What I Didn't Understand about the 5 Love Languages

8:00 AM

I slammed the car door shut --- on his arm. He'd stuck his arm in the door to keep me from speeding away back home. Why did he always do sweet things when I was trying to make him feel bad about himself? Angry moment fail. Hadn't meant to do that. Now I didn't feel in control of this argument that I (of course) started. He shifted barefoot on the gravel, blanket wrapped around his shoulders, looking at me. 

"You don't understand me," I cried. He said nothing. "You don't love me."

Now he spoke up. "I don't love you? Doing homework with you everyday means I don't love you? Running from a busy day of lab to attend your voice recital means I don't love you?" 

I remembered that voice recital. I'd been elated to see him show up for my first song and miffed to see him gone again for my second song. Some boyfriend, I'd grumbled to myself. Now I realized the real jerk had been me. (Again.) 

Flustered, I shot back, "You don't love me in the way I need."

The 5 love languages trained me well. I'm tied physical touch and words of affirmation. I need little pecks on the cheek and hand-holding and sweet love notes and reminders of my beauty and intelligence daily. Hourly. Fine, minutely. And sometimes he wouldn't deliver. Oh, he would hold my hand if I slipped mine into his and say sweet things if I asked him to, but by the time I felt the need to ask for affection, I was already raging with neglect, and paired holding-hands with my infamous half-hour lectures. He would keep holding my hand until I withdrew it to storm back to my car. 

The past month had not been a good one for us. 

Being separated from my boy for almost three weeks now allowed me the space to review our biggest problems and my biggest expectations. "Expectations kill relationships," my mentor told me. "Stop Googling relationship advice," my roommate told me. "Keep loving him," my God told me. 

After thinking, praying, and chatting with my married professor on Augustine's understanding of love, here's what finally raised its ugly head: I wanted Erich to meet all of my needs. I had a need-based relationship. 

Isn't that part of a relationship, though, to complete each other, need each other? "It is not good for man to be alone," right? If a romantic relationship wasn't partially based on meeting each other's needs, what was the point? Sacrificially giving and giving and giving with nothing in return?

"If you want to sacrificially give without getting anything in return," said my professor, "don't get married -- go help the poor or teach or any other ministry."

"Then what is marriage for if not to meet our needs or simply sacrificially give?" I asked. 

"It's about gratitude," he said. "When a child politely asks his mother to heat up his food because he prefers it warmer, he's not demanding, and he's not hiding his true needs. He acts out of trust that his mother wants to love him. And then he thanks her when she brings him the heated food. He receives her love with gratitude. Marriage works the same way." 

It's not about meeting needs, per se,  because only God meets our needs -- our deepest desires, insecurities, and humanness. That's why single people can still be fulfilled and happy without a spouse. That's why people in a relationship can remain apart and still find total happiness. (Still working on that one!) Our happiness and fulfillment can remain steady regardless of relationship status because it rests in God alone. 

"Our culture believes that the more irresistible a love is, the more genuine it must be," said my prof. So true. I have spent days paralyzed in fear that I'm "falling out of love" because I went several hours without thinking about my boyfriend or spent a great day at work or ran around the house inexplicably happy even though I hadn't heard from him due to bad cell reception. I kept myself in a state of borderline misery trying to balance missing him acutely without missing him too obsessively. 

My boyfriend already mastered living contentedly in the moment without me. It made me self-conscious to know how thrilled he was to run around in the wild woods, even though I wasn't there. Would he be so content and happy without me that he'd lose all feelings for me? As I drove three hours to see him for our two-year anniversary, excitement pushed out any fears about his reaction to my visit...but I must admit, I was initially scared to see his reaction to my surprise visit. 

That excitement entirely underestimated how thrilled, lovestruck, and giddy he was to see me show up on his cabin porch (after getting lost for half-an-hour). I hadn't seen him that happy about anything -- and here was my mostly unromantic, stoic boyfriend grinning uncontrollably and chatting up a storm all because I showed up

See? It's possible to love God fully, find happiness in Him alone, and still stay madly in love. God's love is a giving love. It opens and enables the heart to love others more and to love Him through loving others. 

When I'm grasping for fulfillment from my boyfriend's love, it shrinks my heart, drains him, and leaves me empty. 

For me, the easiest way to determine whether I'm wanting my boyfriend to love me or wanting him to meet my needs is how I react to his show of love (or lack thereof). When I got upset at him for only staying for one song at my voice recital, I felt zero gratitude that he extrapolated himself from a crazy day at lab to come hear me sing. I rejected his offer of love. Frankly, I didn't even see it as an offer of love. I saw it as a duty he owed me as his girlfriend. And that's what led me to accuse, "You don't love me."

Contrast this with yesterday. I called him to ask if he had time to talk. "Not really," he said, "but what's the matter?" I asked his advice about an awkward social situation. He started to explain his opinion -- and then lost all cell service. I laughed. I laughed from the sheer joy of him loving me enough to chat with me a little bit. I was grateful for his love. I didn't get bitter over the loss of cell service or the fact I wouldn't hear from him all weekend or our summer-long separation. I was grateful. 

That's such a happier existence than resenting his "inability" to love me the way I "needed."

Wait. Isn't this where the 5 love languages come in? Isn't it important that he speak my love language? Of course, but that's where the requesting and trusting part come in. There's nothing wrong at all with requesting a loving act or word instead of relying on your significant other to read your mind. We don't put that pressure on anybody else. "Jeez, Mom, you didn't heat up my food to the proper temperature. Gosh, roommate, why couldn't you just sense I needed a backrub? Wow, friend, how come I'm always the one who starts phone conversations?" 

