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The basics about the five love languages

Your love language and your relationship with God

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Love Comes in Many Languages

By Laura Bagby Producer Still can't seem to find a way to communicate your love to those closest to you? Perhaps it is time you learn about the love languages.

That's right. According to best selling author and relationship expert Gary Chapman (not to be confused with Amy Grant's ex husband), there are exactly five different ways you can show love to your spouse, your kids, your friends, your parents, your coworkers, practically anyone you have an interpersonal relationship with, including God: words of affirmation, acts of service, gift giving, physical touch, and quality time.

So successful is this love language concept that Chapman, who has been married for more than 35 years, has authored several books on the subject. The original text, The Five Love Languages, has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into 32 languages, according to Chapman, and ranked third in the top 50 bestsellers for March 2004 by the Christian Booksellers Association. Since the release of his first book, Chapman has expanded his series to include The Five Love Languages of Children; The Five Love Languages of Teenagers; Your Gift of Love; his most recent, The Love Languages of God (2003); and two new books slated for later this year, The Five Love Languages, Men's Edition (due out in May) and the tentatively titled The Five Love Languages Especially for Singles (due out in August).

Long an advocate of the love language concept, I looked forward to finally meeting the author face to face. I wasn't disappointed. Personable, articulate, resourceful, and good-natured, Gary shared his secrets to interpersonal success with me and even humored me with my very own autograph.


What are the five "love languages"?

GARY CHAPMAN: One is words of affirmation, using words to affirm another person. If it is a spouse, it could be, 'You look nice in that dress,' or 'Do you ever look tough tonight!'

A second love language is acts of service, doing things for them. You know the old saying 'actions speak louder than words,' for some people that is true. If you wash dishes, if you vacuum floors, if you cook meals, if you get bugs off of the windshield of their car, they feel loved.

A third love language is gifts. It is universal to give gifts as an expression of love. My academic background is anthropology, the study of cultures. We have never discovered a culture where gift-giving is not an expression of love. The gift says, 'She was thinking about me. Look what she got for me.'

A fourth love language is quality time, by which I mean you give a person your undivided attention. I don't mean sitting on the couch and watching television, because then someone else has your attention. If you are sitting on the couch with the TV off and you are looking into each other's eyes and talking that is quality time -- so is taking a walk or going out to eat, so long as you are communicating with each other.

A fifth love language is physical touch. We have long known the emotional power of physical touch. In marriage it is holding hands, it is kissing, it is embracing, the whole sexual part of the marriage.

Out of those five love languages, everyone has a primary love language. The problem is that by nature we speak our own love language. Whatever makes us feel loved is what we do for our spouse. So you have the husband whose love language is physical touch. He comes home and goes to the kitchen. He wants his wife to feel loved. He starts hugging her. She says, 'Leave me alone! Can't you see that I am busy?' His problem is not his sincerity. He was sincere. The problem was he was speaking his language and not her language. If acts of service is her love language, the best thing he could have done was to have gone in there and said, 'Honey, why don't you sit down and rest. Let me finish that.' Wow! She feels loved because he is speaking her language.

How did you discover the concept of the love languages?

GARY CHAPMAN: I learned early on in marriage counseling that what made one person feel loved did not make another person feel loved. For a long time I have been helping couples connect with each other in the counseling office. I began to realize that what I was hearing fell into patterns, so what I did was actually sit down and go through 20 years of my own counseling notes. I asked myself, 'When people said to me, "I feel like my spouse doesn't love me," what did they want?' They fell into these five categories. I was never dogmatic to say there were not six or seven love languages. I talk to a lot of people and get a lot of feedback. Really, everything people tell me still falls into those five categories.

Sometimes you don't know what you love language is. How do you figure that out?

GARY CHAPMAN: Two or three ways. You ask yourself, How do they express love most often? Observe them. If they are often giving other people affirming words, then that may be there love language. If they are often touching people, patting other people on the back, and hugging people, then physical touch may be there language. If they are giving gifts to others, maybe that is what they want. Not always.

