By Dr. Gary Chapman
Mark was a successful businessman. He admitted that he was reluctant to call my office. “But I’m desperate,” he said. “My wife told me last week that she does not love me; in fact, she doesn’t even like me and she wants me out of her life. How can that be true?” he continued. “We have a good marriage. I’m a good provider. We have a nice house and three wonderful children. I love Suzanne deeply. I’ve given her everything she wanted. I don’t understand. How can she just throw away seventeen years of marriage? If I were a bad husband, I could understand; but I’m a good husband. I’ve never been unfaithful to her.” Tears are now flowing down Mark’s face. “Besides that,” he said, “we’re Christians and Christians just don’t stop loving each other.”
I spent some time expressing empathy with Mark’s pain and frustration. Then I asked, “Has Suzanne verbalized complaints to you over the past few years?” “She’s always saying that we don’t spend enough time together. My business is very demanding.” “What else has she complained about?” I inquired. “She says we don’t talk. When I get home, I’m tired of talking. I’ve talked all day and I need some down time.” “What else has she complained about?” I asked. “A couple of weeks ago, she said that I loved golf more than I loved her. That’s not true. Golf is one of the ways that I unwind and it’s good for the business.”
It was obvious to me that Suzanne’s primary love language was Quality Time, and Mark had not spoken her language in a long time. I knew that there was no quick fix for Mark’s marriage. I wasn’t even sure that Suzanne was willing to talk about it.
The need to feel loved is our deepest emotional need. When that need is unmet over a period of time, we lose our romantic love feelings for our spouse. Then, their negative behavior patterns begin to annoy us. That is why Suzanne could say, “I don’t love you; I don’t even like you.”
After thirty years of marriage counseling, I am convinced that there are only five basic languages of love. Each person has a primary love language. If you don’t learn how to speak your spouse’s primary love language, he or she will eventually lose their feelings of positive regard toward you and will, in fact, dislike you. If you speak your spouse’s primary love language, you keep emotional love alive in the relationship.
Let me briefly describe each of the five languages.
Number one: Words of Affirmation: using words to affirm your spouse. “You look nice in that outfit;” “Thanks for taking the trash out. I really appreciate all the hard work you do.” “You are the greatest.” The scriptures say “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21)
Number two: Gifts. My academic background is anthropology, the study of cultures. We have never discovered a culture in which gift giving is not an expression of love. A gift says “She was thinking about me. Look what she got for me.” Gifts need not be expensive. Haven’t we always said, “It’s the thought that counts”? If Gifts is your spouse’s primary love language, it is not what you give but how often you give that communicates love.
Number Three: Acts of Service. The scriptures admonish that we are to love not only in word but in deed. (I John 3:18) Cooking a meal is an act of service. Washing the car, walking the dog, mowing the grass, doing the laundry, changing the baby, and vacuuming the carpet are all expressions of love.
Number Four: Quality Time. Quality Time means giving your spouse your undivided attention. It is not sitting on the couch watching television. It is sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other; or taking a walk down the road and talking with each other. It may involve a picnic or a weekend away. The important thing is the two of you are sharing life with each other. The next time you are watching television and your spouse walks in the room, put the TV on mute, turn and look at your spouse. Give them your undivided attention and you communicate that they are more important than anything on television. It is a powerful expression of love.
Number Five: Physical Touch. We have long known the emotional power of physical touch. Holding hands; embracing; kissing; sexual intercourse; putting your arm around their shoulder; putting your hand on their leg as you drive down the road; a back rub; or perhaps gently wrestling them to the floor are all expressions of love.
The key to keeping emotional love alive in a marriage is learning to speak each other’s primary love language. So how do you discover your spouse’s love language? Answer the following three questions. “How does my spouse most often express love to me?” If they give you words of affirmation regularly, that may be their love language. They are giving you what they wish you would give them. Number two: “What does your spouse complain about most often?” Our complaints reveal our deepest desires. Suzanne complained, “We don’t ever have time for each other. We don’t talk. You love golf more than you love me.” Quality Time was her primary love language. Number three: “What does your spouse request most often?” If your spouse says “Would you help me make up the bed?” “Would you give the children a bath tonight?” Such requests, if they come regularly indicate his/her primary love language is Acts of Service.
Three things are required if you are to be a successful lover. Number one: Information: What is your spouse’s primary love language? Number two: The will to love. Love is a choice. And Number three: Regular expressions of love, using your spouse’s primary love language.
It took Suzanne nine months of counseling to work through the pain, the hurt, the neglect and the lack of empathy exhibited by Mark. But eventually, their marriage was reborn. “If anyone had told me that I could have love feelings for him again, I would never have believed it,” said Suzanne. “But I do. He’s speaking my language,” she said with a smile on her face. Learn to speak your spouse’s primary love language and you too can live with a smiling mate.
Dr. Chapman will be at The Cove July 29-31. Space is still available. Click here for more information. A free live webcast of the first session will take place on July 29 at 7:15 ET on www.thecove.org.