When I sat down to read Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages a couple of months ago, I must admit that I was skeptical. Coming from a background in psychology (a field which I believe often mis- or over-uses categories and labels),
I wasn't so sure about the idea that each of us speaks a "primary love language" and that once we figure out this love language (and that of our spouse) we will find ourselves in a healthier, happier marriage relationship. After reading this book, I can honestly say that I believe Dr. Chapman is onto something, and I would recommend it to any couple that would like to deepen their understanding of themselves and their spouse. Here is a brief overview of what The Five Love Languages is all about...
First, you should know that Gary Chapman is a world-renowned author, speaker, and counselor with over 30 years worth of experience working with married couples. He says that time and time again, he would be sitting in the room with a married couple and the wife would say, "After all these years of marriage, my husband never does anything to show me that he cares about me" and the husband would respond with, "I don't get it, I do all of these things to show my wife that I care about her!" Dr. Chapman soon came to the realization that more often than not, these spouses were having trouble not because they didn't care about each other, but because they did not speak the same primary love language. Just as we cannot understand what someone is saying if we do not speak their language - I would not understand a word of Polish, for example - we cannot understand what our spouse truly needs if we do not speak his primary love language. We may be very sincere in our efforts to love our spouse, but if we do not speak his love language then he will not feel loved. The goal is for couples to discover each others' primary love language, learn how to speak it, and work towards healthy communication within their marriage.
Dr. Chapman says that there are five fundamental ways that we can express and receive love, and that while we may see characteristics of each of these categories in ourselves and/or our spouse, we will probably each fall into one primary category:
1) Words of affirmation
2) Quality time
3) Receiving gifts
4) Acts of service
5) Physical touch
1) Words of affirmation: People who fall into this category benefit immensely from verbal compliments as well as encouragement. The compliments can be as simple as "You look really nice in that new shirt" or "You're really good at making people feel at ease in social situations," but they should be sincere and thoughtful. Providing encouragement will be especially important in situations where your spouse needs to make a tough decision.
2) Quality time: Someone in this category really benefits from knowing that her husband is focusing all of his energy on her. Shared experiences are really important, and can range from watching a movie together to training for a marathon together.
3) Receiving gifts: People in this category treasure gifts as an expression of someone's love for them. It may be very difficult for a thrifty wife to get used to the idea that her husband really feels loved when she gives him gifts, but she can realize that in giving gifts she is making an investment in the health of the marriage relationship. The gift doesn't always need to be expensive, even little gifts can mean a lot!
4) Acts of service: These individuals feel very loved when their spouse does acts of service for them, and it is important to discern what acts are most appreciated. For example, if your wife lets you know that she really hates vacuuming the house and that it would mean a lot to her if you would take on that weekly chore for her, you can do all the lawn-mowing that you want and she is not going to feel the love! She may appreciate your hard work on an intellectual level, but emotionally she will not feel that you're understanding her needs. Or wives, you can cook all of the gourmet meals that you want, but if your husband would just as well eat pasta 7 night a week and would rather come home to a neatly-ordered shoe rack, then you may be spinning your wheels!
5) Physical touch: This category is not just limited to sexual intercourse, so it is important to figure out which types of physical touch - frequent hugs, a back massage, holding hands - communicates love and security to your spouse.
I have been purposely brief because I believe that Dr. Chapman's book is worth reading in its entirety :) In this week leading up to St. Valentine's Day, let's make the commitment to working towards better understanding ourselves and our spouses so that we may better serve each other and practically live out the vows that we made to each other on our wedding day!