So instead of engaging in that animosity, I have been focusing on the love this February. Specifically, I have been revisiting the idea of love languages and how people have unique ways of giving and receiving love.
The idea of love languages was mainstreamed in the ′90s by Gary Chapman (see 5lovelanguages.com). Basically, the idea is that every person gives and receives love in a variety of specific ways, including:
1. Words of affirmation
2. Acts of service
3. Receiving gifts
4. Quality time
5. Physical touch
Unfortunately, it may be highly unlikely that your spouse or your children share your same love language. This means couples and parents spend lots of energy and time doing what they think are acts of love for their families, but their efforts fall flat because their loved ones speak another love language.
So this month, I’ve been studying each of my children, my husband and myself and trying to determine how we each give and receive love so I can tailor my efforts to each member of my family.
Here’s what I found:
My husband and I have completely different love styles, which often ends with both of us feeling like we are putting in a ton of effort without getting much in return. For example, I like words of affirmation, and my husband thinks words are empty gestures. Instead, he shows love by doing acts of service.
This disconnect leads to situations like one recently where I told him I didn’t feel loved and he said, “But I just spent the entire morning cleaning out your car.” When I failed to see how this related, he explained that he was doing it because he loved me. I responded, “Yes, but you didn’t say you loved me.”
As silly as my need for love in actual word form may sound, it matters to me. I need to hear the words. So my husband tries to express his love in words occasionally, and I try to actually do something for him to show I’m thinking of him during my day.
For my daughters, I’ve discovered that one of my children needs quality time. She feels most loved when I put down my phone, put aside my work and give her direct one-on-one time together.
My other daughter feels loved when she receives gifts. That may sound like a no-brainer because what 6-year-old doesn’t love a present, but for this particular daughter, she really feels the most loved when she knows someone has thought about what she likes and picked something just for her. So for her, I try to pick up something small when I am out or even give her something of mine occasionally that reminds me of her. She then puts these “treasures” in a massive collection of priceless knick-knacks that may one day earn her a spot on the TV show, “Hoarders.”
But hey, to each her own. And really, that’s the whole point of the love languages: To really show love to someone, we need to first learn how they feel that love and then make sure our efforts match their needs and not our own.
I won’t pretend to know how to heal a lot of the hate that’s circulating through our world right now, but I can’t help but think that love starts local; it starts in our homes.
The more we practice loving our families by listening and learning their varied love languages, the more fluent we get in love itself. And who knows? With practice, we might start seeing everyone we meet as capable and worthy of love despite our differences, and we’ll realize we’ve been speaking the same language all along.