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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Big Fish

Big Fish

I had a really crappy day last week.  Not a catastrophically crappy day—just a preponderance of small, seemingly simple things going less than smoothly. It was like the slow drip, drip, drip of water—one drop by itself is no big deal, but add them up over time and it really wears on you.

There was some printing trouble that really should have been routine. There was the coffee shop forgetting to put coffee in my coffee. (I wanted a mocha and ended up with a hot chocolate.) There was me choosing to make healthy decisions by venting with Joshua—calling him on his cell, not getting him; calling him at home, not getting him; texting him in caps with exclamation points, not getting him.

When we did get to talk (only two minutes after my texting breakdown) he wisely commented, “You must have a big fish on the line.”

This phrase is one of those marital codes we have developed over the years. It comes from a religious sister who commented that when something goes really wrong before a retreat, it means there must be a “big fish” on the line for the weekend—i.e., God must have something important in store, and this is how other forces are attempting to derail that plan using our most human foibles.

I am highly susceptible to human foibles. So I particularly appreciated Josh’s comment because it was a call back to my center. It was a call to set aside the distractions and focus extra hard on looking for God around me.

And not surprisingly, God was there. God was there when I ran into a former student, now a colleague, who checked in with me about how my day was going. God was there in the sincere, encouraging hug I received from another minister. God was there in the little toddler girl touring campus with her family who stared deeply at me even after she was well past me on the sidewalk. Her sweet innocent eyes just felt like God looking back at me, seeing me, seeing my struggles that day and inviting me in turn to see and know God was there with me, that all I had to do was look.

So did I have a big fish on the line?

Maybe.

We have had an unusually full summer. I avoid using the word “busy” because our pace has been just fine and even relaxing. But there are two particularly big projects that have taken over our time: one that has the capacity to impact a lot of folks for a good while into the future, and another that is just about our family.

In both cases, Joshua and I did not so much decide to take these things on, as much as had the option presented to us and followed those leads.  We feel like our investment in these projects was far less an act of our will and much more an active looking and listening for God’s will.

We had invitations extended to us and—thank goodness—rather than attempt to decide if we felt like doing them or had the time to fit them in or if we would benefit personally and professionally from them, we prayed about them. We took a hard look at the gifts, skills and resources we possess and asked ourselves if we thought God was calling us to apply them in this direction at this time.  In both cases the answer we received was yes, so we took a step forward.

At every frustrated, exhausted, or nervous moment during the summer when we looked back at the choice to say “yes” to the opportunities presented to us, we have found peace in knowing that we did not force these developments. Rather they were the product of sound discernment. We do not have a full sense of how far down these paths we will go, but we rest with confidence that we are on the right track when we are staying in tune with God’s will.

We know that there are forces opposed to goodness, and given the scale of the projects we have been involved in this summer, it is not surprising to find opposition to their development. When the water gets muddied, though, we always find clarity when we return to the source and cling to our trust in God.

That is part of what was so challenging and important in how my crappy day unfolded last week. In our lives there are SO many ways we can be distracted or put off of staying in tune with God. But it is essential to look for God in the little things so that we can see and hear God all the more clearly in the big things.


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