Every now and then our relationships could benefit from an examination. Of course, it begins with ourselves. We can check our generosity, honesty, kindness, compassion, appreciation, empathy, and love. As was written in the bible, “The greatest of these is love.” Gary Chapman, the family therapist and author of The Five Love Languages, provides a key concept to help us love in the most meaningful way. Chapman encourages us to discover the ways our family and friends long to receive the message, “You are loved!”
As children, we all had our basic needs attended to or we would not be here. But many of us have an emptiness that longs to be filled. We can be much more effective in our loving if we learn to fill each other’s well of well-being. Chapman’s book provides a framework for that. But let me first describe an example of what can go sideways when we do not clue into another’s love language.
Misunderstanding Love Preferences
I recall a couple who attended a number of counseling sessions. They repeatedly had the same argument but they could not figure out how they got there. He wanted to snuggle, kiss and touch. He chased her and she pushed him away. He felt rejected and frustrated. She wanted him to pitch in and acknowledge what she did do. Instead, he criticized her. He gave her messages of how she failed to manage their household including their three young children. She felt tired and resentful.
It is easy for us to see the solution. We are detached from their drama. We can see the drama cycle of seeking to be loved. If he took initiative and contributed more to the care of the house and children she would have time and energy for his need for affection. If she took initiative and told him he deserved cuddling and huddling, he would become interested in doing more. She could then request more teamwork so she was not so tired and then would be more open to participating whole-heartedly in cuddle time.
It only takes one person to change the pattern. That pattern can be creatively changed once we have a sense of our loved one’s preference. Here are Chapman’s five love languages:
The Five Love Languages
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service
- Physical touch
Here are examples of how to put these preferences into action:
1. Words of Affirmation
Acknowledge and express appreciation. Notice what is accomplished and contributed, then comment, “Thank you for preparing dinner. I especially liked the mushroom sauce.” Notice what strengths, talents and personality traits you appreciate. “I love how you stay steady when I get all in a stew.” “I feel blessed that you take piano lessons. I get to hear Christmas carols practiced and perfected.” Mary Kay Ash once said, “Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.”
2. Quality Time
The gift of time includes shared activities. Find activities you both enjoy. Go dancing, play games, toboggan down a hill and create some happy memories. If sharing an activity is not mutually enjoyed, support your loved one in his or her passion. You don’t have to go wilderness canoeing to provide a shuttle drive to the river’s edge. Guess what? That is what I do for my hubby, Les. And if you only have time for listening, that may be enough. We all long to be heard, seen and acknowledged. Listen and listen some more. As the philosopher, Paul Tillich wrote, “The first duty of love is to listen.”
3. Receiving Gifts
The year my Dad gave Mom a pool table for Christmas was memorable but for the wrong reason. Each year our aunt makes donations in our names for an environmental cause. Those of us who value preserving our natural heritage deeply appreciate her gesture. People often feel most loved when they are given something of deep meaning. At my Master’s degree graduation, my Mom gave me a little box that contained her great-great Aunt Mary’s ruby ring. I still thrill at it sitting on my finger. Relate your gift to your loved one’s values.
4. Acts of Service
Gifts of effort can be of immense help and significance. I received two significant support gifts at the time of our dear daughter-in-law Chandra’s death. My friend CoraMarie took me to dress shops to help me find an appropriate outfit. My friend Linda went up and down the local Safeway aisles helping me buy easy to prepare food for a household of out of town guests. I felt deeply supported and loved.
5. Physical Touch
Hug, kiss and walk holding hands. The skin is the largest organ in the body. It needs nourishing. When guests arrive, greet them and offer a warm embrace. When you first meet people ask, “Do you like to be hugged?” Some people have been physically violated and others are picky about who is allowed in their physical space. But for those who love to hug they intuitively know that touch can enliven their body, mind, and feelings of being loved.
How to love no longer needs to be a mystery. Your love can now be put into conscious action. All that is required is to use Chapman’s five love languages to improve your ability to love and be loved.