Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not Your Way But Their Way

Tom had been married three times. Each time it had felt like true love in the beginning, but eventually the relationship deteriorated. His first marriage lasted ten years, his second marriage three years, and his third marriage six years. In his sadness and disillusionment, Tom couldn’t help but wonder, what happened to the love that was once so real, so powerful and so alive?

As fate would have it, soaring in an airplane at 30,000 feet somewhere between Buffalo and Dallas, Tom found himself seated next to Gary Chapman, who works as a marriage counselor, marriage enrichmnent seminar leader and author on how to make marriages work. Once Tom learned of Gary’s professional identity, he probed the depths of his knowledge. What happens to love after you get married? Tom wanted to know.

Gary knew that the truth of the matter was not that love disappears after a couple weds, but that the problem is that the love that is there is often not communicated effectively in the days, months and years in which a couple lives out their lives together. The problem is that people speak different love languages, and so love gets lost in translation.

In Gary’s book, “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” he compares the problem that couples have in communicating their love to the problem two individuals from different countries who speak different languages might have. If I speak Chinese and you speak English, and I try to give you directions to the grocery store in my native tongue of Chinese, you surely will not understand what I am saying, and so even if I am giving you accurate and clear directions to the grocery store, it will not matter because you won’t understand what I’m saying. The language barrier is the problem, and “if we are to communicate effectively, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate” (pg. 14).

In his bestselling book, Gary explains, “In the area of love, it is similar. Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse [or child or parent or friend or co-worker or fellow brother or sister in Christ] may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other” (pg. 14-15).

For example, in Tom’s third marriage, he would tell his wife, Tammy, how beautiful she was, how much he loved her, how proud he was to be her husband. Tom was communicating his love for his wife in the love language known as “words of affirmation.” The problem was that “words of affirmation” was not Tammy’s primary love language, and thus, Tom’s words fell on deaf ears. Tom thought he was communicating his love to his wife, but Tammy could not hear him.

In his years of experience, Gary Chapman discerned five different love languages that people speak and hear. They are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Let me offer you a brief description of each.

1. Words of affirmation. “One way to express love emotionally is to use words that build up” (pg. 37). And the best way to affirm the one you love and build them up is by using simple, straightforward statements, such as: You look beautiful. I love that you’re always on time. Thank you for lining up the babysitter for tonight. I feel like I can always count on you. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is words of affirmation, it’s critical that you always remember, my partner/friend needs to hear how I feel. Words mean something and compliments are important!

2. Quality time means giving someone your undivided attention. It means focusing on your loved one, spending time together and doing activities together. Conversation, asking questions, making eye contact, having a shared hobby, going on vacation, these equate to quality time. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is quality time, it’s important to turn the TV off and turn your attention on.

3. Receiving gifts. This love language has nothing to do with being materialistic. It’s about giving and receiving. It’s about showing tangible, visible, physical expressions of love. Candy, flowers, handmade gifts, living gifts like giving a tree or pet…it’s the thought that counts, like bringing someone back a shell from the beach vacation you just went on. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is receiving gifts, heart-felt generosity and creativity are key.

4. Acts of service. This means doing things you know your loved one would like you to do, such as vacuuming or laundry or changing the oil in his or her car. The language of service is love in action. If your loved one is always asking you to do something or has a list of requests for you, then acts of service is probably his or her primary love language. And if you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is acts of service, then it’s the little things, like stopping at the grocery store for fresh vegetables, and the big things, like taking them to the airport at 6 in the morning that matter.

5. Physical touch. Never underestimate the power of touch. Dogs will be your best friends if you just scratch their ears and belly. “Babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact” (pg. 109). The love language of physical touch includes both sexual and nonsexual touch, such as holding hands, pats on the back, kissing, hugging, massage, holding someone as they cry, wrestling. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is physical touch, then don’t be shy and don’t be stand off-ish. They literally want to feel you care.

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus tells us once again how important it is that we love each other. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How then can we best love each other?

The key is speaking in the love language of the one you love, not trying to give what you want to receive.

This means that we each have to figure out what our primary love language is and tell the important people in our lives so they can speak to us in that language. It also means that you have to be aware of the people in your life and speak to them in their love language. As Gary Chapman says, “If we are to communicate effectively, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate” (pg. 14).

Our friend, Tom, has just begun dating a woman named, Samantha. With his newfound knowledge of the five love languages, Tom is being more attentive to try to discern what Samantha’s primary love language is. He brought her a rose for their first date, and while she seemed to appreciate it, he sensed that receiving a gift wasn’t the most important thing to her. However, when he offered to pump the gas at the gas station, though it was her car and she was driving, her face lit up. The jury is still out, but Tom has a hunch that he has a lot more acts of service in his future.

Finally, to answer Tom’s original question, what happens to love? Love doesn’t magically disappear. It doesn’t go anywhere. The answer is, we happen to love. And it’s up to us to communicate love in ways our family and friends can receive it. It’s up to us to keep love alive.

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