What does your spouse do that fills your heart to the brim? What do you do that makes your child’s eyes light up big and bright? We each receive love differently, so if we speak each other’s language we’ll get farther faster.
Marcello and I were introduced to Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” as part of our premarital counseling. We will be married 10 years this summer and this concept has proved invaluable to our marriage, and as we are now finding, also in our parenting.
I am such a believer in loving people the way they receive love that I end up talking about it in everyday conversation to friends, other moms during small talk, even the kids’ swim teacher. I’m always surprised by how many people have never heard of it.
I planned to do a blog post about it in honor of Valentine’s Day and, ironically, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for my family to revisit Gary’s studies. The past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and my kids are doing their best to trample on any live nerves I have left. One will not stop talking ever. One has an extra-strong whining game. And one is just into everything and breaking my back.
Last year I wrote a post about the week I changed the way I parent. I would say that all of those things still work for us, the biggest take away being sticking to our guns. In other words, no bajillion warnings or not following through. I need to say what I mean and do what I say. Now that the boys are getting older, the love languages build on those foundations.
Now Luca is almost six and Adriano is four and a half. Gary, who also wrote “The Five Love Languages of Children,” says this about the age when a predominate love language begins to emerge. Of course every child needs love from each of these categories, but one will overflow their love tank compared to the others.
Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”
— 1 Corinthians 13:13
These are the five categories:
Words of affirmation
“This language uses words to affirm other people.” Encouraging, kind words build up this person. They respond to compliments, appreciation and encouraging words.
Some sample ideas:
- “You look so handsome today.”
- “I truly appreciate you taking the time to make this delicious dinner.”
- “You’re so good at your job. It’s not easy to manage all this.”
Acts of service
“For these people, actions speak louder than words.” Babble won’t get you far with these folks, but doing something for them makes their heart swell.
Some sample ideas:
- Do a chore he or she typically does.
- Make a special dinner of his or her favorite food.
- Think of something they do every day and have it ready for them before they can do it.
“For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.” The gift doesn’t have to be extravagant or fancy, but thoughtful and meaningful. The sentiment here is “You thought of me!”
Some sample ideas:
- Pick wild flowers to give or find a heart-shaped rock.
- Make something with your hands: paint, whittle, sculpt, draw …
- Buy a small souvenir to bring back, even if just from the next town over.
“This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention.” Turn off the TV, put down the phone and get rid of distractions. These people are all about spending time together with quality conversation.
Some sample ideas:
- Sit on the couch with the TV off and talk about the day.
- Go for a walk and chat together.
- Go out to eat just the two of you.
“To this person, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.” These people crave physical contact — even something as simple as a pat on the shoulder, a kiss on the cheek or tousling their hair. Kids even fulfill this need by wrestling! (Gary notes that older kids also still need physical touch, and that boys and girls should be treated the same in this regard. In other words, don’t withhold contact from boys and give more to girls because of their gender.)
Some sample ideas:
- Sit on the couch close together watching a movie.
- Give big hugs and kiss when arriving or leaving.
- Hold hands or offer your spouse a back rub.
I should note also that if used in the opposite way, love languages can be damaging. For example, hurtful things said a words of affirmation person will cut deep. Slapping a physical touch person will wound their heart.
As I mentioned before, Marcello and I are very conscious of one another’s love languages. Mine is quality time — probably the most annoying of all the languages, of course. I value spending time together and talking. When he’s not able to give me this time, I tend to withdrawal, become sarcastic and cold. Sounds like a dream, right? So basically I’m mad at him for not spending time with me, but I’m acting like a jerk. So why would he want to spend time with me exactly? I know. I even annoy myself.
Marcello’s love language is acts of service. One time I said, “So let me get this straight. If I do the laundry you feel loved?” To which he answered yes. And I still don’t get it, but I’m grateful I know because I would never have come up with this correlation on my own. Your shirts are washed, feel the love.
In fact, he is always doing thoughtful things for me. Sometimes makes coffee and sets out a mug and spoon for me. Or picks a rose and puts it on my desk. Or even when he gets the oil changed in my car, he’s showing me he loves me. Because that’s his love language. As a quality time gal, I think all these things are very sweet, but I’d still rather have a chat on couch or go for a walk together. You see what I mean?
You might be speaking to your spouse in your love language, not his, and be missing an opportunity. Gary says most people don’t marry someone of the same love language, so chances are you will have to learn how to best love your spouse. And just in case you’re curious, love languages tend to stay the same for a lifetime.
Now we are trying to apply these same principles to our kids so they feel unconditionally loved, which also coincides with behavior improvements. It’s very obvious that Luca is just as obnoxious as I am about his quality time. He needs engagement, eye contact, conversation. Otherwise, he says “you don’t care” and sulks off (not unlike myself). And if that is not effective, he just keeps talking and asking questions, determined to get the time together. When Marcello and I invest even a solid 20 minutes there is a clear change in his attitude. His love tank is filled up!
I used to think Adriano was physical touch, but now I realize that he was just very young and needed all of the love languages equally. He still gets lots of physical touch from us, but what really makes his heart sing is words of affirmation. Giving praise to that boy brings a sweet, joy-filled smile across his face as he looks humbly downward, soaking it all in. When this need is not met, let the whining begin.
The book doesn’t go into much detail about having a secondary love language, but I have noticed that Luca has a dominant (quality time) and another that comes underneath that (physical touch). If I have only 15 minutes to spend with him, I am trying to engage in conversation with direct eye contact and make sure to rub his shoulder or mess with his hair. It’s too soon to tell with Adriano, at four, what his secondary language will be. And Clara just needs all of them, all the time, all day long.
The love languages have been indispensable to my marriage and I’m eager to continue seeing how they apply to my children. Because I have to be honest, in these early years I do not see much fruit from my labor, but I know it is not in vain. I’m laying a foundation for these kids and it’s hard work!
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” — 1 Corinthians 15:58
How about you? Have you ever heard of the five love languages? What is your love language or your spouse’s? Do your kids show signs of one of these yet?
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