MEET RUSS AND SARAH: They have an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb. And an ordinary relationship. Too ordinary. They’re drifting apart, but they can’t work out why. They just don’t seem to ‘connect’ anymore.
Sarah can’t remember the last time Russ told her he loved her, the last time he used tender, encouraging words to make her feel wanted. And Sarah needs to hear words. That’s what she tunes-in to – for her, that’s what being loved is all about.
But Russ is an action man. He gives love by doing things – and feels loved when things are done for him. And he can’t understand why Sarah goes on all the time. Words are cheap, Russ thinks to himself – he prefers to show his love by all the help he gives Sarah around the house.
Meet Lisa and Max: They’ve just moved in a couple of streets away. Lisa’s into gifts – big time! And if Max wants to push her buttons, all he has to do is buy her something that she can frame, put on show, wear – or drive! These ‘things’ remind Lisa that Max cares.
However, Max is a ‘touch’ person. He’d give his right arm to have Lisa cuddle and kiss and respond to him more. Lisa’s favourite words when it comes to bed are “Keep still!” and “Don’t!” He knows she loves him, but the ‘little surprises’ she’s always buying just don’t do it for him.
Meet Scott and Chris: They’re in the big house three doors down. Scott’s another action man (like Russ). He works his butt off. And if you ask him he’ll tell you: he does it for her – those long hours at the office are an act of love!
But ask Chris and she’ll tell you: those long hours feel more like an act of betrayal! What she craves (and doesn’t get) is time with Scott, just the two of them and no-one else. Time to walk and talk, sit in a café, hold hands and watch TV. Time together – anywhere but at the office, and with the damn phone turned off!
There’s tension in the air at their place – you can cut it with a knife. And the colour that once brightened their relationship is fading.
SO HOW COME, YOU ASK?
What’s gone wrong in these all-too-typical households? After all, they’ve got so much going for them. We’re talking nice people who care for each other … who are willing to work at it … who are trying to do their best.
They want to love and be loved – but they’re not connecting somehow. Each in their own way feels they’re giving-yet-not-getting-back.
When it comes to saying “I LOVE YOU!” … they don’t speak the same language. And that’s eroding their closeness as couples.
These misunderstandings crop up in far too many Kiwi homes – despite counsellors in every town, agony columns in every magazine, and bulging ‘How-To-Stay-In-Love’ shelves in every bookshop.
And, despite their best intentions, too many used-to-be-happy couples are watching the flames of love fizzle out.
Author and marriage consultant, Gary Chapman, reckons he knows why. And we reckon he may be right. In his very popular book, ‘THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES’, he argues that there are five quite different ways in which we humans express our love for the significant others in our lives.
And guess what? Each of us has our own ‘primary’ love-language, according to Dr Chapman – our own preferred way of expressing fondness, kindness, affection, gratitude, commitment, and all those other goodies.
Sure, we kind-of understand all five love-languages. But when it comes to communicating “I love you …” what seems the most natural language to one person may be radically different from the natural language of the next person. And misunderstandings arise when we assume that our partner experiences love in the same way we do.
So let’s look at these love-languages …
Love-language #1: WORDS
Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” And he’s not the only one. We all respond to affirming, encouraging words. And the more important the person who says them, the better we feel hearing them – and the longer the afterglow lasts!
Those words of appreciation are easily forgotten, however, as our relationship matures and the novelty wears off.
Meet Karla and Wayne: Karla wants Wayne to paint the bedroom. She’s been on at him for weeks. But Wayne no longer hears this as a request for help – he just hears “You’re lazy, you never do anything around here!” So he digs in his toes and spends his spare time working on the car. He feels lousy, Karla feels frustrated, and their relationship is sliding downhill.
If only Karla understood that Wayne’s primary love-language is words. If only she could ease up on the nagging, and instead try complimenting Wayne about the things he does do well – like helping with the kids, being a great provider, always remembering birthdays and wedding anniversaries, etc.
Then he might hear the message about painting the bedroom – and be in the right mood to act on it!
BUT HANG ON, YOU SAY:
“If I stop nagging, nothing will ever get done!” Well, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. If you’re feeling irritated about your partner’s shortcomings – stop the nag-nag-nag, and serve up some compliments for a change.
Those compliments must be genuine, of course. Words-of-love are a long-term way to re-connect with your partner – not some short-term trick to get your own way! But if your partner prefers words as his/her primary love-language, you’ll be amazed what a few weeks worth of consistent appreciation can accomplish:
- “Wow, you look great in that dress!”