A second clue is what do they complain about most often? The complaints really give you good insight into a person. If they say, for example, 'I feel like we don't ever spend any time together; we are like two ships passing in the dark,' they are telling you that quality time is their language. If they say, 'I don't think that you would ever touch me if I didn't initiate it,' they are telling you that touch is their language. If you go on a business trip and come home and they say, 'You didn't bring me anything?' they are telling you that gifts are their language. So you listen to the complaints of your spouse. Typically, we get annoyed when our spouses complain. We get defensive. But, really, when your spouse complains, he or she is giving you wonderful information about what would make him or her feel loved.

The flip side of that is what do they request most often? If they are saying to you periodically, 'Can we take a walk after dinner?' or 'Can we do a weekend away?' they are asking for quality time. Listen to what they request and typically that will tell you their love language.

How long does it take to learn someone else's love language?

GARY CHAPMAN: It depends on whether you are starting at ground zero and you have never spoken that love language in your life, or whether you have been exposed to it somewhat during your lifetime and you just need to sharpen your skills. You can grow up in a culture where you speak English and your family speaks English, but you hear a lot of Spanish, for example. You pick up a lot of Spanish words and phrases. Then when you start to learn Spanish, you will learn it faster than the person who has never heard it. The same thing is true here. If you grew up in a home where you never got affirming words, then you will have to work harder and longer at learning how to speak affirming words. If it is your primary love language, it doesn't take any time at all.

In your own marriage, you talk about your wife having acts of service as her love language. What is your love language?

GARY CHAPMAN: Mine is words. I vacuum the floors. I wash the dishes. She tells me what a great husband I am. We are both happy! In the early years, she gave me a lot of criticism: 'You don't help me around here. You expect me to do everything.' I didn't feel loved. I felt condemned by her. She didn't feel loved. So we had empty love tanks and we argued about everything else. We had a hard time in the early years of our marriage. That is probably why I do what I do because I know how discouraging and disappointing it can be. You are in a marriage and you thought you loved each other, you thought everything was going to be wonderful, and here you are, you don't even like each other. We saw the way God turned our marriage around, and we have really devoted the last 30 years helping other people.


Why did you write The Love Languages of God?

GARY CHAPMAN: I wrote that book because more and more people were saying to me, 'I am realizing that this love language concept applies in my relationship with God.' They planted the seed in my mind. In fact, I get a lot of my good seeds from other people. As I began to reflect on it, I realized that that is true.

I saw that not only does God speak our language and it is reflected in our conversion, but once we become believers, we tend to express our love to God in our language.

So, if words is my language, I feel closest to God when I am giving Him words -- praising Him, thanking Him, maybe with music, maybe just prayer or writing. That is my offering to God, that is my gift to God, and that is how I worship God. If you look at church history, which I do in the book, you find numerous people for whom that was their language and that was how they served God. They poured out words, whether it was sermons, or hymns, or commentaries.

For other people, it is gifts. When they want to express love to God, they do it by giving gifts -- money, gifts -- realizing that when you give to people, you give unto Christ.

Most of the time, people will speak their own love language to God. That is wonderful. That is why we have so much diversity in the church.

One of the things I am trying to say in the book is let's not criticize the other person. For example, here is an acts of service person. What do they do to show love to God? They work in the soup kitchen. They volunteer to take meals. They might say to the person for whom words is their language, 'All you ever do is go to church and sing praise choruses. Why don't you get out here and do something?' They fail to realize that to this person words means to them what acts means to the service person. I am trying to help people understand each other better.

The other thing I am saying about the love languages of God is that just like in human relationships we can tend to get into a rut, like even if you know your spouses love language, you tend to do it the same old way, it can become perfunctory, the same thing is true with God. Eventually, it loses the edge emotionally. So what I am suggesting is that you try to speak a different love language to God, something that is not as natural to you. If you have never worked in the soup kitchen, volunteer. Get your hands dirty. Your relationship with God will come alive.

In The Love Languages of God, we see that Jesus used all of the love languages, so we need to learn how to also.

