Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Love in the right language.

It's February already. The groundhog is back in his hole and we're burrowed in for six more weeks of winter. That means it's time to think of love and romance. Valentine's Day is coming up and I'm celebrating LOVE. All month long. All kinds of love.

What makes you feel loved and cherished? Is it those big, luscious hearts filled with decadent chocolates? Your favorite flowers in a lavish bouquet? A dinner in a restaurant so dark you have to pull out your Bic lighter to read the menu? Or does all of that made-for-the-holiday giftware leave you grumbling as you pass the florist, Hallmark store, or Godiva kiosk?

Do you secretly wish your beloved would REALLY show his love by:
*helping with the dishes and evening chores?
*turning off the TV to spend some time with you?
*pulling you into his arms and holding you for as long as you want?
*or putting his feelings into words and telling you how he feels?

Then you may have to let him know what love-language you speak.

Everyone has family stories about misunderstandings regarding how to show love to one another. Huggers vs the non-huggers. Talkers vs the silent types. Feeders vs the fussy eaters. The activity organizers vs the let's-just-sit-and-talkers. We often attribute these conflicts (especially within blended families and between in-laws) to differences in family habits and traditions. But they may in fact be that we speak a different love language . . . which is a way of saying that each of us learns to read "love" into a different set of language and behaviors.

Gary Chapman proposes that there are really five basic languages or ways of expressing and accepting love. I think he's onto something with his list.

1- Words of Affirmation-- You feel loved when another person tells you that he or she values you as a person and appreciates your special way with the most ordinary tasks

2- Quality Time-- You feel loved by another person when you receive focused attention and enjoy time that is set aside to be spent together.

3- Receiving Gifts-- Tangible expressions of love assure you that the other person is not only thinking of you but that he/she cares enough to show it.

4- Acts of Service-- You feel most loved when someone helps you to carry out your responsibilities and works alongside you.

5- Physical Touch-- You feel most loved when you make physical contact with another person. You enjoy being embraced and feeling another's touch.

Chapman's hypothesis is that while we may use and appreciate any and all of these ways of expressing and receiving love, there is usually one "language" that we prefer and listen for in our relationships.

That primary language was probably engraved on our hearts early in life by our parents and caregivers. If they talked to us a lot and expressed their love verbally, we probably desire words of affirmation. If they primarily expressed their love by offering to help us with the daily tasks of living, or invited us to join them in working in the kitchen or garage, then we probably want to be loved through acts of service. If no expression of love is complete without a hug or embrace, you're probably most fluent in physical touch.

Now, all of this may seem simple and basic to you, but I suspect that --like me-- you may have a few relationships that aren't as fulfilling as they could be. And perhaps you've tried and tried to establish good and loving relations with a certain person, only to feel like something's not connecting. Maybe you (and I) need to ask that person what kind of actions speak love most clearly to them. Ask what actions or activities make them feel loved, cared for, and cherished.

"I don't always know how to express my care and concern for you in ways that make you feel loved. How can I show you how much you mean to me?"

I've begun to do a love inventory in my life and I have been surprised by the response. People I've loved for a many years sometimes need to hear a different language in order to experience my love for them in a fresh and meaningful way. For example, I have always been quick to verbalize "I Love You" to my sister. Talking has always been "our thing." But of late, she's been very burdened and stressed, and when I asked her how I could show her that I love her, she looked a little sheepish and suggested a back-scratching-- "like when we were kids." Touch. There are times that nothing is better.

Words, time, gifts, service, and touch. . . five really powerful languages of love that can make us better at loving those close to us. With Valentine's Day approaching, maybe we should give some thought to our loving relationships and to discoveries that can strengthen them. When we say I Love You in the right language, we touch others' hearts and we grow our own.

So, do you think there's anything to this "love language" thing? What love language do you understand best? And what love language do you use most often for your spouse, your family, and your friends? Do you consciously custom tailor acts of love for each person in your life?

If you had one love-wish for Valentine's Day, what would it be?


Helen Brenna said...

Boy, does this hit the nail on the head, Betina. Really cuts through all the hogwash that's out there about relationships and gets to the heart of it.

Although I do think our needs change over time, as your example about your sister proves.