- “Thanks for helping the kids with their homework tonight.”
- “I love your cooking!”
- “You do that so well!”
For extra brownie points, try expressing your gratitude in front of the kids, or the in-laws, or your friends – and witness the effect!
One of the deepest human needs is the desire to feel appreciated. So if words help satisfy that need in your mate, make sure you use them – often.
Granted, if you’ve never done it – or if you’re seriously out of practice – it might feel strange at first. But little by little, if you drop those words of affirmation into your everyday conversation, it’ll start to feel more natural.
And remember: there’s more than one way to use this love-language. As well as saying those words, you can write them down – in a card or note or letter.
The more you do it, the easier it gets. And the rewards can be out of this world!
Love-language #2: TIME
Busy! That’s the only word to describe our modern lifestyle. The alarm blasts us out of bed, then it’s gulp down some breakfast and crawl through the traffic to our office/
factory/school/appointment or whatever. Or it’s non-stop child-minding with housework, chores and shop-till-you-drop squeezed in somehow!
Even our kids are busy these days – school assignments take more and more time, and after-school jobs keep them at it till late.
The result? Few of us have many leftover-gaps in our diaries for those little ‘together moments’ that can punctuate our busyness and make for happy memories.
NOW, YOU’RE POSSIBLY THINKING …
“What’s the problem?” You may be one of those staunch types who regard ‘together moments’ as nice-but-not-essential. However, if you’re married to someone who prefers quality time as their love-language, the ‘problem’ is the one coming your way …
Remember Scott and Chris? Chris desperately needs her man to spend time with her! The way she sees it, ‘making time’ is how two people ‘make love’ – and Scott’s persistent absences sound like: “I don’t love you!” No matter how hard he works or how much money he finally brings home, if he fails to put aside time for her he’ll soon be coming home to an empty house.
(By the way, if you’re talking to Scott, please tell him that it needs to be quality time – with him really there, really listening, really talking, really sharing. Oh, and with that darn phone off!)
Time matters in any relationship. And it seriously matters if time is your partner’s primary love-language. That’s the one thing, more than anything else, that he/she needs from you.
“But I’m not that sort of person …” you might say. And there’s only one answer: start learning. Because if you can’t master the art of making and giving time, you might have to get used to being a very lonely sort of person.
Love-language #3: GIFTS
Gifts are good. Good to give and good to receive. And every society that’s ever walked this earth has done it, in one form or another. Gifts say, “I care about you!” … “You’re important to me!” … “Thanks!”
No child has to be taught how to enjoy good gifts – it just happens. But as we move into grown-up-ness, we can easily overlook the value of gifts as a means of expressing appreciation.
WHAT? YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND?
Are you married to someone whose primary love-language is the giving and receiving of gifts? Things that can be held and looked at, handled and remembered have high value for these people. They genuinely need tangible, physical, visual symbols of love.
And far from meaning they’re materialistic or greedy, it’s actually a bonus: this is someone to whom you can express your love in a very definite, planned-for way!
Is your partner or spouse a ‘gift-lover’? Buying and giving may not be second nature for you, but don’t lose too much sleep. Almost anything you give will be received and cherished as an act of true love.
- Do some research – make a note of the things he or she obviously appreciates and gets excited about.
- Don’t be sidetracked – it’s not just big, expensive gifts that count. (Think of the pleasure parents get when their kids give them flowers from the garden, hand-drawn cards, a look-what-I-did painting.)
- If in doubt, go DIY – that “made-by-me-just-for-you” factor can add special value to your gift.
- Make use of the other love-languages, too – your words on the card that comes with your gift (or are spoken out loud) can give a gift extra meaning.
- A night out at a restaurant or show usually works.
- Tickets to a rugby game will win the heart of most blokes.
- Flowers do the trick – on almost any day. And remember: a single flower can beat a whole bunch if it’s delivered in the right way, at the right moment, with the right words.
Most gift-lovers don’t need them daily or even weekly, because the value of gifts as a love-language has much more to do with the giving of one’s self. When that’s happening – regularly – at your place, you know you’re connecting… and being heard.
Love-language #4: ACTIONS
Loving actions are like icing-on-the-cake in healthy relationships, and we all enjoy being on the receiving end. Breakfast-in-bed … a hand with the housework … lawns mowed … gardens dug … hot scones for morning tea … a break from the kids … a picnic at the beach – the possibilities are endless.
But for some people, actions aren’t the icing-on-the-cake – they’re the cake itself. Like Russ (remember him?), they give love by doing things – and feel loved when things are done for them.
