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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Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Invalidation or, Guess Who is Less than Perfect?

Many years ago, Joshua and I were trained by the excellent folks at Northwest Family Services in Portland to offer relationship communication workshops. One of the wonderful bits of information that the workshops offered was called the Four Communication Danger Signs. The four signs of impending communication danger are: escalation, invalidation, negative interpretations, and avoidance/withdrawal.

One of the things we have always appreciated about working with couples is that it provides the opportunity for us to reflect and take a new look at our own relationship. So too with these workshops. As we were learning the material, it was abundantly clear to us which danger signs were particular pitfalls in our own relationship: escalation and avoidance/withdrawal.

Having identified those danger signs all those years ago, we have paid particular attention to them in our communication patterns with one another. We try not to fall victim to them and when we do, we try to name them as soon as possible. The effort to avoid them is so much a part of our marital communication that we have even written about them here more than once. Needless to say we feel aware and cautious of them.

Sadly, just because some of the other signs were not present years ago does not mean that we are immune to them.

Recently, as we prepared to meet with a local couple, I came across the list of the four danger signs again. Truthfully, up until then, I had actually forgotten about the invalidation and negative interpretations dangers. After refreshing my memory with the description of each of them, I quickly realized that while Joshua and I are vigilant about not falling prey to escalation or avoidance/withdrawal, we are actually increasingly bad at invalidation!

Invalidation is when one person subtly or overtly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. It could include interrupting, eye rolling, sighing, sarcasm, name-calling, insults, and other such interactions.

Now on some level this makes sense. I think it is a simple product of the length, and therefore complexity, of our relationship with one another. Joshua and I do not get so far as using the most overt or extreme examples of invalidation like name-calling or insults. But the other subtle examples creep into our communication more and more.

So while our old tried and true patterns of communication are still present, we have gotten quite excellent at improvising in new and creative ways. When we are not at our best, this “creativity” quickly morphs into laziness. And in our experience, laziness in marital communication can easily lead to stepping all over each other’s human dignity. In the midst of conflict, we have even gone so far as commenting upon how good one of us (Josh) is getting at eye rolling; or how heavily one of us (Stacey) sighs. Interrupting is just a foregone conclusion (and I am the worst at it).

It’s ugly stuff to be sure.

The other night on our way home from our conversation with the local couple, I mentioned this whole realization to Joshua. I told him that while I think we are getting better at escalation and avoidance/withdrawal, I am increasingly aware of how badly we do with invalidation. At which point he paused and then agreed by saying, “Yes, you are very bad at that.”

Which is hysterical and awesome on a couple levels: first, his response is the opposite of invalidating – it is affirming of my position and I love being affirmed, even if it is pointing out my weaknesses. Second, it was a light-hearted way of responding to a pretty heavy realization which indicates that we are in a good place and able to talk about this without too much guilt.

I immediately responded, “I know!” and we shared a laugh and had a very good exchange about our mutual susceptibility to invalidation.

So here we go again with learning new things about ourselves and the nature of our self-emptying, loving commitment. On the one hand, the personal lesson is consistently the same: somehow, I am not perfect. But the multifarious ways in which we fall short of perfection are always new and abundant. As are the opportunities to grow in holiness through our life with one another.


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