GARY CHAPMAN: Jesus spoke all five and he spoke them fluently. When you look at the Old Testament, God spoke all five.

What I explore in this book, The Love Languages of God, is that people tend to be converted and influenced by their love language.

If physical touch is their love language, they tend to have dramatic conversion experiences, like Saul on the road to Damascus. He was physically touched, he feel to the ground, and he was blinded. People will say, 'God touched me. I felt His arms around me. My body was shaking.' Other people will say, 'That sounds rather emotional, doesn't it?' But to them, God spoke their language.

For other people, their conversion takes place over a period of time. If quality time is their language, they probably started reading the Bible, they probably started reading Christian books, they listened to Christian television or radio, and over a period of time, one day they responded. It is a gradual getting to know God.

If gifts is their language, then what they are impressed by and what draws them is that God offers them the gift of forgiveness, the gift of eternal life. Because God is love and because God loves us so much, God will speak our love language to communicate His love to us and draw us to Himself.

Why do we struggle so much with loving others?

GARY CHAPMAN: We are not, by nature, lovers. We are, by nature, self centered. Love is a spiritual grace. We learn it from God. The Bible says that we love God because He first loved us. God is love. The closer we get to God, the more loving we will be. One of the reasons why I think there is a problem in expressing love is that people are not very close to God. Another part of it is lack of understanding the nature of love. In the romantic and marriage relationships, we are so influenced by movies that give us the idea that love is this euphoric feeling and if you have got it is wonderful, and if you lose it, it is terrible, so we go from person to person to person living off that temporary in-love experience. It is temporary. The average lifespan is two years. People don't understand that. If they do understand that is temporary, they still don't know how to express love to each other so that you do have emotional warmth. Information is a part of it, and that is what these books provide.


You have coming up The Five Love Language, Men's Edition and The Five Love Languages for Singles, both coming out this year.

GARY CHAPMAN: The first Love Language book was written to married couples. It was just called The Five Love Languages. But through the years, I had so many singles say to me, 'I know you wrote that for couples, but I read it and it really helped me in my relationships' that I realized that this concept applies to all human relationships. It helps singles understand, for example, their parents because a lot of single adults don't feel loved by their parents. They know intellectually that Mom and Dad loves them, but they don't feel loved. When they read the book, they realize why -- the parents didn't speak their language. So I talk about how to break down the barrier, how to go back and rebuild a relationship with a parent. I talk about how this concept works with college roommates, how it works in the workplace with colleagues, how it works in dating relationships, and how it works with your siblings.

Would you ever write a version about love languages at work?

GARY CHAPMAN: That is on the docket somewhere down the line. I would really like to do that. I have had more and more opportunities the last two or three years to speak to business groups and to challenge them to apply this to the business setting. When I collect enough stories and affirming words, I probably will write it.

Do you ever think you will come to the point where you are sick of this topic and move on?

GARY CHAPMAN: I have moved on, in a sense that I have written books on other topics. Most recently I have a book called Covenant Marriage: Building Communication and Intimacy (Broadman & Holman, September 2003) that looks at the biblical concept of covenant, so I have written on a lot of other topics. It just happens that this series has been the best selling. I think that is because these books speak to the basic human need for love and when people read them and apply them, it changes the climate in their relationships.

Is there anything else you want to add? Anything you are itching to talk about?

GARY CHAPMAN: I think I would say this. Obviously, once you have the information, it still takes the will to do it. For example, a husband said to me some time ago, 'I tell you right now: It if is going to take vacuuming floors and washing dishes for her to feel loved, you can forget that.' What he is saying is that he knows what would make her feel loved, but he isn't going to do it. I say to him that that is your choice. If you want to live with a wife who has an empty love tank and if you want to be a husband who is not loving your wife, you can choose to do that. Obviously, that is not biblical. Jesus said, 'Love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself.' Really, love is a giving spirit. You have to have a giving spirit to express any of these languages. That is why one's relationship with God is extremely important in having good relationships. The closer we come to God, the more we have a loving attitude. Our relationship with God is central in learning how to be a good lover. 

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