Love Languages, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Love Languages


August 18, 2010

Stacey and I share one full-time position in Campus Ministry at the University of Portland. Our responsibilities there include preparing engaged couples for marriage and we really enjoy working together with couples who are developing important habits in their relationship.

One of the lenses we often invite couples to use in viewing the dynamic of their relationship has to do with their language of love. The idea is that we all have our own “language” through which we communicate love. These languages don’t necessarily have to do with words; they are ways in which we give and receive affection.

Gary Chapman’s best-seller “The Five Love Languages” details five such languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. 

It only takes a moment to reflect on the way you were raised to understand how your family of origin communicated affection. It can really be eye-opening to articulate this “language” for yourself, and then to see how it compares with the language your partner is using.

Stacey and I, it turns out, speak different languages of love. I crave physical touch, which isn’t all about the bedroom. When Stacey twiddles with my hair or ears when we’re watching TV or rubs my back when I’m doing the dishes, I feel loved.

I think she has gotten much better at speaking my love language than I have become at speaking hers. Stacey craves words of affirmation. Very frequently, all that she needs in a given situation is for me to say a few words about how well she handled something, or how important she is. This is easy enough to do, and I’m more than willing to do it, but often it just doesn’t occur to me.

When I want to express affection for Stacey, my instinct is to express it in my love language—physical touch. I stroke her arm or give her a hug, but in moments when she needs affection, touch is the last thing that she wants.

In my mind, words of affirmation are nice and all, but they kind of wash over me. I appreciate a compliment, but in the end, I could really take them or leave them. The last thing that I think of offering Stacey in moments when she needs affection are complimentary words. Yet, for her, those words give her the warm embrace that I feel from her hugs.

So, I’m on a campaign. Rather than being at odds with each other in times of disconnection, I’m waging war on our relationship by trying every day to offer words of affirmation to my wife. I’m blanketing her with affection propaganda. I’m learning to hone my attacks—some ways of saying things are more effective than others to her. It takes some strategy and discipline because it doesn’t come naturally, but I love to make Stacey feel loved.

In the words of Winston Churchill’s speech before the Commons in June of 1940:

I shall not flag nor fail. I shall go on to the end. I shall affirm in the kitchen, car and bedroom. I shall affirm with growing confidence and growing strength. I shall affirm my wife whatever the cost may be; I shall affirm on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. I shall never surrender!

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?


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