This is the second installment of my marriage reading series. This time, I picked up The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book was quite a change from the “heady” Tim Keller, in that it is very practical and easy to read. It is also full of personal stories, based on Gary Chapman's many years as a marriage counselor and doing marriage seminars.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept, Chapman looks at the issue of how we express love to one another. So often, we see couples that once were happy and in love suddenly start to come apart. She says he doesn't love her any more. He says that he's done everything he could, but she's never satisfied, and moreover, it's her who pulled away. What happened?
Chapman says that there are five basic “love languages”, and that each person tends towards one or two of them. The languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service. These love languages come from our personalities, our upbringings, etc. We tend to express love in the way that we want to be loved. So since my love languages is quality time, I will want to express my love to a friend by setting aside time for them. The problem is that maybe my friend's love language is physical touch, so she expresses her love to me by hugging me every time we meet, but she doesn't understand why I am sad when she cancels on our plans. In friendship this is a pain, but in marriage, it can tear you apart.
The question is, why doesn't this issue come up when you're first dating someone? Surely, you would realize that you're not really compatible. Chapman says that when you meet someone and fall in love, you're overwhelmed with the euphoria of the feeling. You feel like you know that person intimately (even though often you don't), and since you're both in love, the relationship seems effortless. It's only when the “in love” feelings wear off that you start to feel unloved, and that's when it's important to know your love language and your spouse's. Chapman doesn't say this, but I would also argue that when you're first dating, you probably do ALL the love languages without thinking: You spend lots of time together, you hold hands, you give little gifts and do nice things for each other “just because”. Once you're settled into marriage, however, you stop dating your spouse, and putting the effort into the relationship becomes work. You have to actively choose to love your spouse, and knowing each other's love languages is a big part of that. Incidentally, I don't recall feeling euphorically in love with my husband or having the feeling of coming down from a high, but I still understand that this is a common situation. It may have because we were long-distance for so long that we were forced to rely on more than just emotions even in the early months.
This book wasn't as challenging to me as Keller was, probably because I knew the concept before and had already done the love languages test. What I liked the most, however, was that Chapman addressed questions like “What if my spouse doesn't try to speak my love language?” and “What if my spouse's love language is something I don't like doing?” And the answer is: You still do it. You still choose to love your spouse in the way that suits him or her, because that's what real love is. Just as I can choose to act in love even when I feel angry or upset, I can choose to do something that's out of my comfort zone, like giving Gil a backrub or hugging a friend (I like to hug my husband but I'm really not a hugger) if it will make that person feel loved. Chapman says this is actually a more true expression of love. If I'm just loving in my natural way, then it's about me just as much as it's about Gil. If I'm giving sacrificially, it's real love. He also makes a great point that we have no problem doing things that are unnatural to us if it benefits ourselves. We get up early even though we want to sleep because we need to go to work and make money. We exercise when we don't feel like it because we want to have better health. If I can do it for myself, can't I do it for my husband? Also, I can do loving actions for GIl when I don't think he's behaving in a loving way because I follow the example of Christ, who died for the unlovely. In this way, Chapman and Keller are on the same page; they both say that pursuing real love is about choosing to act for your spouse's good, but in the end, you will both benefit.
One further thing I liked about this book was that it didn't put people in a box. Before reading it, I thought somehow that people with the same love language like the same things, but of course that's not true. Chapman says we each have our own “dialect”, if you will. If two people both like “Acts of Service,” that doesn't mean that the same acts will have the same impact, so you really have to know your spouse and what they like and dislike.
Have you read this book? What were you thoughts? Also, tune in in June when I'll be discussing Creative Counterpart by Linda Dillow. And hey, if you want to read it along with me, feel free!