“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get.” This time of year, you may get the large Valentine Sampler of assorted chocolates from a loved one, someone who is supposed to know you, to know you well, and to be tuned in enough to give you something you would enjoy. For some of us, we love chocolate and that makes our heart sing. For others, we do not have much of a sweet tooth and the gesture is lost. For those of us who have given up eating sweets for our New Year’s resolution, the gesture could actually be angering. Then there are those of us who do not like chocolate at all and this sampler could actually be quite offensive. Love is like that box of chocolates. God has wired all of us to give and receive love in different ways; we do not all like the same things and various ways of showing love do not all come naturally.
We love the special people in our lives the best we know how. We tend to love others the way we want to be loved. Unfortunately, not everyone accepts love the same way so we need to love others the way that they need to be loved. After years of counseling many married couples, Gary Chapman identified five different love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Most people (even children) “speak” primarily one of these languages and the love language may change based on seasons of life. For instance, a newly married woman may have Physical Touch as her primary love language but, as she becomes a mom, Acts of Service may become more dominant.
Loving others is so important for God’s calling on our lives. God loved us and we are to go out and love others. Love is a choice. We are called to make the choice to love others, to know and meet the needs of our spouses, our children, and our loved ones. If we don’t learn to speak each other’s love language, we never feel loved and it would be as if we were speaking Spanish to someone who only spoke Japanese; it gets lost in translation. We need to choose to put the effort in to learn our loved ones’ love languages. Just like learning a new language can be challenging, once you have practiced enough and are fluent, it is so much fun to communicate in that language and be understood. As you read these descriptions, see if you can identify your love language and those of your loved ones.
Words of Affirmation is the love language of using words and unsolicited compliments to build others up. These affirming words are full of admiration, gratitude, kindness, encouragement, and commitment. They can be sentiments of “I’m so proud of you.”, “You are so handsome”, “You are such a great mom.”, “I am so thankful I’m married to you.” Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” If words of affirmation are your love language, hearing the reasons you are loved will make you feel like you are on top of the world but insults will shatter you and will not be easily forgotten.
Quality Time is the love language of togetherness and giving your undivided attention. In this day of smart phones, quality time could be as easy as sharing a meal with phones put away, no distractions, and having quality conversations. Conversations starting as simply as: “How are you? How was your day?”. This love language emotionally communicates: “I want to know you, I care, I am interested in you, and I enjoy being with you”. Having quality time together sometimes means doing something your spouse or child or friend wants to do that you are not all that crazy about doing but having a positive attitude while doing it. It is doing the activity because you love seeing your loved one happy and enjoying themselves that makes it an opportunity to connect on a deeper level. It is not what you are doing that is important but rather why you are doing it that matters.
Receiving Gifts is the love language when you feel loved when you can hold something in your hand (purchased or made), see it as a symbol of love, and know you were thought of. You feel loved when you receive a gift in just the right style or just the right color that lets you know your significant other was paying attention to you, was tuned into you, and that you are cared about. For someone whose love language is receiving gifts, a thoughtful gift, no matter the size or expense, feels so good. But, to this same person, a missed birthday or a thoughtless gift would be horrible.
Acts of Service is taking a “to do” off your loved one’s to-do list. It may be as simple as doing the dishes for your wife, or filling your husband’s tank with gas, or changing the baby’s diaper. (There is nothing sexier than when my husband does the dishes.) They require effort, time, and energy and, to someone who has “acts of service” as a love language, these acts of doing are definitely expressions of love. If you are not sure what acts of service would be appreciated, just ask: “Is there anything I can do for you?” Just taking the time to ask the question and being intentional about helping reduce your loved one’s load lets them know you care about them. Galatians 5:13 (NIV) states, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather, serve one another humbly in love.” And, I would add, serve with joy in your heart.
Physical Touch is just that, communicating love through touch. It can be holding hands, giving a hug, putting your arm around your loved one, and being “intimate”. For some people, physical touch is their primary love language and they feel unloved without it. Touch can be very healing and powerful. There are many examples in the Bible where Jesus used the power of physical touch to heal others. Do not underestimate the power of a hug or a pat on the back in the lives of your children and spouse.
Now that you have read all five of the love languages, you may be wondering how to discern which languages your loved ones speak and which one you speak. It sounds very simple but just ask, “How do you feel most loved?” You can also go to 5lovelanguages.com and take a quick survey that will give you results with your personal profile. This new found understanding of yourself will allow you to ask for the love that fits best for how God created you. Knowing your loved ones’ love languages will draw you closer and make all of your efforts to love them more successful. It feels so good when someone loves you in a way that lets you know, “I am seen. I am important. I am cared about.” Go out and learn your loved ones’ love languages and start speaking their language. Give them a Valentine Sampler filled up with their favorite “chocolates”.
Dr. Robin Delaney earned her Masters’ degree in Clinical Community Counseling from Johns Hopkins University and her Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Ohio State University. She specializes in marriage and family therapy at Life Resources, a Christian non-profit organization in Mt Pleasant dedicated to emotional and relational wellness. For more information about Dr. Delaney and the services she offers, call (843) 884-3888 or go to www.myliferesources.org.