Loves Language: A Love Story

 In Blog

Previously published in Silver Sage Magazine, February 26, 2020

In Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, he posits a theory that each of us has a natural inclination to express and receive love and affection in a particular way. He calls each of these five expressions a love language. The five languages include: physical intimacy, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. His thesis suggests that we need to determine our partner’s love language and express love to them in a way that matches their inclination. Further, he suggests that knowing the love language of our children and friends and other intimates helps to ensure that we are communicating love in ways that resonate.

Although this sounds like a rather simplistic and formulaic approach to building intimacy, I believe the book has merit and have shared it with friends, family, and colleagues. It provides a way of describing expressions of love in a way that I believe provokes useful dialogue.

My partner, for instance, rises early each morning and begins the laundry while making breakfast and reading the news. He is wide awake and fully charged before I’m even showered. He runs to the store as soon as it opens to buy anything he thinks we might need while I’m still struggling to become sentient. I used to call him my “boy scout” and tease him about his manic helpfulness. After reading Chapman’s book, I recognized his behaviors as acts of service—or acts of love—in a way I hadn’t fully honored previously.

I love gift giving. Finding something beautiful and wrapping it nicely and surprising someone with a gift is a great pleasure for me. And I have a tendency to shower people I care about with far too many gifts—sometimes embarrassing them. I’m the same way about food. I love to bake and cook, and I always make way too much and foist the leftovers and baked goods on friends and family. Gift giving is my love language, but I now recognize that it’s not something everyone is comfortable with.

The other side of gift giving as a love language is that I also enjoy receiving gifts. My boy-scout partner never understood why I made such a fuss over occasions like birthdays and Valentine’s Day. He has learned over the years that such expressions matter to me and that I cherish his love letters and cards. He regularly buys me fresh flowers and finds thoughtful gifts for all the occasions that I celebrate. It has become his way of respecting and honoring a love language that matters to me. (Even though I also love that he does the laundry and the vacuuming.)

And I, in turn, try to find things that I can do for him as an act of service. I have long since learned that a gift matters far less to him then a thoughtful errand or chore.

Our son is a lovely young man who has always responded positively to words of affirmation. He receives thoughtful gifts graciously, but I have learned that validation or genuine compliments, and expressions of pride and love mean far more to him than do gifts or money or anything else. Recognizing and honoring that has been important for our relationship.

Before my mother died, quality time was the thing she most wanted from me. Regular visits and phone calls and staying connected through focused time with her was what she craved. The gift of time was precious to her in the midst of my busy life. Ironically, it was the thing that was often the most difficult to manage. I’m so glad now that I made those visits and calls a priority.

Physical intimacy as a love language is fairly straightforward. The act of touching and caressing someone you love does not take a lot of explanation. Something I have learned is that older people, living alone and in senior’s facilities, often grieve the loss of such touching and caressing. A small act such as hand holding can make a real difference to someone desiring physical contact.

My summary of Chapman’s book does not do his work complete justice. I intended only to share a small taste and a few examples of how his theory has played out in my own experiences. The month of love seemed like the perfect time to recommend the book as a way of provoking thoughtful discussions about the ways in which we express love.