The Five Love Languages, written by Gary Chapman is an international best seller. For the first time, a marriage counselor made love tangible for couples in therapy who are struggling to feel emotionally connected in their marriages.
It’s so simple, it’s hard to consider that it’s a full-blown couples therapy. The book is chock full of examples of couples making huge transformations in their marriage after they learned which of the 5 love languages their partner needs to hear and then become proficient at speaking it. His premise is that each partner has a primary and a secondary love language. You simply have to figure out which love language your partner speaks and speak it to them. You also have to build your awareness of what love language you hear and teach your partner how to make you feel loved as well.
The 5 Love Languages are:
- Words of Appreciation
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- Acts of Service
In my 5 years of coaching couples on marriage, I have not had one client who felt loved primarily by the giving of gifts. Sorry guys, you are not off the hook for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or her birthday. Everyone loves to receive presents and gifts. It lights up the pleasure center in our brain and gives us a hit of dopamine the moment someone mentions they have a present for us.
Anticipation makes everyone feel excited and alive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new car in the garage or some fine dark chocolate from your last trip to the grocery store. Any gift is always a surprise and always fleeting. Once we becomes accustomed to the new object, however, all the luster is gone. If you give your wife flowers once a year on Valentine’s Day, eventually she will come to expect it and appreciate it less and less.
Gifts are like other types of rewards and psychology has taught us that intermittent rewards are the most influential in creating excitement and giving us that dopamine hit. That’s why gambling is so addictive. You are always waiting for the next win. A great casino game hooks you by making sure you win just a little less often then you lose, so you keep playing.
I agree with the cliche, “You can’t buy love.” Servitude is exchanging time for money. Choosing a career that you hate because you learned the skills and it pays well, you know what I mean. A coal miner and a prostitute both sell their body in exchange for money, but I’ve never heard either one say they love their work so much they would do it for free.
Narcissists use gifts as intermittent rewards to keep their partners held hostage in the cycle of neglect and then a honeymoon of effort and apology attached to promises that they will change and that this is the last time. The partner clings to hope that change is possible as the cycle repeats over and over again. It’s not the gifts, it’s the cycle that binds the two together, not love.
Every mom knows, it’s not the gift, it’s the effort that went into the gift. If your kids drew, painted, and crafted anything for you, it’s beautiful not because of the quality or cost of the gift, but the effort that went behind it.
An entrepreneur can buy a car as a gift, but when there is no more effort than walking into a dealership and swiping an American Express Black Card, there is no effort behind the purchase. A man who works overtime to save up for an engagement ring is putting effort and his needs aside to pledge a promise of love. She feels love in the effort, not the diamond.
Spending time together as a couple and as individuals is essential to the health of the relationship and your marriage. Real quality time is doing something together that you are both engaged in, like playing a game, playing a sport or working on a project.
Watching a movie together is not quality time because you are both independently engaged in the film. That doesn’t count unless the movie is an excuse to hold hands in the theater or snuggle up on the couch. The slang, “Netflix and Chill” is the language of Physical Touch, not quality time.
The difference between two people being near each other and actual quality time is the effort of those involved. Any winning sports team, explorer or military veteran knows that that committed individual and group efforts can accomplish big tasks that leave the person’s feeling a deep loving connection to one another.
Put several people together in a crisis for a couple of days, and a deep feeling of love and commitment will bond them together. Not because of the time together, but the effort they all put forth to do something they did not expect to be able to do.
Acts of Service
Service is synonymous with effort. The Five Love Languages defines Acts of Service as doing things for the other person like cooking, laundry, car maintenance, or home improvements. All these examples are also examples of effort being put forth by one partner to another.
If you have a cleaning person come into your house to clean bathrooms and do laundry, you don’t feel love because you are paying for that service. When my mother visits for a couple of weeks and throws in a load of my laundry while she is on vacation, I feel loved that she puts in that effort for me.
