The Languages of Love

This past weekend, I attended Michele Weiner Davis’ course, Divorce Busting® Intensive for Professionals. We buckled down for days, and from 8:30-5:00 every day, we talked about techniques to help couples on the brink of divorce resolve their differences.

One of the stories that she shared was of herself as a young wife. She got married in the 70’s when the modern woman was emerging and this culture was the filter through which she viewed her marriage. She didn’t need to cook for her husband – she was too busy building her career! As the kids arrived, she realized that she had to do something to get some nutrition in them, so she began to ensure that there was actually food on the table when they got home. What she was quite shocked by was her husband’s reaction to her new-found culinary skills. He would smell the food wafting through the house when he arrived home and gave her the most enthusiastic of responses! As she thought about this reaction, she began to realize that his mother was a superb cook. In fact, at family gatherings, the table was covered with all sorts of dishes to enjoy. Because of the way he was raised, Michele’s husband felt loved when she put an effort into cooking!

Inadvertently, Michele had stumbled upon a concept which she now shares with all the couples that she meets – Real Giving. Real giving occurs when we give to our spouses something that we know they will like. It might be a hug when they are being particularly ornery. It might be tidying the house even though you are exhausted and want to go to bed. It might be starting up the car on a cold winter day so it can warm up before your spouse gets in it. It might mean filling up the gas tank in your spouse’s car. It might mean sitting eye to eye and having a conversation. Or it might mean letting them go for a night out with their friends.

It might not seem natural, come easily, or even feel like it is a big deal to us, but we must learn to recognize what our spouse sees as important loving acts and do them. It’s not about sacrificing for our spouse; it’s about showing them love.

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman wrote of this important concept. In this book, he theorized that people have one of five “languages” in which they speak love to their partners. They are:

  • Words of Affirmation (telling your spouse through verbal or written language how much they mean to you, how good they look, what you love about them, etc.)
  • Physical Touch (reaching out to have physical contact with your spouse)
  • Acts of Service (pitching in to help your spouse doing things such as running errands or household chores)
  • Quality Time (having undivided attention and spending alone time with each other)
  • Gift Giving (giving gifts of other tangible expressions of love to your spouse)

Frequently, spouses speak different languages. An Acts of Service husband might take care of all the household chores, but his Quality Time wife just wants to spend time with him. A Words of Affirmation wife might be telling her spouse what a great husband he is, but her Physical Touch husband wants to be able to cuddle more often.

Furthermore, all of these languages have “dialects”. A Words of Affirmation spouse might be embarrassed to hear you speak the words aloud, but is delighted to find little notes around the house which express your affirmation. A Physical Touch spouse might crave back rubs and massages. A Quality Time person might love spending time together on the golf course and go out for beer afterward. A spouse who delights in Gift Giving might like fresh cut flowers to put on her table each Friday night. An Acts of Service person might like to have the car washed each week.

If spouses are speaking different love languages to each other, and they don’t recognize that their partner doesn’t speak the same language, they will overlook the acts of love that their spouse is giving them. Even when they find out there is such a thing as different “languages” of love, some people ask – Why should I learn his language if he won’t learn mine?! Or worse, these people will get judgmental and think to themselves, “Her way of showing love is stupid; mine is better.” These attitudes are toxic to the relationship. They create a deadly standoff in the marriage wherein neither party is willing to budge first.

If we are not able to learn to recognize and then speak the language of our partner and if we refuse to practice real giving, then we are channeling the actor from Cool Hand Luke who said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!” Neither party is going to feel loved and both parties are going to feel resentful! Welcome to the fast-track to divorce!

However, when couples are practicing real giving (even if just one party starts the process), then they are putting aside the notion of a tit-for-tat relationship and seeking ways to show love to their partners in manners in which the partner recognizes,  accepts and cherishes. And it is quite amazing what usually happens – once the first domino is tipped over, it creates a chain reaction throughout the relationship which is incredibly positive! Both parties are going out of their way to show love to each other.

What to do some real giving practice this week? Here are some ways to get started:

  • Which language do you speak?
  • Does it have a particular dialect?
  • What language does your spouse speak?
  • Does that language have a dialect?
  • Practice real giving this week by picking two things that you want to do in your spouse’s love language, and give it to your spouse as a gift.