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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Sweet Nothings

Sweet Nothings

This past August marked 20 years since Stacey walked into my life.

We were college freshmen, and she argued for an adjustment to her schedule that placed her in the same first-year seminar that I was in. The moment she walked in the door, I knew I wanted to get to know her more.

Her natural beauty struck me first—she wore no makeup and did not wear flashy clothes. I also noticed her manners—in negotiating the schedule adjustment with our professor, she was polite and clear and humble.

So, when the anniversary of this date rolled around last August, I wanted to celebrate it as the watershed moment it was in my life. God’s providence was at work in the first week of classes of the fall of 1994 because our meeting changed my life in an utterly unanticipated, transformative way. I wanted to renew my appreciation for that mystery, and I wanted to share with Stacey something of the grace-filled surprise she has been to me, so I committed myself to writing her 20 poems. That would be one poem for each year our lives have touched, and I told her she’d receive them all by our anniversary date (which is this week, May 9).

I’m pleased to report that I’ve been able to keep my promise—I have 20 poems written and shared. They took every form—limericks, free-form, sonnets, ballads, rhyming and non-rhyming alike. There are more than a few haiku, my favorite form to write and the most convenient for their brevity.

After composing each poem, I found some way to surprise her with it—dropping it in her work items, or under a pillow, or in a shoe. I wanted her to come upon them in unexpected ways.

I had to stretch a bit to find new subject matters, but I was glad for the challenge because it gave me a chance to draw upon important memories and impressions from the past two decades to share. Some made her laugh, some made her blush. All made her smile.

I had been feeling a little humdrum in our relationship—after 20 years, the routines and rhythms of interaction are very familiar and predictable, which is a great comfort in many ways, but also can lead to monotony. I found myself “settling” for less in some ways—not always giving 100%, or falling a little too easily into selfishness. I thought this would be a good way to shake things up—to keep things fresh. It was a discipline that had me reflecting on our relationship and offering affirmation to Stacey in a regular way (to stay on pace, I had to write a poem every other week).

And this poetry project has accomplished that end. One pillar of virtue ethics is the notion that virtue is not inherited or learned, it is acquired through practice. That is to say that if we want to be brave, we must act bravely in large and small ways until we become a person who is brave in all situations. I found that reflecting on our relationship in this creative way has grown my capacity for loving Stacey, and appreciating the gift she is for me.

Theology defines a mystery as something that we cannot come to the end of understanding. In other words, it is not that we know nothing of a mystery—it is that we can’t come to the end of knowing a mystery. The 7,400 days that we’ve known each other have not worn off the sense of wonder that struck me when I first saw Stacey—they have only deepened it.


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Love Languages, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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