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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: The 5 Love Languages

For years I have been meaning to read Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages. Over time I have read passages and gotten the general themes but never really invested in reading the book. This weekend I pulled it off the bookshelf, sat down with a glass of wine and dove in. While the book is based on martial relationships, I believe that it is transferable to most relationships we are connected to.

The basis is that each of us have a language we use to communicate love and want to receive it. The trick is to understanding our own and the person's that we are in the relationship with. Chapman discovered the 5 languages after years of counseling couples. He determines them to be: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

I always assumed that Physical Touch would be my language because I am a touchy cuddly person. The assessment identified Words of Affirmation as my primary with Physical Touch and Quality Time being tied for my secondary languages. All of these are completely true for how I equate someone loving me and often how I show love to others. Words of Affirmation took me by surprise but then as I reflected on it, I realized that when verbal/written communication is not coming from a partner or friend I often struggle to know how they feel. I am a communicator and I like for people to articulate their feelings as well. At work, I want a review. With friends and family, I always use cards as a way to express feelings for them. If you are diggin me romantically, you need to come out and say it.

I have this strong memory as a child, shortly after my parents divorced that I was talking on the phone with my Daddy and we hung up without him telling me he loved me. That particular day I was at my Granny's and I remember that I immediately started crying. When she asked me what was wrong, I told her Daddy didn't love me. Trying to calm me down she said of course he loves you and I responded with, but he didn't say it. Obviously, he loves me a great deal but it wouldn't have mattered if he brought me a present or spent hours with me, I needed him to say it, just so that I could be sure. I am sure that my Granny called him back because I got another phone call from him just to say he loved me. Long before I even could grasp what love was, I knew how it needed to be communicated to me. I would guess that all of us have these inherent ways we need to hear that someone loves us.

The book is helpful in realizing that we must communicate our language to those we are in relationships with and need them to communicate theirs. Absent of that, we will default to our preferred language and this can leave the other person without any idea of how committed we are to them. A person can do a lot of things to show me they care but if they tell me or even better, put it in writing, I am over the moon and completely confident in their feelings for me. Recently, I had breakfast with a distinguished alumni and his wife. The couple told us of how they went on their first date - he wrote her a letter asking her out. My students kind of laughed at me because I was like... oh, that is the best thing ever! Of course now it makes complete sense to me, I would find it appealing for someone to write me a note 1. to ask me out and 2. to express why they wanted to spend that kind of time with me. I always find myself able to trust someone when they communicate their feelings through words - now I understand it is because that is how I fill up my love tank. Around my house and in my office, you will find notes that were especially meaningful or validating for me. I go back to them time and again - they are sacred to me.

The book also frames relationships, specifically marriage, in a great way as a choice. He talks about how the "in love/obsession" phase of a relationship lasts about two years and then the reality of what we require emotionally surfaces and the choice of commitment begins because "it is fundamental to our nature". Beyond the obsession phase of a relationship, I often wonder how people can be married for 50 years and I love that Chapman talks about it as a choice we have to make every single day. He states "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. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving." What a compelling concept. I have heard friends discuss marriage but no one ever really talks about the real life of it or how hard it is which has left me skeptical. After reading this book, this single gal really loved the way he frames marriage, a concept I can now totally grasp.

I am sure that understanding my language a bit better will enhance my relationships and I'll definitely be trying to figure out how those in my life need me to communicate that I love them.

"Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself"

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