“Have you heard about The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman?” our dear friend Richard asked as we soaked naked in their hot tub and talked about life with Richard and his wife. The summer night was cool; the stars glowed.
“A book with a name like that should make the author a bundle,” Vic said with a snort and a twinge of writer’s jealousy.
“But it’s an interesting idea,” Richard protested. I imagined his scowl, but it was too dark to see it. “You need to know the language of love essential to your partner. It may not be the same as yours.”
“OK. Tell us,” I said.
“Quality time. Touch. Gifts,” Richard began.
“What else?” I asked.
“Hmmm… Acts of Service and something about affirmation. Oh yeah. Words of Affirmation.”
Vic and I hooted into the night sky and poked each other in the ribs.
“Affirmation,” Vic said. “That is top of your list.”
“And you are clearly an Acts of Service guy,” I popped back.
I loved affirmation, spoken words of appreciation. I thrived on compliments about the food, the beauty of the flower gardens, or a piece I’d written. I never tired of hearing that I was beautiful. Vic appreciated the small things I did for him and told me so every day. Affirmed, recognized, and loved, I was easily persuaded to pack his suitcase for a trip even if I wasn’t going along, or cook pasta and tomato sauce for dinner when I’d prefer brown rice.
Acts of service made Vic feel loved. He sweetly requested rather than demanded help when he needed it. Packing that suitcase or a vegan lunch for work, sticking a little love note on the wax paper wrapping of his tofu sandwich, helping him choose clothes that were color coordinated. I didn’t complain about reading his book galleys when they came in the middle of an Arizona vacation even though I wanted to go hiking—or I didn’t complain as much as Vic did.
“This is what you always wanted,” I teased after Vic became ill, when there was little to joke about. “I’m devoting my whole life to serving you.” We laughed, but we knew. He needed a motherly nurse and I was willing to do anything to keep him alive. He affirmed me with gratitude until his death.
We liked being physically close so agreed on the Gift of Touch. We craved small caresses, pats, and hugs. Vic awoke early and was downstairs at his desk drinking coffee by the time I finished meditating in the morning. I came into his office and stood beside his desk chair. He put his arm around my waist or patted me on the butt. I caressed his hair and rubbed his neck.
“Did you have any dreams?” he’d ask. I’d tell him if I did.
“And did you dream?” I asked. Or when he was sick: “How are you feeling, top of head to toe and did you sleep?” We were interested in each other, so all our time together was quality.
Gifts? No problem. Neither of us cared much about gifts. Instead of Christmas gifts, we saved money for a trip in March or something we wanted for the house or a tractor implement.
I would add a sixth language of love: Tolerance. I could be irritable and anxious. He could be testy and rushed. I got tired of his need for mothering and the demands his career. He became exasperated by my lack of self-confidence and excess of complaints. I was exhausted from the last two years of care-taking. But he rarely forgot how hard it was to care for a dying man. Our intolerances were replaced by love and sorrow.
We usually spoke each other’s language of love. When we forgot, we still had tolerance.
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Originally published at Elaine Mansfield. Reprinted with permission.
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Nice article, Elaine. Thanks for sharing – wonderful to find a relationship where both are willing to do the work. I found Five Love Languages quite insightful as I’d made the mistake in the past of giving to another what they didn’t want but expecting them to. That disappointed us both. Making this conscious was valuable.
I’d suggest Tolerance and Compromise are key for a relationship but I’d not call either of them a “language”. Love languages are our style of giving and receiving. The above is more finding ways to be together and resolve conflict.
I have always had a problem with the 5 love languages. Not so much the idea but that the typical hope for most people is to find answers that are easy. We are not one or two things but a constant changing mixture. Reading your article I noticed something that is not typical in most relationships. I think that excludes you from saying you should be part of the mix. Example yes, part of the mix no. What I saw was a sensitive, empathetic, mindful couple. What I saw was two people that are Naturally complimentary on what they like… Read more »
Thanks for your comment, Corey. I’m sorry I didn’t realize it was here until today, many months after you wrote it. I agree with you. We were empathetic, sensitive, aware, but we also worked hard to make our marriage work. Lots of psychological and spiritual effort and hours of talking things through. My sons learned a lot from us about working through psychological struggles which is part of any relationship. Some people are incompatible. Many are unwilling to make the effort to compromise and care equally for the other person’s needs once they hit the first difficult spot. I’m grateful… Read more »
Hi, Elaine, Thank you for an additional love language. One to be embraced, most certainly. I have also had a theory since reading that book that our love languages in GIVING love (what we do to show the other person that we love them) and in RECEIVING love (what contributes to our feeling loved), aren’t necessarily the same. I really couldn’t care less about receiving gifts (that got 0 points for me on the quiz! I’m a touch and words of affirmation girl (both tied for first), but I LOVE to give gifts. An ex of mine excels at acts… Read more »
I agree, Barbara. When I first learned about the languages of love, it struck me that what I love to receive isn’t what I should necessary give. It’s interesting to ask people. Most everyone is clear about what they like to receive. Like you, my sister-in-law loves giving gifts (and she’s great at choosing something appropriate), but doesn’t care about receiving them. Tolerance seems the gift we all need and can give at any time. A love relationship doesn’t mean we suddenly find all our partner’s or friend’s irritable habits charming. It means we overlook and forgive, just like my… Read more »
What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing and offering up this piece of advice. I’m getting married in Sept and will remember this.
Congratulations, Laura, and thanks for your comment. My husband and I thought marriage was the biggest teacher of our lives. A wonderful teacher, but it also demanded consciousness and care.
Thanks for the comment. I agree. The focus is on giving what the other person needs. Of course, it should be mutual. The five languages of love were a revelation. Vic and I asked our friends which they preferred. Most people had a top choice or two, usually different from their partner. One woman was great at giving gifts, but didn’t particularly like receiving them. She wanted quality time. Her partner said quality time for him was working on his computer in the same room with his wife. Not what she had in mind. Ask your friends which they prefer.… Read more »
This is a wonderful addition to the ‘language of love’ discussion. Tolerance. In a world filled with so much encouragement for people to get what they need, to take care of themselves, to do what is right for them, it is a refreshing reminder of an attitude that will keep a relationship together during stressful times. This precious attitude can create a big enough emotional space to allow for all kinds of melt-downs which most of us have from time to time. Tolerance is knowing how to hunker down into your loving even as an emotional storm buffets the relationship.… Read more »