Sunday, January 27, 2013

The 5 Love Languages, by Dr. Gary D. Chapman

I edited this audio book for the Malaysian Association for the Blind and ended up listening to it in full. Self-help books are not my favourite genre.  Heaven knows I could bear improvement in many areas of my life, but given the choice between a marriage counselor and Edith Wharton, we know which book I'm going to choose.  Now and then I stumble across a self-help volume, however, that lives up to its promise.  I think The 5 Love Languages should be required reading for every couple, and I'm likely to wrap up a copy the next time I need to give a wedding gift.  As for me, it helped me reflect upon and diagnose why my own relationships did not survive.  The author recorded this audio version of the book, and I found his gentle North Carolina drawl very soothing, avuncular and matter-of-fact.

The title is a bit misleading:  This is not a Mars-Venus type book on how to communicate with a partner of opposite gender.  It's only peripherally about spoken communication at all.  This book is directed at every one who has ever said, "My partner doesn't love me.  Oh, he says this, or she does that, sure... but I just don't feel loved."

Dr. Chapman has identified what he terms the 5 love languages by which we communicate our feelings for our mates.  The problem? Our mate may not share the same primary means of showing love, so he or she is waiting for some other type of demonstration.  The languages are:

1. Quality time
2. Words of affirmation
3. Gift-giving
4. Gifts of service
5. Touch

Quality time:  She says, "Sure he is a good man and a good provider, but we never do anything together." He says, "I'm always busy working to provide and then doing chores around the home; how can she possibly say I don't love her?"  Answer:  He's showing his love in a way that doesn't meet her emotional needs. Prescription:  set aside time to do mutually enjoyable things with the focus on each other.  Watching TV does not count, nor does playing tennis when the focus is on the game itself. Setting aside 15 minutes a day for an attentive conversation may do the trick.

Words of affirmation:  He says, "I always tell her how wonderful she is, but she never says anything like that to me. She doesn't love me."  She says, "I kiss and hug him all the time, and we have a great sex life. How can he possibly feel unloved?"  Some of us need to hear the words out loud, and if the partner is not necessarily comfortable speaking of emotions and issuing compliments, says Dr. Chapman, get over it! Love is about giving, so if you know your mate needs to hear loving words, you make a habit of saying them.

Gift-giving:  She says, "When we were dating, he used to bring me flowers and chocolate, just little tokens to show affection. That dried up as soon as we were married, and now I don't think he cares anymore."  Gifts don't need to be extravagant -- people whose primary love language is gift-giving just need a token to demonstrate that their partners are thinking of them.  Again, for those who say they don't know how to pick gifts, get over it! Make a gesture. Give it a little thought and offer whatever you give with genuine love. For those who prefer to save and invest their money, Dr. Chapman asks, "Do you want to be wealthy and alone?   If not, make some small investments in your relationship."  (The cartoon above reminds me of an old Gary Larsen cartoon, picturing a wolf presenting a sheep with a bouquet.  The caption: "In the end, their relationship failed -- Irving worried excessively about what the rest of the pack would think, and Agnes just ate the flowers."  Clearly gift-giving was his primary language, but not hers.)

Gifts of service:  I struggled with this one, especially when the man said, "I work long hours at the mill. I come home and the house is a mess, the kids are a mess, there's no dinner anywhere in sight, the laundry is undone..."  I spat at the MP3 player, "For heaven's sake, do you want a wife or a maid?" Some people, though, do feel loved when their partners do things to help, and in fact, that's the primary means of demonstrating love for them.  A reverse case:  The husband complains that his wife spends hours in the kitchen preparing elaborate gourmet meals which he doesn't enjoy -- he'd rather they spent the time chatting with each other (i.e. spending quality time).  The prescription in these cases were, in the first case, the wife should view cooking dinner as a means of showing her love, rather than as an onerous chore, and in the second case, the wife should cook simpler meals and spend more time conversing with her husband. What if, however, the gourmet is cooking elaborate meals because she enjoys it?  I guess the answer is that she needs to find a way to give her spouse the quality time that he enjoys to keep him feeling loved.

Touch:  Dr. Chapman is quick to point out that sex is a physically-driven necessity for men, and we should not confuse the need for sex with touch as the primary love language.  One man said he had two primary love languages:  touch and affirming words.  Ah, but suppose your wife never told you anything complimentary, or she criticised you in front of others, but you still had a fabulous sex life together, would that work?  No, the man replied:  If she castigated me publicly, our sexual intimacy would dry up.  Then, concluded Dr. Chapman, you've just established that words of affirmation are really your primary love language.  For someone who's primary language is touch, the partner can wax poetic with praise, but if there's no affectionate physical contact, the verbiage is wasted.  If one spouse says, "Oh, but I'm not a touchy-feely kind of person!", Dr. Chapman's blunt response:  Learn to be one.  Do you want your partner to feel that you love her? Then you must demonstrate it in the language that she understands -- bringing her gifts may be your preferred way of expressing love, but it's not hers.

In the final chapters, the author helps readers to determine both their own and their partners' primary love languages, and then gives tips on learning to "speak" them.  Love is a choice, he reminds us (once we've moved beyond the 'in love' infatuation phase). We need to make conscious choices about the most effective ways to show our love. This is a marvellously down-to-earth, practical guide for anyone who has ever asked, "I love my partner, so why doesn't he (or she) feel loved?"

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.