Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book Review: The Five Love Languages

My husband and I have been together for over 13 years.  Throughout this time, our lives have changed through different jobs, having children, and the change to being a one-income family.  Lately I've been reflecting a bit on our marriage and how much it has changed after having our second child. It has been easy to focus solely on the kids, and not put much effort into the marriage.  I'm open to ideas and inspirations for improving on our life and marriage, so I like to read books on marriage for new perspectives.

I recently read a book that has really changed my outlook on love and marriage: The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. This short book has taught me so much and has the potential to really improve upon my marriage for both my husband and myself. This book should be required reading for anyone in a long-term relationship.  It has so much valuable information, and is peppered with stories that illustrate the concepts of the book.

Falling In Love Versus Real Love

The book has a great discussion of the differences of falling-in-love versus intentionally loving someone.  The in-love experience lasts an average of two years, and is just the beginning of the lifelong, intentional love that will be required in a successful marriage.  The book describes that,
'the falling in love experience is not real love for three reasons. First, falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice... Second, falling in love is not real love because it is effortless... Third, one who is "in love" is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person.'
Real love differs from being in-love in that it is a conscious choice.  This is the heart of marriage, and the part that will last throughout the decades.
Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct... true love cannot begin until the "in-love" experience has run its course.
The Love Tank
'The need to feel loved by one's spouse is at the heart of marital desires...  Could it be that deep inside hurting couples exists an invisible "emotional love tank" with its gauge on empty?  Could the misbehavior, withdrawal, harsh words, and critical spirit occur because of that empty tank?  If we could find a way to fill it, could the marriage be reborn?... Could that tank be the key that makes marriages work? 

The love tank can only be filled by using our primary love languages. And when we don't know each other's language, we can easily have our love tank become empty and consequently feel unloved. Once the love tanks are on empty, it is so easy to fall into the idea that,
"Our love is gone.  Our relationship is dead.  We used to feel close, but not now."
Five Love Languages
As indicated by its title, the main focus of the book is learning about the five love languages. These languages are the key to understanding our own needs in our relationships, as well as the needs of our spouses.  I was amazed to learn that I had no idea of the specific things I need to feel loved by my husband, and I had no idea of what specific things he needs either.  This book really sheds light on how both people can feel like they are doing everything they can, yet both be dissatisfied in the relationship: they are speaking different languages! 

The five love languages are:
  • Words of Affirmation, such as encouraging words and praise
  • Quality Time, such as doing things together and quality conversation 
  • Receiving Gifts, such as presents but also including the gift of self
  • Acts of Service, such as helping out around the house and lovingly prepared meals
  • Physical Touch, such as massages and cuddling (and this is different from the biological need for sex that men feel, although sex would be especially important to a man whose primary love language is Physical Touch)
While we may enjoy and use all of these love languages in our relationships, most people will have one or two languages that are their primary means of showing and feeling love.  And usually, people in a relationship do not share the same primary love language, which is why they can both try hard to show their love but yet still feel unloved.

Loving the Unlovely

The book also has a chapter for those who may have reluctant spouses that aren't willing to work on changing their marriages. The stories in this chapter are really inspiring and show just how much difference the five love languages can make, even when things look very bleak.

Our Story 
My husband and I read the book together, one chapter at a time, and discussed each chapter before moving on to the next one.  When I read the chapter about Quality Time, I had so many lightbulbs turn on in my head. Finally, I understood what I need to feel loved, and have so missed since we have had kids: having shared activities together and being able to have quality conversations with my husband.  It is amazing to me that I had no idea how to express these needs and couldn't even have put them into words.     

My husband's love language is Acts of Service, and this is the language that would probably be last on my list.  I was shocked when he told me that he shows love by doing things like washing dishes and taking out the trash.  I certainly appreciate those things, but never would have associated that they were his way of showing me love! And I also had no idea of the value my husband places on the acts of service I do, like cooking, cleaning, and making time for him to pursue his hobbies.

Now that we know each other's love languages, we can both make more of an effort to intentionally use them. We are now able to talk about our needs in a constructive way, and this is really amazing.  It seems impossible that we could have been together for so long and just now learned the keys to making each other feel loved. 

Love Languages and Children
The book ends with a chapter  about love languages and children.  It has been enlightening to think about my eldest daughter's love languages, and to realize that she may not have her emotional needs met if we're not using her primary love language.  My son is too young to really show his primary language yet, but I look forward to discovering it.

Have you read "The Five Love Languages"?  Did you find it to be valuable, and sis it improve your understanding of your spouse's needs?


Lisa said...

That is so interesting. I have been married 22 yrs and had been going through a really rough patch with my husband a few years ago. It got better for me when I finally realized that like your husband, mine shows his love by doing dishes, going to work, being at home (whether he is in the same room or not, he views this as loyalty and love. I started to honor those things about him more. I will have to read this book. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your well written review of one of my favorite books! I often think about it in regard to relationships.
Was important to realize that what makes me feel loved is not necessarily my husband's love language and vice versa.
And what others usually do to convey their love for us, is often their own love language.

Thank you for your reminder of what is most important.
In our culture of emphasis on one's own rights, it's refreshing to focus on the power of loving others;

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

Mary Voogt said...

LOVE that book!!! I think I should get it back out. It's been quite a few years since we read it. My husband and I could both use a reminder. And it would be VERY helpful to learn about my kids' love languages!!

JuliPickle said...

That is so funny... My love language is quality time and my husband's is service just like you and your husband. Reading that book definitely helped us understand each other.

Kristina said...

I read it a long time ago and still think of it from time to time. It's a really good resource!

Lauren said...

A great book that my family references often. It makes a big difference to know your partner's (and your own) languages in which you give and receive love. There is also The Five Love Languages for kids that is very good!

Hayley from Love Art Baby said...

Thank you for this post. I have been married for almost two years and feel the shift from the crazy, effortless "in love" feeling to the conscious choice to love. I have been thinking about the concept of this book over the past few months as our lives have changed (having a beautiful baby boy and some extended family drama.) We have had to work much harder at communicating, but it has been rewarding. I need to find my copy of this book!

Mrs Johnson said...

One thing I have discovered about love languages is this. My husband's primary love language is acts of service; if I do not respond to his request that I do something for him (an act of service, though my primary love language is physical touch), he perceives it as though I do not love him well. My responding to him with physical touch instead of an act of service doesn't "parse" with his brain as an expression of my love toward him.

So his love language toward me is also a pathway by which he receives love as well. In short, how he expresses his love toward me is also in a way how he defines my love toward him, even though my love language is different than his. When I reach out to my husband with physical touch, he knows that I need him to love me back in that way; it took me a while to understand that his requests of me and my response to them was his way of getting the love he needed. I had sort of selfishly focused on my own language at the expense of his, and it took me a while to really understand why he was so grumpy when I had forgotten to make hummingbird food (again!) while he was at work ;0

It's been a while since I've read Chapman, and I wanted to mention that insight in case he did not cover it, or in case I had missed it the first time.

Sarah Smith said...

Good point, Lori! Ryan's language is acts of service too, but he doesn't generally ask me to do anything for him. Rather, I need to pay attention to when he offers to do things for me, and be sure to let him do them. I tend to think, "no, I can vacuum", and then he is crestfallen that I don't let him do things for me. It is all so interesting and definitely makes you pay attention to the dynamics in a relationship.