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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Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

Parenting the “Now More Than Ever” Teen

I feel like a war-worn, battle-tested survivor today after parenting the kids alone while Stacey is away. In one day, two of the three children abruptly outgrew their school uniforms—their pants just all of a sudden didn’t fit. Next, I held lines with a hormonal, irrational, and emotional teenager over an utterly nonsense issue without escalating. Finally, I had to break out the sewing kit to make repairs to two non-clothing items, once during breakfast and then again during dinner.

The key to it all, looking back from a comfortable distance, was holding lines and boundaries and avoiding escalation. Escalation is how we describe what happens when a conversation continually rises in intensity and then boils over.

I usually have the line-holding thing locked down. That part is easy for me. It is just that I easily escalate as I hold those lines because I become offended if they are crossed.

For example, Oscar began a conversation just before bed by saying this, “Daddy, I feel like you outright lied to me…” I called a time out right there and had him go back to his room and think about a better way to begin that thought. I told him that I did not intentionally deceive him, and accusing someone of lying is a big step. He consulted a dictionary and held his line—he felt like I lied to him.

Understanding that he had come to this conclusion thoughtfully, I let him proceed with his statement. He was talking about something utterly insane—he felt like I was preventing him from going to bed sooner—so I called a second time out and told him to hit the sack because the conversation was not going to be productive.

Now, if it was still an issue in the morning, we could talk about it then, I told him. He was miffed in the moment, but I’m pretty confident he got over it in 15 minutes. Our poor son has hormones raging through him and he just isn’t himself sometimes. In some ways, he literally is becoming someone else—his voice is changing and his body is transforming into an adult’s.

There is an old saying that is ringing more and more true to me the older I get: the boy is the father of the man. The line means that the habits and proclivities we cultivate in our youth shape the adult we become. Looking back, I see this as true in my own life. Looking ahead, I see that we have a responsibility to help Oscar cultivate the man he will become one day.

That lens changes what lines I hold with him and why. I used to hold lines about respectfulness because I felt like children should honor their parents (which they should, of course). Now I hold those lines with Oscar because I want him to become a respectful man who communicates thoughtfully when he matures.

Oscar is changing, and his changes are transforming our family, and asking more out of us as parents. As a teenager, he is highly sensitive to anything that even smells hypocritical, and this is calling us to more integrity and honesty in our parenting. We have to be able to hold lines in a firm, but loving manner, and to absorb escalating emotions without making him feel distanced. We can clearly see that he absolutely needs firm boundaries now (more than ever), but that he also desperately needs to feel heard now (more than ever).

On top of all this, we must maintain and perhaps even increase our physical affection for him. Touch is one of the ways Oscar receives love—he has always responded to physical affection, whether a rub on the back or a sudden hug. As he grows into his teenage body, which starts to resemble an adult body, it seems natural to give him more space and privacy. While he does need those, he also continues to need bodily expressions of love.

So in many ways, he is asking us for that which is most difficult to give right now—parenting him is like swimming upstream. Balancing all of that is not easy, but true growth never is, and it will make us stronger swimmers in the end. We are taking another step in the way family life is calling us to grow towards perfection.


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