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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Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

Anger and Sadness Turned Inside Out

One of our favorite summer family activities—or anytime activities, really—is going to the movies. Because they have such consistently good storytelling, we rarely miss a new Pixar movie—they never fail to give both parents and kids something to think and smile about.

So, we went to see Inside Out as a family during its opening weekend, and were not disappointed. It is an interesting story (if a bit far-fetched) and led to some interesting conversation in the car ride home. It won’t spoil things to share some of the fruit of our discussion.

The idea behind the film is to personify the emotions inside our brains. Everyone has five core emotions: joy, anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. In the movie, these emotions look like fuzzy muppets pushing buttons on a control panel inside our brains, which drives our behavior.

It is never explicitly pointed out in the film, but our family noticed that for every human character, one emotion is in charge. All emotions have their say, and their own moments to shine, but it is clear that in every brain there is one emotion that calls the shots and has authority.

The main human protagonist is an 11-year-old girl named Riley, and Joy is her defining emotion. Riley plays hockey and loves to be goofy and has a loving family. The story revolves around the family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, which threatens Riley’s joie-de-vivre.

I was surprised to see the emotions the writers placed in charge of the mother and the father in the film. The mother was driven by Sadness, and the father by Anger. Their interplay is captured in a brilliant scene that is used in the film’s trailer—very insightful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRUAzGQ3nSY

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how nuanced the writers had been—these emotions do make sense in my experience of parenting. For a mother to be driven by Sadness does not mean that she is depressed or always mopey. It means that her first, instinctive response to situations comes from compassion. That word, compassion, literally means “suffering with,” and Sadness is the emotion that capacitates us for suffering with others. I’ve seen Stacey shine in responding to our kids by first stepping into their shoes to feel with them whatever pain they might be experiencing. I’m not incapable of compassion—it is just that I’ve seen it more consistently and instinctively from Stacey.

Likewise, for a father to be driven by Anger does not mean that he is abusive or violent. It means that his first, instinctive response to situations comes from action. Whenever Anger is involved in the film, things happen—Anger catalyzes action. Again, I’m not saying that Stacey is not a capable person—there is not much that could be farther from the truth. It is just that I’ve noticed that my first, gut-level response to a situation often comes from a motivation to do something about it.

Healthy adult living requires a balance in emotions—as in all things. I don’t think it is a disadvantage or denigration to see myself in the Anger-driven father. That same emotion helps me respond quickly to threats to the safety and well-being of the family—from attacking the poison ivy springing up in the back corner of the yard to advocating for our children at school.

I am grateful, however, to have a partner who has a different emotion in charge. While our differences sometimes produce friction, they also enrich our family. One of the graces of the Sacrament of Marriage is the harmony produced by complementary gifts—it is one of the ways we have found God providing for our family.


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Love Languages, available at: ForYourMarriage.org
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