Quite a number of years ago now, I experienced one of those significant, eye-opening events that don't usually happen every day. It's not typically every day that we experience what many have called a paradigm-shift -- a significant, even radical, change in the way we view the world around us. This particular shift in perspective happened to me in a Sunday School class -- a class in which we were discussing a book by Dr. Gary Chapman entitled The Five Love Languages.
During the discussion time, my wife revealed that there was something I was doing that made her feel that I was taking advantage of her, that I didn't love her. And here's the source of the shift: I had no idea! I loved her as much as always, but I had no idea I was communicating in such a way that what I thought was loving she was perceiving as neglect.
The problem was that I was speaking the wrong "love language" -- saying and doing things that to me made sense, even communicated love and commitment, but to her said, "I don't care about you." Learning about the Five Love Languages, and the revelation that learning to speak the right language at the right time was so important, changed our marriage and our parenting for the better. Because, of course, the love languages apply not only to couples, but in the relationships we have with our children, our teens, and in many ways, those outside our homes.
How do we tell those around us that we care about them, that we love them? If we speak "love" in a way that makes sense to us, but doesn't make as much sense to our spouse or teenager, we may not be expressing our affirmation or love nearly to the degree that we believe we are. In fact, as was true in my case, we may not be communicating love or affirmation at all.
So what are these Five Love Languages? In no particular order, they are: (these descriptions are from Dr. Gary Chapman's website: more on that down below...)
- Physical Touch: A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face – they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Physical touch fosters a sense of security and belonging in any relationship.
- Words of Affirmation: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important – hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. Kind, encouraging, and positive words are truly life-giving.
- Quality Time: In the vernacular of Quality Time, nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there – with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby – makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Quality time also means sharing quality conversation and quality activities.
- Acts of Service: Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. Finding ways to serve speaks volumes to the recipient of these acts.
- Receiving Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous – so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are visual representations of love and are treasured greatly.
Dr. Chapman points out that most us, and most of our children, have one primary love-language, but often have a secondary language that also speaks strongly to us as well. For example, one's primary language may be Quality Time, but receiving gifts also makes the person feel loved.
A major challenge can occur when a husband's or wife's (or parent's/child's) primary language really doesn't mean very much to the other. For example, if my primary love language is quality time, and gifts don't mean that much to me, I probably will try to spend lots of time with my wife, and am not likely to give her many gifts -- because to me gifts don't mean that much. But what if her primary language is gifts, and time spent doesn't mean that much? We're likely to go through life struggling with feelings of neglect -- of "just missing something." But if I know she speaks "gift", then I can learn to speak that love language as well, and my wife will feel much more affirmed. If she can learn to speak "quality time", then I in turn will feel much more loved.
Since my wife and I first experienced this paradigm shift many years ago, we have the benefit now of recognizing that these things can change somewhat over time as we go through different life stages. When I take Dr. Chapman's profile quiz now, my primary love language is different than it was around 20 years ago. We're discovering that the joy of working to learn and speak a spouse's or child's love language continues and grows with time - and that if we have different primary languages, we must continue to develop our ability (and willingness!) to actively speak the other's language.
Dr. Chapman has a whole host of additional resources on his website. There you will find his books on the Five Love Languages, study guides to use with small groups, helps for understanding how to speak these languages in the midst of real life, and perhaps most helpful for taking this to the next level, a profile quiz that will help you identify your primary love language, and help you explore your children's primary languages as well. We've just scratched the service here; so much more is available to help you become fluent in the love-languages of the people you care most about.
To continue the journey, click here to go to Dr. Gary Chapman's website, or paste into your browser: www.5lovelanguages.com.
I encourage each reader (and remind myself!) to explore more, learn more, and invest a little in becoming a better communicator of love and affirmation. I can all but guarantee that your own "joy-meter" will go up, and that those closest to you will feel more surely how much you love them.