When I first heard about LOVE LANGUAGES I was struck dumb with admiration, it was literally one of those moments when a whole lot of my problems were solved with one concept and suddenly I could see some of the spanners in the works of my marriage. Inspirity has already posted some information about Love Languages on her website – just search for ‘Gary Chapman’ and the article will pop up in a flurry of pink swirly technology. Gary Chapman is the author of “The Five Love Languages” a book that is now looking much the worse for wear on my bathroom shelf, the victim of being held above a steaming hot tub by my sopping wet hands for the last week. When oh when will publishers produce waterproof books?
In a nut shell; we all show and see love in very different ways, if both people in a relationship show and see love in the same way then they are likely to effortlessly fill each others ‘love tanks’, if two people show and see love in different ways then they may struggle as their individual ‘love tanks’ empty over time and are not replenished. A lot of heartbreak can be avoided if you understand yourself and your partner, both of you can see how the other is expressing their love and both of you speak in the love language of the other.
At last I can understand why my friend Anne is so happily married to Andrew. If I made the demands on my husband that Anne makes on Andrew, we’d argue. But I suspect they are both ‘acts of service’ people – she asks him to hoover (he hears “show me you love me by….”) and he hoovers (he is saying “I love you, I’m doing housework”) meanwhile she makes him a cup of tea (she is saying “you are the man I really respect, not only have you proved you love me, but I am returning the gesture”).
Now, if Anne had married my husband what a shock they would have both had. He’s a ‘quality time’ man, if asked to hoover he’d hear “I’m not very interested in you at all, get to work slave”. Anne would see the reluctance to help, the sloppy results of his work and would understand “I don’t love you, your tea isn’t really appreciated and neither are you.”Meanwhile he might ask her to come for a walk with him – what on earth for she’d wonder, why don’t we tidy the garden instead?
Many of the marriage problems I have heard of, including my own, can be attributed to missing the declarations of love you both give, missing the cues to reciprocate love, putting too much effort in the wrong areas and not putting any effort in the right areas. A bit like someone feeding a tired baby to stop it crying, it won’t work as well as giving them a nap.
Dr Chapman gives the brilliant example of a couple who came to him for advice; the man was helping in the house, helping with the kids, maintaining the garden, washing the car – everything. Yet his wife felt unloved, she wanted to talk and felt isolated. The husband in this marriage was doing the right thing – showing his love, but in totally the wrong way. Instead of all his service it was suggested he spend 15 minutes a day listening to his wife talk about her life. She agreed to do more of the housework that he had been doing. After a short time their marriage was back on track, he felt loved as she was caring for the house (an ‘acts of service’ man to the core) and she felt the emotionally supported and cherished by him (her language was ‘quality time’).
I can well imagine though how things could have gone from bad to worse for this couple – say she reached a point where she felt so neglected that she started to refuse his sexual advances (“why should I share my body with a cold uncaring fish like him?” she’d ask her friends). Now she has rejected him in his secondary love language ‘physical touch’ and suddenly he notices how little she actually does in the house. He feels he is making all the effort and stops. “Will you iron my shirt for tomorrow?” he asks one day, crying out for a show of love in his language. All she may hear is her uncaring husband asking for more service (“can’t he see how tired I am and how much I do!?!”). She is less likely to iron his shirt than ever and he is just not going to sit down and listen to her talk about her dreams and desires now. Their love tanks both register zero, even though they started off in love.
Dr Chapman breaks down all the ways of loving another into five love languages, each with lots of different dialects. Personally I found it much more useful to make a mental list of all the things my husband likes me to do and prioritise my time in the areas that yield the greatest results (this may mean spending time perfecting your eyeliner, see you hiking around the Alps with your kids singing “I love to go a-wandering”, losing the pounds you gained after your last baby or gaining pounds as you take up gourmet cooking). I also analysed the interactions that are most sacred to his finer feelings – if your husband is a ‘physical touch’ man then don’t reject his advances, if he needs ‘words of affirmation’ to feel loved then don’t put him down as that will cause pain out of all proportion etc. As the song goes “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative”. The point is I thought long and hard about what makes my man tick and it has helped us.
Of course love is a two way street, I am not some superwoman able to fill my husband’s love tanks while neglecting my own. “I love it when you say you love me!” I said, unsubtly. Or even less subtly “say you love me, I’m feeling neglected”. Or cunningly “What does Ahibuki mean in English?” “it means I love you” he replied, ha! Gotcha! The point is he now knows I have to hear he loves me, it takes about 3 seconds to say every day and what a difference to the way I feel about him! What an investment.
Dr Chapman has written more books on love languages and how they can improve our relationships with children and teenagers. I did reflect on other relationships in my life and seeing how other people work has helped me. My mother is a ‘gifts’ person, so a thoughtful present does more for our relationship than a hug. One of my children is crying out for quality time when he comes and tries to initiate conversations with me ALL THE TIME, while another always wants to hold hands and sit on my knee (he’s a bit too old for that now though) he’s a physical touch person. Having a conversation with one and a cuddle with the other will leave both feeling happy.
DISCLAIMER: After reading this book I felt empowered, I understood my relationships better and I felt better able to prioritise where my time is best placed. I didn’t feel the need to let my husband or anyone else infringe on my life in a way that left me significantly worse off. Take as a warning the lady who knew the main way to her husband’s heart was through serving his family (ok so far right?) well she massaged her father in law’s feet daily for six months (not ok, she hated it.) If your husband has OCD then don’t drive yourself into a hole trying to bleach the spoons every hour, if your in-laws are rude then don’t visit every day, if friends demand quality time frequently don’t neglect your house in their favour. Look into their other love languages and devote time to those instead; make your father in law tea rather than rub his calloused souls, give your OCD husband a gift he’ll appreciate, send a text to your in laws and meet your friends for coffee once a month. Please do not destroy your life and say it was because you were saying “I love you” in an impossible love language.