The challenge in a household is that there are tasks that need to get done on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. A loving act of service is one that goes above and beyond expectations. My wife and I have an arrangement that whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean up. Sometimes I feel like my wife takes advantage of that method by using as many pots and pans possible!
There are nights where I have to work, or I do not feel well, so she will cook and clean up. That is going above and beyond! That effort made me feel adored and cherished.
One of my couple clients, let’s call them Susie and Bob, came into my office for help with their marriage. Susie thought she was literally crazy because her husband was perfect on paper, but she felt so frustrated and fed up with him. Bob was an accountant for a big company and made an excellent salary. He was active with the kids and enjoyed attending their sporting events. They had a housekeeper so his wife had plenty of time to work on her boutique public relations and marketing firm.
After I explained all the love languages and threw out some guesses on what each of theirs were? Susie shouted out in frustration, “He does all of them! He is a great provider, we make love a few times a month, he tells me he appreciates me and the kids. We all spend time together. He can buy me gifts, he remembers my birthday and I don’t really want anything.”
“So what is missing? I asked.
She screamed, “HE JUST DOESN’T PUT ANY EFFORT INTO ANYTHING EXCEPT HIS JOB!”
I could feel what she was trying to tell Bob. Bob was perfect on a spreadsheet, but there was no leadership. Managing a life is not the same as living with purpose, but there was no why, no point besides raising the kids.
Bob was so perfect on paper, but there was no passion, no spontaneity, no uniqueness while living with him. In short, there was no effort to make Susie feel like a priority. There was nothing outside of normal.
The effort was the missing piece for Susie. It’s the missing piece for every couple that feels like they have a roommate instead of a spouse. Effort can be a primary or secondary love language. Money can be a symbol for energy. Acts of service are clearly an effort being put forth by you for your partner, and great effort requires an investment of your time in the relationship either together or individually.
Words of Appreciation
We all crave acknowledgment and recognition of our endeavors. No one ever gets tired of hearing their partner say, “I love you.” If you want to give your partner a warm fuzzy feeling all over their body instantly, grab your cell phone and send your partner a text message right now!
“I appreciate you for…. “
“Thank you for doing ….. today.”
“I feel so loved when you …….”
I bet you get a response before the end of this chapter. As I type this, my wife is driving the family minivan with our boy’s regional fencing tournament. I’m usually the one who drives, but I wanted to use the 4 hours on the road to write this for you. I purchased a kale smoothie for her at the last rest stop. When we arrived, I’ll find a moment to hold her, look into her eyes and thank her for driving us.
Touch is essential to all humans. Babies who have their biological needs met, but are not touched, held, and cuddled can die from neglect. Touch releases the bonding and love hormone oxytocin in our brain. It gives us the feeling of “connection” with another person. A larger dose of the oxytocin is also delivered at orgasm in both men and women. The more and longer we touch, the deeper our feeling of bonding and connection.
In almost every culture, we use touch as a greeting and a goodbye depending on how deeply you feel a bond with that person. We will introduce ourselves with a shake of the hand of a new acquaintance. We will hug an intimate friend. We reserve kisses for people we love.
Touch is not optional, it’s mandatory in any type of relationship.The amount of contact varies from person to person along with whether you feel comfortable kissing in private or public. If there is no desire to touch in the relationship, there is no relationship. Yes, some people have virtual relationships or are physically separated. You may not be able to hold your loved one, but you still feel the desire to do so.
So I disagree with Gary Chapman in his theory that there are 5 Love Languages and everyone has a primary and a secondary language to discover and speak. I believe and have had amazing results helping couples see there are 3 Love Languages and they are all essential to a happy relationship and marriage. Each partner needs to get really good at speaking all three languages to their spouse. Yes, each person is unique in requiring a little more of one and a little less of another. To be happy in a relationship with our partners, co-workers, kids and friends we can all learn to discover the language another person speaks and share our love for them in all 3 essential love languages.