So if you’re married to someone like this, your actions (or lack of them) will always speak louder than words.
Remember Karla and Wayne and the unpainted bedroom? Karla nags Wayne because Wayne doesn’t understand that Karla gets her affirmation – her love-messages – from his acts of service and kindness.
IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
The way Karla sees it, she’s doing her bit: by shopping, cleaning, cooking, washing, and giving him sex when he wants it. She’s offering him stacks of ‘love’ – so how come he can’t even paint one small bedroom?
He tells her he loves her – but his stubborn failure to act says he doesn’t.
Okay, let’s be fair. Someone needs to tell Karla that her nagging is making Wayne deaf to her real request – which is, “Please show me you love me?” And Wayne (whose love-language is words) might respond to a dose of praise and encouragement
by grabbing a paintbrush and splashing
“I adore you!” on the bedroom wall!
No, one compliment from Karla – or one single chore undertaken by Wayne – won’t change the course of history overnight. But if they can both tune in to each other’s primary love-language, and keep tuning in, they can break the deadlock… and get on with the business of being the lifelong lovers they were meant to be.
Love-language #5: TOUCH
None of us, old or young, stays healthy for long without physical touch. Babies that are held, hugged, kissed and fussed-over develop better emotionally than those who aren’t touched much. In fact, if they’re completely deprived of loving physical contact, babies can die.
The outcome may not be so drastic with adults, but all the evidence says, touch is crucial! It’s as if we each have a reservoir inside us – a ‘love-tank’ – that needs filling up. Give us human touch, attention, affection, encouragement, and the needle on our tank swings up towards ‘F’. But if the needle drops below half, we become anxious, lose confidence and are less likely to travel far.
And if that needle hits ‘empty’ … well, people who’ve been there will tell you, life really isn’t worth living.
Physical touch is a powerful way to express feelings. And, for some people, it’s their primary love-language … their preferred method of ‘saying’ and ‘hearing’ … the main way they keep their love-tanks topped up.
No two people are exactly the same, of course. And for others (you may be one of them), this physical contact doesn’t come naturally – and may even seem unnecessary. Except, perhaps, in bed. Which explains that often-repeated complaint from their partners: “You only touch me when you want something!”
Get ‘touch-lovers’ talking and they’ll tell you: they need regular physical reminders that they’re loved. And they’ll also tell you: little things mean a lot. Holding hands at the shopping mall. Sitting together on the couch.
Squeezing an arm at the movies. Touching toes in bed. These small signals convey a big message – and may lead to more purposeful touch: a back or shoulder massage, running the fingers through his/her hair, stroking, cuddling, caressing …
NO, THIS IS NOT ABOUT SEX:
Sex, obviously, is an incredibly important act of loving touch. But it’s also linked to each of the other love-languages: words, time, gifts and actions. Which is why that old saying is so true: “The best sex starts with taking out the rubbish!”
There’s something reassuring about touch. It shows our significant others that they truly belong. And for touch-lovers (those people who ‘hear’ and ‘speak’ most clearly using this language), touch is something they can’t survive without.
You could say, for them, it’s the kiss-of-life!
Most people can get their heads around the idea of love-languages – it’s kind of obvious. But fewer people can make that idea work – because they keep trying to communicate with their nearest’n’dearest in their own love-language.
The ‘touch man’ hugs and strokes and gropes his mate (his love-language) – but, if he only knew it, she’d respond better to loving, encouraging words (her love-language). At the same time, she’s busy praising his manly attributes (her love-language) – when a kiss would get him on-side in no time at all (his love-language).
See the problem? Old habits die hard. And some misguided instinct tells us: “This makes me feel good – so it must make my beloved feel exactly the same!”
Which (as someone once observed) aint necessarily so …
And it’s not just old habits. Past failures can also trip us up along the road to better communication.
We’ve all made poor choices, spoken harsh words, and done hurtful things that we’re not remotely proud of. But there’s no rule that says poor choices in the past must be repeated in the future. We can choose to change. We can say,
“I’m sorry. I know I’ve hurt you, misunderstood you, refused to listen to you. But, starting today, I’d like to speak your language … connect with you at your level … do better at meeting your needs.”
By choosing to use the same love-language as our partner, we can create a fresh emotional climate in which past conflicts and failures can be put behind us.
Love doesn’t erase the past, but it can make the future different.
Worth a try, don’t you think?
KEEPERS OF THE VINE
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Much of the inspiration for this Grapevine article came from “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” by Gary Chapman. Published by Strand Publishing, Sydney.