"He's spent twenty-one years learning one particular way of loving," my professor explained. "Expecting him to read your mind is like expecting a Frenchman to speak English fluently. It'll take him years to learn English. In the meantime, you'll have to communicate in Franglish." 

(By the way, Erich frequently shows me sweet gestures of love that make my heart melt. It's just not completely natural for him, and he forgets to do unnatural things when busy with school.)

If you want something, ask for it. When you feel comfortable enough to ask someone to love you in a way you want, you ask assuming he wants to show you love. That's an incredible, intimate, trusting assumption. And when you ask, you recognize that love is not something you earn or demand -- it's a gift for which to be grateful. This sets you up for a gratitude-based -- not a need-based -- relationship. 

There's nothing wrong with the 5 love languages -- not if you realize (1) love languages can't fulfill you; (2) love is gift to be received with gratitude; and (3) it's okay to ask for love -- because it wasn't yours to demand, anyway. 

What's your love language(s)? How do you respond when
you feel like nobody's speaking your language?

Photo credit by alicemahran.com.

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11 impressions

  1. According to the official love language test, I score high and equally on Acts of Service and Quality Time, with low and equal scores for Words of Affirmation and Receiving Gifts. And then there's that 0 on Physical Touch. My best friend generally says "I'm going to hug you now" before hugging me, because otherwise it doesn't go down well. :)

    But anyway. What makes me feel loved is when people pay attention. I don't mean pay attention to me, like they are focused on me or I'm the center of attention. I mean when people pay attention to tiny details. Like what makes me feel loved is when someone clears the table after dinner and they arrange the dirty dishes on the counter next to the sink in the order I like to wash things (silverware, cups, small stuff, big stuff, pots and pans, French press) without me having to explain the order just because they've observed me clearing the table and doing dishes and they just know how I like things. I won't be upset if somebody just puts stuff on the counter any which way, but I feel loved when I know someone has paid enough attention to the details to notice how I do dishes. Minute details are very important to me, often more important than the big picture. I'd probably be the one rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    And after rereading that, I realize I sound very weird. But hey, Mr. Future Husband, I don't need expensive gifts or declarations of undying love (which I will probably laugh at 'cause you're being melodramatic). All you have to do is clear the table correctly. :)

    1. That's actually adorable! I am so not like that at all. (My room STILL isn't unpacked from my move three weeks ago.) But I appreciate people like you who have an art form about their organization....and if/when anyone ever falls in love with you, I'm sure he'll appreciate it too!

  2. This is such a great post! I am way too obsessed with the Love Languages (and other personality tests) and get too caught up in what they reveal about ME... real life is so much more organic and fluid than the black-and-white of personality tests. Learning to love and accept love is way more complicated than a "oh, I'm Type X and you're Type Y."

    And btw-- your professor (of theology/religion, I'm guessing?) sounds very wise. I wish I had gone to a college where I could have conversations like that with my profs.

    1. He's a professor of theology, yes! I took his class on the Incarnation and the Spiritual Life, which was one of the best classes I've ever taken. Chatting with professors has been the biggest blessing of college by far!

  3. This is something I'm still learning, 4 years into marriage :) I wrote this after Valentine's day, and it made me think of what you're saying here.

    -Jennifer P.

    1. Thanks for link, Jennifer! Can't wait to read it!

  4. I love this. I remember hearing someone once say in regards to personality tests, and I think it applies to the love languages: the results are not meant to be an excuse for what you receive best, or don't find easy to give. They are to show you what areas you need work in. Therefore, for me as a quality time and gifts person who doesn't always like loads of physical affection, learning to hug my little siblings is something I need to work on. It's not an excuse for not loving them the way they receive it.

    My favourite part of this whole post is this:

    It's possible to love God fully, find happiness in Him alone, and still stay madly in love.

    I've seen a relationship fall apart because this truth was not understood, and it's sad. The truth is, no mortal can fulfil us, but once we are fulfilled in God, loving another mortal is pretty awesome. ^_^

    1. Exactly!!

      Ugh, it's ALWAYS so hard to see these relationships fall apart, either from a misunderstood "spirituality" or an Godless obsession with another human.

  5. When Dave and I were first married, I would actually get upset when he did the dishes for me. To me, it felt like an attack. "Well, you can't seem to handle doing the dishes in a timely enough manner for me, so I'm going to do it instead."

    Guess what? His primary love language is Acts of Service. Mine is Words of Affirmation. He was showing me he loved me in his love language, but I would have felt more loved if I had done the dishes myself and he told me what a great job I did! (Isn't that goofy?!)

    Once we had read that book, the scales fell from our eyes. I got it.

    Guess who does the dishes after dinner every night? He loves me. And I let him love me. =)

    1. Awww! You guys are the sweetest. That book saved me from being weirded out by my parents' constant "doing things" -- because I too realized they were showing love through Acts of Service!

      It also made me realize I had to do chores in order to show them love. Uggghhhh. ;)

    2. I can totally sympathize with your last sentence. My dad loves to do acts of service, and I don't get that at all. Besides the fact that I don't really enjoy cleaning. (Though I was thinking this week that I might like it better than I think.) It's kind of funny because I am a lot like him in other ways.


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