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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Hugging the Porcupine

Hugging the Porcupine

A couple of months ago we took on a large extra project that will last through the summer. It is a project we believe in, that pays well, and that will allow us to work together. What could be better?

Back in early June, we had just completed the first phase of the project, and had enough work under us to get a sense of what was left. The kids were just getting out of school, and I looked at Stacey and said warily, “This thing is going to eat our summer whole.”

What’s more, working together hasn’t been the dream we thought it would be. We like to think we work well together because we shared a job for seven years, but the reality is that we split our responsibilities in that job. We actually have severely different working styles.

Different styles of work added with an unusual amount of stress has shortened our patience and made us both a little distracted. Yet, after nearly 16 years together, we’ve come to understand that life has seasons. There is a time for everything, and stressful times pass. We knew we just needed to get through this season—preferably in one piece.

Taking an attitude of service towards each other and family life goes a long way towards framing our conversations in a more gentle light. At times, I’ve been able to do this by initiating conversation with Stacey, checking in with her about how the work was going, and making sure she knew how I was feeling. In those moments, we feel like we’re battling this thing together.

Stacey’s expressiveness is one of the things I love most about her. In a normal time, she literally jumps for joy when things work out well. I never have to guess what she is feeling, and she uses that expressiveness to connect to other people very well. She jacks up our family fun by a factor of four, easily.

But when she is under stress, she becomes like a porcupine—prickly all over. And those barbs are what make me keep my distance; my stress reaction is to become like a turtle. Yet the distance I seek makes her even more prickly. Porcupines can’t physically shoot their quills, but under stress, Stacey can. And turtles don’t stay in their shells for long, but I can camp out there for days. The lesson for me is to remember that when I perceive her turning into a porcupine, when I most feel like protecting myself, that’s precisely when she most needs me to come out of myself and offer generosity and love.

This is how marriage trains us to participate in divine love. Human love is much more sensible—it follows the path of least resistance. Many days, human love is more than enough to get us by. But divine love carries us when we are sick, or scared, or under stress—“for better or worse,” indeed.


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Love Languages, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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