Love languages have been a topic around our house as of late. If you’re not familiar, there is a popular and helpful book that discusses the 5 major ways people experience or feel love. They are (roughly paraphrased): physical affection, acts of service, affirming words, quality time and receiving gifts. One of our girls took a test in her Bible class that helped to identify the primary love language of each student. She immediately came home and began to (with frightening accuracy) predict everyone in the family’s love language.
Somewhere in the conversation she asked us, “how do you and mom handle having totally different love languages?” As a psychiatrist, I wanted to have a thoughtful and poignant answer; Instead, my wife answered for me.
“We love each other and make it work.”
I smiled and agreed. Her answer was not only correct, but concise. As much as I value the concept of love languages, I value security in absence of feeling even more. Allow me to explain.
I am a physical affection kind of guy. I love hugs and kisses from my wife. I love being snuggled on the couch with the kids and wrestling on the floor with the whole crew. My wife, prefers personal space. She is super sensitive to the faintest of 5 o’clock shadows when getting kisses, and threw a party when we got a king sized bed, so she could finally have her own sleeping space. Acts of service on the other hand, are totally her thing. When I cook supper or help sweep the floor, it’s nice, but if I fix a leaking faucet or hang a new light fixture? That’s amazing. Small problem: I’m about as handy as a T-Rex. If I’ve driven in a nail straight once, it would be a miracle.
Long story short; we speak different languages. It’s a bit like a Spanish speaking person and an English speaking person getting married and hoping to pick up each other’s language by context over time. It can work, but you’ll likely have some challenges. I’m happy to say, I understand what she’s saying, even though I still don’t speak it very well and vice versa. It’s not that either of us doesn’t care to show love in an easily acceptable way, it’s just that it’s near to impossible to do so.
So what do you do when the person you love doesn’t speak your language?
Listen for their language first.
The lie is, that if the other person doesn’t put in the effort to speak my love language, they must not love me. The truth is, that if someone loves you, there will be fruit of that in many areas, not just the one you prefer. Just as the bilingual couple might revert to their native tongue to be more expressive, so does the bilingual love language couple. When I am feeling more warm and fuzzy for my wife, odds are I’ll hug her and say sweet things to her (physical affection and words of affirmation). When she feels the same, she’ll clean the whole house and and ask to go out on a date (acts of service and quality time).
Speak their language anyway.
“I’ll clean the kitchen, because she’ll probably have sex with me later if I do.” This is softy implied many times at men’s retreats and bible studies. The theory is sound; if we as men in general, speak in a woman’s most frequent love language, they will start to speak ours. But what happens when this supposed equation doesn’t work out? Suddenly a man can feel hurt and slighted. After all, “I did my part!” Ultimately, love doesn’t depend on the other person doing what you want, but on believing the best about them all the time. Clean the kitchen, but do it as an act of service for someone you love, not so they will speak your preferred language.
Value the beauty of security over the allure of “compatibility “.
If you’ve ever travelled internationally, you have had the experience of hearing your native tongue from a distance. It’s attractive. You’ll push your way through a crowd to see the person speaking in a way you understand. Suddenly a person you’d never speak to in any other context, is now your only link to the world around you. Time after time, when I speak with people who are enduring divorce following an affair, this is the culprit. Frustration sinks in when their partner doesn’t consistently speak their language, and some convenient acquaintance does. They suddenly feel they missed their “soul mate” and give into temptation. Guess what? This sudden compatibility always crumbles; for the same reason that random stranger you ended up sharing a cab with in Prague; you have no basis for relationship aside from language.
Ultimately, this comes down to feeling love rather than knowing you are loved. Feelings are important, and we’ve learned to trust them for the most part. When I feel hungry, I need to eat. When I feel sleepy, I should go to bed. We rarely doubt our feelings, but when we trust them to guide us, we can end up in some dicey spots. Your spouse loves you, bank on it. Build who you are based on your identity in the Lord, not who you fantasized you’d be in your marriage.
Why is this important?
Aside from strengthening marriage, knowing you’re loved is key because, like it or not, God doesn’t always speak our love language. Sometimes we want God to do things for us, and in His wisdom He doesn’t. I may not “feel” loved by God, but He does not change based on my emotions. Your feelings will take you for a ride, both in your marriage and in your relationship with God. Keep your eyes on what stays the same and off what seems alluring in the moment.