I'm a service and touch person. To me, nothing says I love you more than surprising me by cleaning out my car, or working alongside me on yardwork or painting or cleaning.

Does that make me a cheap date?

Helen Brenna said...

Oh, and I love that picture, Betina!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Betina. My hubs isn't a vocal "I love you" person and I've learned to live with that. His actions speak louder...when I had a knee replacement, he waited on me hand and foot and never ever suggested he was put out. As I type this, he just refilled my coffee mug and brought me a breakfast bar. He supports my writing totally.

Do I wish he cleaned the house more? Sure I do, but here's reality...he wouldn't do it like I do and I'd end up redoing it! Isn't that said?

One-wish for Valentine Day? A surprise token gift...anything...card, candy, dinner, whatever.

Cindy Gerard said...

I love this post Betina for the many reasons but most of all because it does make a person realize all the ways to say i love you.
My dh isn't verbal either but a doer. Yet he always comes through with the roses :o) I'm looking at a beautiful bouquet of red roses right now, as a matter of fact that he brought home for my birthday last week. My entire office smells green - like spring. That fresh outdoor scent is an even bigger gift than the roses during this long, cold winter.

Kylie said...

Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Betina. My husband is definitely a doer...like bringing me a plate of food when I'm writing. Filling my car up with gas when I'm going somewhere. I'm more of a words and quality time person. But you've made me think. Maybe it's time to find out what *he* needs to feel loved. I think I have a clue about one thing (eye roll here) but I also believe I should start putting more thought into it.

Betina Krahn said...

Whew, I'm so glad you guys like the post. I didn't know if it was too serious or too "psych-y". . . but I thought it might help to call attention to something I've been working on lately.

And truth be told, Valentine's Day is a sticky wicket for a surprising number of people. How do you really say I Love You?

Helen, I do think our needs do change over time and with circumstances, so we need to take inventory occasionally. And I loved that photo from the minute I saw it. Been saving it for a V-Day post.

Arkansas Cyndi-- you're a lucky gal to know and recognize your guy's way of showing love. Refilling the coffee mug. . . a symbol if I ever heard of one. . . that pretty much says it all!

Cindy, I know just what you mean. A doer rather than a verbalizer. Nothing more precious than the scent of green and blooming in a harsh season.

Kylie, that was part of my reason for the post-- to have us focus on what would make others feel loved.

I guess we assume that they way others show love for us is the way they want to be loved. . . and being women, we reciprocate in kind.

But maybe our guys need to be told what truly touches our hearts. . . if you've been longing for that non-verbal guy to actually say the words, tell him. And since he loves you madly, he'll probably come up with a few!

lois greiman said...

I, too, think our needs change as we age and experience stuff...like years and years of doing dishes alone. You know where I'm going here?
I don't want to hear words. I want proof, but maybe that's because my beloveds are all good at verbalizing. My son recently told me I was still the best mom in the world, and my husband tells me I'm beautiful almost every single day (man, I love it when he lies) but would it be too much for him to hang up his coat? :)

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- How interesting! I like all of the five ways of showing love EXCEPT the one about buying gifts. They mean nothing to me.

"Acts of Service" I love love love.

I think over the years hubby and I have worked out our own language. He gets a back rub every night. And he always has a hand on my shoulder, knee, small of my back, moving a hair off my cheek. He's a very touchy feelie guy. So your list of languages makes complete sense to me.

Keri Ford said...

I like to be touched. Hubs will put a hand to my back while walking into a resturant or while simply putting the mail on the counter.

Nothing beats climbing in the recliner together with a blanket, bowl of popcorn and a movie on the tv.

I get flowers and I certainly like them, but my fav come on our anniv. He has the florist put a calla lilly in the vase for each year we've been married (it was the flower at our wedding).

On the doer side, on the weekends he's been taking the kid to his mother's for a few hours and giving me that much needed quiet time. I'll take that over house cleaning any day!

Christie Ridgway said...

Great post, Betina! I think I've learned, as a woman in a household of men, to appreciate the "acts of service" as the expression of caring. I don't think I understood that right away.

I appreciate doing acts of service myself now. I used to dislike making lunches for years and then Surfer Guy took them over and it was great. When he had back surgery, it became my job again and I started to think of them as my way to pack up some love for the day for my kids. It's taken what I considered a chore to a much better level!

