(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved


Unfortunately, miscommunication is one of the common causes for distress and dysfunction in relationships.  Consider these next three stories in that regard.  A husband washes and vacuums his wife’s car every Saturday.  Afterwards, he mows the lawn and usually finishes with other yard work.  After every meal, he clears the table, washes the dishes and cleans the kitchen.  He also regularly does the family laundry.  At a marriage counseling session, his wife exclaims that her husband doesn’t care about her – that he rarely kisses or hugs her.  The husband is stunned to hear his wife say that he essentially does not love her.

Or, there is the story of a fourteen year old boy who comes to his dad with the idea to hand make a sculpture for the family living room.  The dad tells the son that it’s a great idea, praises him for his artistic skills, encourages him to make the sculpture and then gives him $100.00 to buy the supplies.  Later that day, the dad is surprised when he overhears his son tell his wife that, “Dad doesn’t pay any attention to me.  He’s always so busy!”

And, there’s a story about a business owner who generously pays and rewards her employees.  Salaries she pays are at the top of what is offered in the industry and she also includes bonuses, several weeks of vacation, and medical / dental insurance.  But she is upset when two of her important employees quit and say that they were ignored in their work.  The owner, they say, rarely offered them direction and they had to figure things out for themselves.  They also complained that she never told them they had done a good job – even though the business is very successful.

In each of these instances, a failure to communicate deeply harmed a relationship.  The husband, dad and boss each respectively believed they were showing appreciation and love to the important people in their lives.  But it’s as if they were not heard.  It’s as if they were speaking French but the others spoke English.  Their languages of love fell on deaf ears.

Experts say this is an all too common problem in marriages, at the workplace, with friendships, and in families.  People with good intentions, who deeply love their partner, spouse, child, friend or colleague, are speaking one love language when the other responds to a much different one.

Consider the three stories I just related: the wife of the husband who is helpful around the house, she longs to be physically touched in a way that tells her she’s valued.   His acts of service are nice but they don’t fulfill her.

The dad who encourages his teenage son frequently offers him praise for things he does or thinks.  He compliments his abilities and tries to empower him in his goals.  But the son would instead like his dad to spend much more time with him, perhaps join him in making the sculpture, take him to a museum or just sit and have a long conversation with him.   The dad uses words of affirmation to show love, while the son feels loved when quality time is given.

The business owner gives her employees the independence to do their jobs without interference.  She also generously rewards them for their work.  These things, she believes, show that she greatly appreciates them.  But the employees want and need more time with their boss.  They want more instruction so they can learn and grow.  They also want to hear praise for work well done.  The boss shows her appreciation through giving.  Many of her employees want her time and her words of affirmation.

This concept, that humans express and receive love in five different love languages, those being words of affirmation, quality time, touch, acts of service, or giving, this was pioneered by Dr. Gary Chapman, a psychologist and marriage counselor.  In 1995, he published a book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, which has been wildly successful and has been on the New York Times Bestseller list continuously for eight years.   Its concepts have been applied to the workplace, for children and for almost any interpersonal relationship.

Chapman believes every person has a primary love language that is meaningful to them.  As in all things, people have different likes and dislikes.  People feel most loved in unique ways.  We also express love to others in different ways.  In other words, we each have a strong preference in how we show and feel love.

The important thing, Chapman says, is to discover and learn the preferred love language of those who are important to us.  Doing this will dramatically improve our relationships, allow us to be more efficient, open channels of communication and improve our empathy.   Just as we want to be understood when we verbally communicate, we need to love others in ways they understand.

And that comes through communication as people share what “floats their boat” so to speak.  It also comes through listening and sensing the emotions that deeply move another.  In an open, honest and gentle conversation, the wife in my first story might tell her husband how she appreciates his acts of service.  She would then add, however, that what really makes her feel special is when he holds her hand, embraces her or shows physical affection.

The husband shows love by doing acts of service because that is the way he feels loved.  And in any gentle dialogue between the two, the wife will understand that fact.  Her goal is not to tell her husband to change his love language, but to tell him she would feel fully loved if he learned to also speak another one – hers!  In a healthy relationship, he will still do acts of service for her, and she will understand that’s his way to show love.  But he will also, also try to practice his wife’s preferred love language.

As I said, this idea is not limited to romantic relationships.  All parents want to connect with their kids in loving ways.  Parents of teenagers especially want this.  But many times parents express love to their kids in ways that aren’t clearly received.  Just as is the case for any human to human relationship, gentle communication is key.  One love language does not work for all.  Our unique personalities create in us unique ways we understand love.

To effectively show love to someone who responds to words of affirmation, you can express appreciation for something he or she has done.  You can praise a specific skill they have.  You can encourage them in a task they have undertaken.  You can often, but without prompting, compliment their appearance.   You can, on a special occasion like a birthday, tell them how much they mean to you.

You should avoid offering any non-constructive and non-gentle criticism – especially to someone who feels loved by words of affirmation.  For these people, words matter a lot.

For someone who feels love through physical touch, it is the oldest and most elemental form of love.  Before humans invented spoken language, touch was the way to express feelings.  To speak this language, you might offer a high-five, pat on the back, handshake or other gesture that extends appreciation and praise in a physical way.  Hugs, when appropriate, are also nice.  In romantic relationships, one should pay particular attention to making sure the other feels close and secure with your physical presence.  One should, however, avoid any form of touch when the other gives physical or verbal cues that it is not welcome. 

To those who feel loved through acts of service, you should perform tasks for the other that are unexpected and that make their life easier.  Taking time away from your work to assist a colleague with their project,  cooking a meal and delivering it to a sick friend, spending significant time doing extra household chores, surprising your child by picking them up after school, or making a surprise breakfast in bed, these are all examples.   You should avoid putting your tasks ahead of theirs and you should never fail to follow through on doing a promised task.

For those who value receiving gifts, one should not mistake that for materialism.  Usually, this person feels loved when receiving small gifts that show thoughtfulness and effort.  Handmade gifts are often liked as are ones that show creativity and special attention to what the other truly needs.  For a person who feels loved by receiving gifts, one should never forget to give something nice on a birthday, anniversary or holiday.  To such people, forgetting to give is especially hurtful.

Finally, to those who most appreciate receiving your quality time, you should regularly spend extended hours listening to and conversing with them on subjects important to them.  You might also suggest doing a project together or take regular vacations with him or her.  You should happily do an activity with them that they enjoy – but which you do not.   You should also avoid any distractions when with them.  The key is to tell them, without words, that no matter what you do together, it is their company that matters most to you.

To love and be loved is one of the essential needs humans have.  From the moment we are born, we yearn to bond with our parents and others.   All humans want to feel connected to another person in heart and soul.  To show love for another is ultimately a selfless act – one that says their needs come first.  But, as I’ve just discussed, the love we show is only effective if the recipient in turn feels loved.  That means we must use both our empathy skills and effective communication to hear and understand what the other needs and wants.

When we listen to another and identify how they feel, we speak a spiritual language.  We come to know them on a deeper level – one that understands their innermost fears, dreams and desires.  Loving them is then about soothing their emotions and meeting their needs.  Our goal with any form of love is to sublimate ourselves for the sake of another.  As I frequently say, I believe our human purpose is to build a life legacy of kindness, humility and service.  Quite simply, life is about loving others.  Whatever we believe God to be, or not to be, I believe the eternal and universal force that animates the everything is, indeed, love.  Since that is so, it’s essential we learn to speak love as often as possible – and only when necessary to use words.

I wish you all much peace and joy.