In 1995, Gary Chapman, an American pastor with a Masters in Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Religious Education, published a book titled “The Five Love Languages”. In this book, Chapman outlines five ways to express and experience love that he calls “love languages”.
These five languages are as follows:
- Gift giving,
- Quality time,
- Words of affirmation,
- Acts of service (devotion), and
- Physical touch.
The theory of the book is simple: we all have a primary “love language” – a way in which we best understand and like to experience love. Be it through touch (hugs, kisses) or words of affirmation (being told “I love you”, “thank you”, “you’re doing a great job”). Once we have identified our primary love language, we can rank the remaining languages by importance; potentially we have a love language that is a very close second, potentially we have one that does not matter to us at all.
By identifying your love languages, you can establish what it is that your husband does on a regular (or less regular) basis that make you feel good or “loved” – be it leaving work early to spend an extra hour with you and the children at home (quality time), or surprising you in the middle of the day with a bunch of flowers (gift giving), or making the bed in the morning instead of leaving it to you (an act of service). Conversely, you can also identify the things he does with loving intentions that do not make you feel good, and either (a) allow them to continue, acknowledging the fact that the loving intentions are there, or (b) encourage him to try other things instead.
Having identified your love languages, the first step should be to communicate these to your husband, and to get him thinking about his. Once he understands the concept of the five love languages, you can actively encourage him everytime he “speaks” to you in yours. Similarly, by identifying your husband’s love languages, you can invest more time in these and less time doing things that may seem very loving to you, but which your husband does not in fact register as “love”.
Of course, that’s the theory. In practice, things are never so simple.
Take me, for example. My primary love language is acts of service, meaning I feel most loved when people do things for me. They don’t have to be big things; lately, I most appreciate it when my husband takes the baby from me for ten minutes, which gives me time to wash my hair or respond to an email without being interrupted. Before I had Oliver, it could have been anything from buying me lunch to meeting me at the train station to offering to carry my bag. As long as it was a deed, something done, not said, I was – I am – happy. In terms of the remaining languages, they are probably ranked from top to bottom: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, and gift giving.
Which is all well and good, except that my husband’s primary love languages are words of affirmation and gift giving…
What this means is that in order for my husband to feel loved, I have to do things that feel least like love to me. Telling him I love him is easy, but affirming him, thanking him (often, earnestly) is so contrary to my nature that I almost have to set a reminder on my phone to remember to do it. And for my husband, acts of service is bottom of his list, so in order for me to feel loved, he has to do something that is fundamentally contrary to his nature as well.
Luckily, we’ve had the discussion about love languages; he knows mine and I know his.
This knowledge has, without a doubt, helped me not only to understand my husband better, but to love him more, and more effectively, as a result. So much so that when he brings me a bunch of flowers but neglects to do the washing up, I know he’s loving me in his language and I can be (almost) genuinely grateful instead of wanting to kill him. And when I bring my husband coffee in bed and go thirty minutes out of my way to collect him from work but forget to tell him how wonderful he is, he can remind himself that I’m just loving him in my way and not be tempted to look for affirmation elsewhere.
My advice to all women on the subject of love languages is this: it’s always much easier to change your own behaviour and mindset than it is to change another person’s. As a wise colleague once told me, “In relationships, we can only do our 50%.”
“Not feeling appreciated” is one of the top complaints most women have of their marriage. But only one in four men say they feel actively affirmed by their wives. Or, to put it another way, 75% of men do not feel actively affirmed by their wives. Identifying each other’s love languages is a great place to start in order to rectify the situation. I guarantee you that if you remember to love your husband using his languages, and encourage him to do the same for you, you will both feel more appreciated and affirmed.
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