Misty Wright said...

I love this post. I have to say that my man is quiet, but he is learning. We talk about everything and he knows me so well. Just as I know him.

I've left our plans up to him this year. I'm hoping for a nice romantic night alone and dinner of course. LOL. Just time to relax with each other. ;)

Vivian Zabel said...

I hadn't visited your blog before, but I wanted to peek before Jordan Dane "arrived."

This is excellent, not only for us to understand how to show love, but also how to write about love.

I, personally, like a combination. Makes me feel very loved.

Marilyn Brant said...

Beautiful picture and a wonderful post, Betina! I actually have the Chapman book and thought he made excellent points throughout. I suspect people instinctively show their love for others in the way they wish they'd receive it. Like Christie, I've had to get used to the males in my life showing their love through "service" rather than in other ways (i.e., being enthusiastic about dancing, etc. :)

Candace said...

I come from a very articulate family. Some might say overly articulate. Basically, we talk everything to death. Words of love and appreciation come easily to me.

My husband, not so much. He's a doer. Gas in the car. Shoe cubbies in my closet. Making sure the waiter brings me what I asked for even when I'm willing to say, "no, it's okay" when my steak is overcooked.

Funny thing is, after nearly 36 years of marriage, we are both sort of morphing into expressing love in the ways that are most meaningful to the other. He is talking more and I am doing more. It's a process.

flchen1 said...

Candace, that gives me hope! Betina, I enjoyed the post, and I've read the book--I think that we do tend to offer love in the ways that we might want to receive it, and at the moment, I'm not sure how much my husband and I are jiving--it isn't terrible, but I think he'd love to receive more acts of service, and I wouldn't mind hearing the words a little more often :) Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Betina Krahn said...

Lois, I agree that as time passes our needs and appreciation for acts of love change. How interesting that with a verbal family who supply lots ofwords of love, you want some service! LOL. (Show 'em this post!)

Deb, I think that over time most couples do just what you and your hubby have done-- work out a language of love that's kind of unique to the two of you. Congratulations! I'm celebrating you-- and all the other loving couples here!

Keri-- that two in the recliner thing-- that's time and touch both. Add to that popcorn-- feeding-- and you've got the Trifecta of Love! Go girl!

Christie, what a great example of learning your loved ones' language of love! Your guys are really lucky!

Misty, I think the key to this whole thing (and to marriage itself) is that pesky "communication" thing. We need to keep that up and to be open to trying new ways of expressinand receiving love.

Vivian, welcome! I think a combination is probably the best, overall. Makes me feel very loved to wake up to a back rub, have that breakfast in bed, then come out to a clean kitchen and a bouquet of roses!!! Hey, it's been known to happen! My guy is quite fluent in all five languages!

Candace, I hear you about the "rubbing off on each other thing." And any guy who takes care of food problems in a restaurant gets extra points in my book. Give him a hug for me.

Marilyn, I'm glad to hear you liked Chapman's book-- I haven't finished it yet. I confess when I started theblog I was thinking of ways we could learn to share with our honeys what would please us best. But it sounds kind of like we've adjusted our honeys' ways of showing love! Interesting!

Flchen1, I'm glad to hear that the post gives you hope and maybe some tools to improve the "jiving." I think we could all use a little help in the LOVE department-- it's such a complex thing-- more like a DANCE than anything else.

Betina Krahn said...

Hey, I just realized. . . there is one thing that's not quite represented in Chapman's languages.
Feeding someone. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid and had a problem I got a cookie. . . and to this day, food is a big part of I Love You in my mind. Feed me well and I feel loved! It's a special kind of giving-- but not quite in the same category as "gifts" in my mind.

What do you think? Should PROVIDING FOOD or FEEDING somone be the sixth language of love?

I just read a book where the heroine had a contentious relationship with her stepmother, who was always trying to feed her. She eventually realized that it was the woman's way of caring for her and showing love. It had a good ending-- I thought it was a cool interplay. And enlightening.

Anybody else equate good food and love?

flchen1 said...

Yes, but I'm guessing that Chapman might lump it under "acts of service" rather than giving it a category of its own. It's true that in many cultures and families, food = love :)