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 Marital Growth With the Five Love Languages

Author: Merle Brock, M.S.

Does it ever feel like you and your spouse just don't quite have it together? Does it ever seem like your spouse speaks a foreign language? Well, maybe they do. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman outlines five primary ways that love can be expressed. The five are 1) Words of affirmation, 2) Quality time, 3) Receiving gifts, 4) Acts of service, and 5) Physical touch. If we are to communicate effectively to another culture we must speak their language. Likewise, if we are to communicate love to our spouse effectively, we must discover what means love to them and learn to speak the language of love that they understand.

Most people have a primary love language and our natural tendency is to speak our primary love language. Unfortunately, most couples do not have the same primary love language. Therefore, when we speak our love language, it is not received as love by our spouse. You see, that means you can be earnestly speaking love to your spouse but that is not the message they receive at all. You must learn to speak your spouse's love language if he/she is to receive the full expression of love as you intended. Let's look briefly at each language.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation may be spoken in various dialects. One such dialect is verbal compliments such as "You really look good in that outfit." A second dialect of words of affirmation is encouragement. Encouragement consists of helping them to develop an interest they have whether is be vocational, a hobby, etc. A third dialect is kind words. Kind words not only have to do with the actual words spoken but also the tone of voice with which they are spoken. Kind words may include choosing to display grace and forgiveness toward one's spouse rather than keeping score. All these dialects have in common the use of words to affirm. These words may be written or spoken. Spoken words may be spoken directly to your spouse or to others about your spouse. Done often enough, the words of affirmation will make their way back to the ears of your spouse. Written words are unique in that they may be read over and over by the receiver and thus, provide affirmation in the future as well as the present.

Quality Time

Quality time consists of giving your spouse your undivided attention. Dialects include 1) quality conversation, and 2) quality activities. An example of quality conversation would be to give up a TV show or whatever may be your regular activity and devote that time to face-to-face conversation. The conversation that takes place during such times should be of such quality that self-revelation is involved. However, such focused attention may be accomplished in any number of activities also. Whether the activity is a picnic, a drive, an ice cream cone, or any other choice, the important ingredient is attention focused on each other. The reason for quality activities is not the activity itself but rather the opportunity to focus time and attention on your spouse.

Receiving Gifts

Some people feel loved when they receive a gift. The idea behind this is that before one can give a gift they first must be thinking of the receiver of the gift. The gift is a symbol of the fact that they were being thought of. Therefore, for a person whose love language is receiving gifts, the cost and quality of the gift, or lack thereof, is insignificant. The important thing is that they were on the mind of the giver and they have the gift in their hand to prove it.

Acts of Service

Some people do not feel loved unless they receive acts of service. Jesus gave us an example of this when He washed the disciple's feet. For the wife, acts of service may include such things as helping wash the dishes, vacuuming the floor, or keeping the bugs washed off of her windshield. For the husband, acts of service may include having dinner ready at an appropriate time each evening, making the bed daily, and doing the trimming around her new flowerbed. The tricky thing about acts of service is that performing just any act of service may not work. Possibly there are certain things that are your spouse's pet peeve if they do not get done. When you perform these tasks, this speaks love to him or her. If this is the case, you need to notice what dialects (tasks) your spouse speaks. Perhaps in the family you grew up in your dad performed certain tasks and your mother performed other tasks thus, giving you a stereotype of the male or female role. You may have to work at breaking the stereotype you grew up with if you are to speak love to your spouse.

Physical Touch

Physical touch may be used for expressing great love or doing great harm. Often the first thought concerning physical touch is sexual in nature. However, sexual activity is only one dialect of physical touch. For the "toucher," holding hands during a walk or across the table at a restaurant may be pure delight. Sitting close while watching TV or a hand resting on the shoulder may be just the touch your spouse needs to feel loved. The type of family you grew up in may have an effect on this. Some families are touching families and some aren't. Touching may come easily for you or not. Therefore, you may have to be willing to stretch yourself to express love to your spouse in the manner they prefer.

Ross Campbell developed the idea of the "love tank " and the importance of keeping the love tank full. Discovering and practicing your spouse's love language can keep their tank full. Notice the focus is on your spouse, not you. Your job is to keep his/her tank full. If you keep his or her tank full then they are more likely to keep your tank full. By this means, if only one spouse in the marriage is willing to work at filling their spouse's love tank, there is still the possibility of developing a greatly enhanced marital relationship and reciprocal efforts may follow.

There is yet another advantage of filling the love tank through practicing the love languages. When there is conflict to deal with, the practice of your spouse's primary love language creates an emotional climate in which issues may be more easily addressed. Which would be easier for you, to work through tough emotional issues when you are feeling loved or unloved? Certainly your spouse would also better deal with issues when feeling loved.