Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Learning a foreign love language

The following is an article that I wrote for the February issue of  Bay Area Christian Family:

Some guys have it and some guys don't.  I don't but, thankfully, both of my sons do.  I'm talking about the thoughtful, romantic gene.  It's something that comes in handy in more than just the month of February but this is a great month to show it off if you do have it and a great month to fake it if you don't.  Allow me to explain.
Three years ago my younger son, Peter,  enlisted the help of his older brother, Zack,  to set up his proposal of marriage to his girlfriend, Heather.  Zack contacted  Heather to express his concern about the stress that Peter had been experiencing at work and to ask her to plan a special evening out for him to help him unwind from the alleged stress.  Unbeknown to her, Heather was actually choosing the setting for her own marriage proposal on a cool winter evening just before Christmas.  At the end of the evening, Peter presented her with a journal that he had kept of their courtship and a ring he had carefully chosen for her.  He got down on one knee amid the twinkling Christmas lights on an old courthouse square in a small Southern town and asked her to marry him. 
Three years later, Zack labored to create a photo album chronicling his courtship of Laura.  It began with a photo of the place that they first met, a recipe from the first meal that he prepared for her, and mementos of various significant moments in their courtship.  He presented it to her after dinner at a favorite restaurant and on the final page of the album were his proposal of marriage and an engagement ring tied to a tiny ribbon.

Thirty five years ago, I took Julia to a jewelry store where we picked out a ring, I paid for it, and she walked out of the store with the ring on her finger.  See what I mean?  My sons have it and I don't.  Oh boy, do I NOT have it!  You're probably wondering why Julia has put up with me for the 35 years that we've been married but I have an answer for you.  I've learned to speak a foreign language, not Spanish or French or German but her love language.  I may not have completely mastered it but I've learned enough to get by. 

If there is one defining book written on conquering the communication barrier between men and women, it's Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages.  Chapman explains in his classic book that there are five primary love languages:
  1. Word of affirmation,
  2. Quality time,
  3. Receiving gifts,
  4. Acts of service, and
  5. Physical touch.

While each of us may communicate in more than one of them, each of us has one primary love language.  My wife's primary love language is words of affirmation, followed closely by quality time.  My primary love language is acts of service.  Just because her primary love language is not the same as mine, doesn't mean that I can't learn to speak her primary love language at least well enough to effectively communicate my love to her.  Some of us take a little longer to learn that lesson than others.  Both of my sons learned much faster than I did and I'm thankful for that.

So what does this mean to you?  It simply means that many of the lost opportunities that we have in our relationship with our mate or "significant other" is rooted in a failure to identify and communicate in that person's primary love language.  As weird as it may sound, a successful communication may be something like me speaking Spanish to you and you speaking French to me.  This will only work, of course, if Spanish is your primary love language and French is mine.  It's important to understand that no matter how fluently or loudly or frequently that I speak in a language that you don't understand, the message is still not likely to received as intended.  I can perform acts of service beautifully for my wife but they will not have the same effect as will speaking appropriate words of affirmation or offering moments of quality time.

If this is a problem in your relationship, maybe now is the time to overcome that barrier.  Maybe The Five Love Languages by Chapman would be a great Valentine's Day gift but the greatest gift may be just clarifying that preferred language to one another and committing to becoming fluent in it this year.

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