And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)
Love. The word was printed on the cover of my wedding invitations, yet only years later did I realize that I had no idea what love really was. After getting married, the euphoric feelings slowly faded and love somehow became difficult, awkward and just plain inconvenient. Frustrated and looking for answers, I read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages and realized that, although my husband and I had been trying to express love to each other, we were doing it all wrong. I was not speaking his love language and he was not speaking mine.
After getting married, many couples have a similar experience. When couples work with me , I frequently hear concerns that include:
- I don’t feel as if I’m a priority in this relationship.
- He never says, “I love you.”
- Sometimes I wonder if she cares about me.
- He never helps around the house.
- We are married, but we are living like roommates.
The Human Need for Intimacy
Central to these concerns is the human need for intimacy. At the core of the human heart, we desire to be loved by another human being. Falling in love is an exciting experience, yet it is often short-lived and self-centered, and an exciting romantic relationship can quickly turn into hard work. The question we face is: if God designed marriage to meet the need for intimacy and love, how do we nurture an environment of intimacy and love? For love, at its very best, needs to discover how to express itself so that others can receive it.
Love as a Language
Most children grow up learning their parents’ native language. In some cases a child may learn bad grammar, have an underdeveloped vocabulary, or struggle to learn a new language. Just as they learn a language, so children also learn to love as they grow up in their families. Children learn how to love by experiencing love as they grow up. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, a child who experiences love will develop a love language based both on their psychological makeup and on their experience of love and how this was expressed to them. A child who does not feel loved will also develop their own love language, but they will have to work harder as an adult in order to feel loved and to communicate love.
The Five Love Languages
Dr. Chapman describes five different love languages in his book. He argues that we need to learn to speak our partner’s primary love language if we want our love to be understood by our partner.
- Words of Affirmation
For some people, hearing words of encouragement, praise or compliment is what they value most. Such individuals place most weight on the words of others, for words are what fill their love tanks. Words of affirmation can be words of kindness, encouragement or humility. They can be in the form of a text or a card, or they can be communicated face to face. But the corollary of this is that because words are so important to them, negative or insulting words will cut deep and will not easily be forgotten.
- Acts of Service
For others, it is acts of service that form the greatest expression of their love. These individuals want their partner to notice that they would like help in shouldering their responsibilities. In saying, “let me do that for you,” you are showing love and care. But because acts of service are so important to them, broken promises and laziness will not be easily tolerated. For such people, failing to follow through indicates a lack of value and priority.
- Receiving Gifts
Some people equate love with a tangible gift. These gifts do not need to be expensive or elaborate, but they do need to be meaningful and thoughtful. Gifts can also be intangible and may include a listening ear or your presence in a time of crisis. Gifts don’t need to be monetary in value, but are an expression of understanding and thoughtfulness. However, a gift given with the wrong motives will not be received as an expression of love.
- Quality Time
For some, spending time with their loved one is their preferred language of love. Whether it is a relaxing walk or a quiet dinner, spending quality time together and being the focus of their undivided attention, leaves them feeling satisfied. Quality time does not necessarily entail physical proximity, but has everything to do with togetherness, conversation and activities. However, quality time does not include time spent together when you are distracted by something other than your spouse.
- Physical Touch
The language of physical touch can take different forms and doesn’t only include affection in the bedroom. Physical touch includes everyday physical connections, like handholding, kissing, back rubs, and any type of re-affirming physical contact. This does not mean being overly touchy-feely, but rather using touch appropriately to show your partner that you care for them.
Beginning to Speak the Language of Love
When we discover our spouse’s primary love language, we are able to begin to express our love in a meaningful way. Conveying your love in a sincere way will benefit your marriage. When past hurts, bitterness and a lack of forgiveness make it difficult to love an unlovely spouse, Chapman reminds his readers that real love is a choice and is not based on our feelings. Real love is not manipulating or controlling and is more interested in giving than receiving. It wants the absolute best for the other person.
Christian Counseling Can Help to Restore the Love in Your Marriage
If you feel that your marriage is lacking love, you may find it helpful to consider Christian counseling. A trained Christian counselor can help you to learn more about your spouse’s language of love, and enable you to learn to speak this language. This can improve your communication and deepen the language of love within your marriage. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss how you can begin to restore the love in your relationship.
Chapman, G. (1995) The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
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