't speaking it very clearly.

But poor choices in the past don’t mean that we must make them in the future. The author even gives you a little script to use if you need a launching point:
“You know, I have been reading a book on how to express love, and I realize that I have not been expressing my love to you in the best way through the years. I have tried to show you my love by _______, but I’m  now realizing that that probably has not communicated love to you, that your love language is probably something different. I am  beginning to think that your love language is probably _______. You know, I really do love you, and I hope that in the future I can express it to  you in better ways.”
What really hit home was that I wasn't doing enough to keep her "love tank" full, in any language. In my last relationship, I spent a lot of time trying to make my partner happy, at the expense of my well being. It not only left me feeling weak and ineffective, but it was ultimately futile. I came to realize that true happiness can only come from within, and I think I went to far in the other direction with J.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I was a cold-hearted jerk or anything. I think I was actually quite encouraging, but after reading this book I realized I was not doing enough to help J find happiness. With the failures of my past relationship, and in coming to believe that happiness comes from within, I stepped back more in my relationship with J. I believed that she knew how much I loved her, and wanted her to be happy, but now I know I wasn't communicating it correctly, or often enough.

Despite your best efforts, you can not "make" another person happy, but by showing them love and keeping their tank topped off, it gives them the strength to find true happiness on their own. You are not propping them up, but standing behind them always with your love and support. Though I sought to encourage her when ever I could, I wasn't helping her find the strength by making her feel loved.

After finishing the book, I went to J and told her all this. That I loved her deeply and wanted her to be happy. That my expressions of love were not frequent enough, or communicated very clearly in the past. That I had not done enough to make her feel cherished, significant and special. I wished to change all of that and pledged to do so.

Unfortunately, it was "too much, too late" as the phrase was coined by someone close to me. But if isn't too late for you, and it probably isn't, then I think this book is worth the read.
"Love doesn’t erase the past, but it makes the future different. When we choose active expressions of love in the primary love language of our spouse, we create an emotional climate where we can deal with our past conflicts and  failures."

The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate


matt said...

Whenever I do marriage counseling with a couple, I require that they read at least one book together through the course of the counseling. "The Five Love Languages" in one of my recommendations. The others are "His Needs, Her Needs - How to Affair-proof your marriage" and "Men are from Mars - Women are from Venus". There are a couple others but my mind just blanked out . . .

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