Yesterday I heard a radio caller ask for advice about how he could get his wife to give him more attention. This poor guy sounded so sweet and explained how he had been doing all he could to get his wife a little more tuned in to him. He had tried flowers and cards – no response. He’d spent more time with the kids – no response. He cleaned and did laundry – no response. The talk show host said, a little snarkily if you ask me, “Gee, the last thing that’d light my fire is to do the laundry.” I cringed. Has she not heard of the 5 love languages?
Many people don’t know that we express our love and therefore receive love in five ways, as discovered by Gary Chapman. Physical touch, acts of service, gift-giving, quality time and words of encouragement are the five. I wanted that host to support this mans working through the list but wondered why, after 10 years of marriage he didn’t know how to communicate to her in a way that she’d warmly receive.
My husband and I have known for quite some time how we best communicate and receive love. For him, it’s words of encouragement; for me, it’s acts of service. This means that our natural inclination is to express our love in the way that we receive it but knowing our spouse’s (or kids or employers or friends…) love language means we need to express it in the way that they receive it. So, for his birthdays, Fred gets poems and letters of our appreciation and admiration for the myriad ways in which he is an amazing man. Our kids’ languages are crystal clear so we show our love to them by speaking in a way they will understand, through time and encouragement.
For me, it used to be gifts but in the last few decades, it’s most definitely acts of service. It was driven home when one day I came home from work during a particularly busy week. Fred had returned to the house while I was at work and cleaned the whole house. (He was thankful it’s a small house!) I walked around in awe as I took in everything he had done. Wow. That spoke volumes to me. Even though that was many years ago, I still remember it clearly. When my kids ask what I want on Mother’s Day or my birthday, of course I want to spend time with them, but my answer is always the same: “Labor.” Help me with my to-do list. I don’t even mind working along side of you!
This also explains why I like to do things for people. I can feel my heart swell when I write side by side with my students, when I’m doing yard work with my family, when someone asks if I can make them a birthday cake. When my hands are in motion with an act of service for someone else, they’re letting me communicate my love for them. Maybe they’d like a card filled with words of encouragement or a gift of quality time, but if you let me do something for you, you’re letting me love you. And for that, I’m very grateful.