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August 3, 2015

Language of Love

What is your language of love? Did you even know that you had one? We all have a love language. It is how we communicate our love to those close to us. Most are not aware of how their love language expresses itself. It may be difficult to comprehend, but you and your lover both probably have two very different love languages. You are speaking Greek, and she or he might as well be speaking French. And it doesn’t matter what type of marriage you’re in, traditional or same-gender. We all have our own way of expressing our love to our partners. And when our expressions are not understood, it can create conflicts and breakdowns in relationships. In fact, the cause of many marriage failures is often the result of breakdowns in communication and failure to understand each other’s language of love. What are the love languages? Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book Building Relationships, outlines 5 love languages whereby people communicate.

They are:

  • words of affirmation,
  • acts of service,
  • receiving of gifts,
  • quality time, and
  • physical touch.

While some may express more that one love language at any given moment, it is often the case that they are more inclined to reflect a particular one above the others.

“The cause of many marriage failures is often the result of breakdowns in communication and failure to understand each other’s language of love.”
When conferencing with long-term couples and even some newlywed, some of the same issues keep emerging. Those silly insignificant things you thought were funny in the beginning are now the things that piss you off. You used to laugh at the underwear on the floor, the toilet seat left up, but now you cringe because you believe these idiosyncrasies indicate that you are not being respected and fully loved.

When I hear,  “she no longer understands me” or “he doesn’t do for me the things that I do for him,” I usually know right away where the breakdown is. She’s not telling him how much he is appreciated and loved. And for the words of affirmation love language, it is a must, so he is feeling neglected and unloved. If she does not voice it, it doesn’t matter how much she expresses her love through her actions. Her gestures of love in her own love language (in the form of wanting to spend quality time, for example) don’t seem to count.

Take, for instance, Tom and Sandy (not their real names, of course). They have been married for 12 years. Sandy works full-time outside of the home. Tom is a self-employed, stay-at-home dad. Tom does most of the housework, including cooking and laundry. Tom is not a real touchy feely guy, but he loves to bring Sandy breakfast in bed and to keep the home nice and tidy. Sandy has never taken to housework, and would just soon hire a housekeeper than do chores. Sandy loves cuddling and being held, and she is particularly fond of gentle kisses on the back of the neck.

Tom doesn’t know why Sandy feels unloved. He does so much for her: she doesn’t have to worry about a thing. He prepares all the food and even draws her bath when she get home from a hard day’s work… something he thinks that she should do for him from time to time too. Indeed, Sandy is grateful, but she doesn’t understand why Tom is always doing busy stuff. After a stressful day at work, she would like to just sit still, cuddle, and be held. Sandy knows Tom as a generous guy, who likes to hug everyone at church, so she says, “He rarely hugs me without me having to tell him that I need a hug.”

“It is less important that our partners learn to communicate in our love language than it is for us to practice communicating in theirs.”
More often, one partner misinterprets an act by processing it through the lens of his or her own love language. “My love language would take out the trash!” “And my love language would bring chocolate and flowers!” I try to help couples to understand that their partner is looking through a different lens. They are perceiving the world and the relationship differently from their partner. Their actions don’t necessarily mean that they are not trying to show love; it could be just the opposite, but we are missing it if we are not fluent in their love language. We should not expect others to think like we think or do what we would do in a particular situation, and if we try to force behavior, we end up trying to change our partners, which has proven in most cases unsuccessful and often detrimental to the relationship, simply because it is really hard, if not impossible, to be forced to shift to another way of being. It should come willingly.

As we discover the love languages in a relationship, we shift from “he or she who doesn’t understands me,” to “I” who must discover a way to understand him or her. It is less important that our partners learn to communicate in our love language than it is for us to practice communicating in theirs. This requires that each partner does his or her part.

We all have a tremendous capacity and desire to express love and to be loved, and in relationship this expression must be heard, seen, felt, and experienced. Continue to cultivate it, express your own authentic love language, and begin to practice better communicating in your partner’s language. Instead of busywork, take the time to cuddle and rub your lover’s shoulders. Or learn to cook a meal, even if it is difficult. Surprise your lover and then be surprised when it is reciprocated in your own language of love.

I am a proud, passionate liberal thinker, social-justice advocate, entrepreneur, creative thinker, and songwriter whose mission in life is to try be the change that I hope someday would be in the world. I am also a husband, father, and community minister. I hold an undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Divinity degrees. Currently, I am serving as Managing Director of Clergy 211, an organization of inclusive and progressive clergy that provide non-judgmental rite-of-passage ceremonies for all people.

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