Love is multi-lingual. And like anything that speaks a language: a person, a body, a face; love can be misunderstood or hard to interpret.
So much in life is cyclical, here for a season, then gone. Like the feelings or emotions that we often mistake for love. So very little is constant. Including the ability to love people the way they need you to love them, for an extended period of time. Because that is some very hard work. Work akin to building Egyptian pyramids or calming a furious toddler. But as for that hard work, as the principle goes, what you get from it usually makes it worth it.
Even so, as worthy as the work may be, it can feel like churning butter, and not at all sustainable for the long haul. At least I think, because hello, it’s 2017 and so of course I have never churned butter. But I’m still fairly confident in this metaphor. And sometimes we need a break from the churning. Our loved ones will be ok with that, for a beat. But we do need to re-engage with that hard work, again and again. Because if we stop churning indefinitely, we won’t see the results we’re hoping for, our relationships won’t be solid.
If you keep churning the love, you get to complete one half of the equation we were all put on the planet to solve and you’ll be well on your way to solving the whole thing. To x(learn to love) + y(to stand still and accept love) = z(to fulfill our purpose). (I’m deeply curious; does this word-math play work? Math is my nemesis, words are my jam. And though perfection is my loathe, I still have this need to be correct in my equation formation here. Someone? Anyone?) You could try to argue and convince me we all have another or a different purpose, but I won’t agree. My wiring, circuitry, DNA and Ouija Board are all sure that this one thing, love, is why we’re here.
I don’t know why loving and being loved is so hard, given it’s our purpose. But I know one thing that makes it easier, and that’s learning to communicate love to the people in our lives in the way they understand it. And in reverse, explaining to those we love how to convey love back to us in the way we yearn for it.
If you’ve ever had any kind of relationship, you know that lasting love isn’t a feeling, it’s action, and said action has to be intentional. Feelings come and go because they’re based on circumstances and tied to emotions. They are often here today and gone tomorrow. And thank God that’s true, because while lust during make-up sex is soul-affirming, rage from being let down or forgotten, AGAIN, is soul-sucking. Feelings and emotions, good or bad, erupt in us, we don’t choose them. Action, however, is a choice; an offering, and sometimes, a sacrifice. And because of all that, action is the Holy Grail in a loving relationship.
I’ll never forget the day I realized that to love someone is hard work, hard work that will never end. This realization came a year ago, 21 years into my marriage, while my husband and I were in couples counseling for the first time. (Approximately 20 years later than we should have been). Before that, I operated under the assumption that true love between two people means things should be easy. And if things aren’t habitually easy, breezy, beautiful; then, not only are neither of us Cover Girls, but additionally, Houston, we must have a problem! I really thought that. No idea why. Crazy, right? I get that now. But the day I realized that love is hard, that love hurts; I felt like I’d been sold a bill of goods.
I didn’t sign up for hard, difficult, selfless, unceasing action that at times isn’t reciprocated. I signed up for the kind of marriage I had created in my dreams, and I thought I was clear about my expectations. I envisioned a union that looked exactly unlike the one my parents had entered into; theirs was born of a teenage pregnancy, and lasted merely two years. My mom lost a husband and I lost a dad in the fell swoop of poor choices, inadequacy, inability and the lack of love. I grew up wanting different and by different, I mean perfect.
Today, I think perfect ~ to try to be it, or to expect it ~ is gross and always unattainable. And I think that because I’ve learned it for sure, the hard way.
Like the effective and sage way that meditation teaches you to gently bring your mind back to the present when it inevitably wanders or spins out of control, learning our Love Language and that of our beloved’s teaches us how to offer up love the way our spouse, child, or friend likes it served. Erik and I first learned about the 5 Love Languages many years ago, not long after we were married. The wisdom this concept enveloped was the kind that presents itself as true, obvious, important, undeniable and invaluable, to any relationship. There was no questioning whether we were going to become fluent in each other’s Love Language, or emotional communication preference. That part was easy. The hard part came later, in the form of continually speaking each other’s preferred language and not falling back on our own native tongue; day after day, year after year. You know this to be true about any language you learn; if you don’t use it, you lose it. And we’ve lost it several times.
Erik’s top two Love Languages are Physical Intimacy and Words of Affirmation. Mine are Quality Time and Acts of Service. You might have noticed those aren’t the same. In effect, we don’t speak the same language when it comes to love. But that, in and of itself, is ok. Theoretically speaking. (Please God, let this be ok). If you’re new to this principle of love as a language and uncertain as to how it works, it’s simple and it goes like this: if I try to show Erik my love for him by clearing my calendar and spending my day with him, or by cleaning out his filthy truck after a hunting trip, he’s not going to get that rush of endorphins that alleviate anxiety, relieve pain and reduce stress. A.K.A., he’s not going to feel the love. Where is the love? Where is the love, the love, the love?
If Erik wants to make me feel loved, he shouldn’t get all touchy-feely and wanna get some, or tell me why I’m awesome, at anything or everything. I won’t interpret that as love. In fact, I’ll likely (for sure) see it as him fishing for the kind of love he needs instead, and I might (will definitely) feel shorted. And it could (almost certainly will) feel clingy. And these kinds of feelings will open the door and let lonely in.
Loneliness is a relationship killer. We should never open the door to it. But if we do, we should alert our partner to its presence immediately so we can begin to combat it together, and beat its ass. Any other course of action is very ill-advised. Beat lonely’s ass, people.
So what needs to happen instead is the inverse of all of the above. We have to communicate within the language our loved one understands if we want them to feel our love. In our marriage, if Erik wants me to know that he is willing to make that love actionable and that he is capable of offering it up in the way I need to receive it, he will kill spiders for me, even though they make him gag.
If we don’t, or won’t, speak our partner’s Love Language to them, the relationship won’t be fulfilling in their eyes, and then, Houston, we really will have a problem. That’s when people go looking for love elsewhere, in desperation and desire. And that’s when the O-rings on the marriage shuttle can fail, and the subsequent last-ditch effort at re-entry becomes a last-ditch grasp at love. This undesirable scenario takes precision, commitment, tireless effort and a whole lot o’ God to get it done. Pushed to this point, things aren’t always going to end happily.
We are a species that needs reminders. Alarms, notes, assistants, photos, lists, calendars, and what-not. And we need repetition. It’s almost never one and done with us human folks. If doing the same thing over and over again without achieving the desired results is the definition of insanity, then what is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and getting exactly your intended results? Let’s decide that love is what’s defined in this instance. And sometimes we just need the reminder and then the repetition, to be able to feel the love.
If this is your first insight into the relationship building concept that the 5 Love Languages is, then please think of this post as a public service announcement, in the style of, ‘The More You Know.’ If you’re not new to the concept but possibly just needed the reminder, please consider it as such. Either way, pretty-please, use it as a kick-starter for the repetition that any practice takes to make it not so much perfect, but very much good and worthwhile.
Curious? Interested in diving deeper, or just looking for a refresher? We first learned about the 5 Love Languages from a trusted, older and wiser friend who had encountered the concept during a Bible study on Growing Kids God’s Way, and it comes from Dr. Gary Chapman; a celebrated pastor, marriage counselor and author.
The 5 Love Languages website has a quiz you and your spouse can take to determine what your unique and primary Love Language is. There is also a quiz you can take if you’re single and interested in learning, “your primary love language, what it means, and how you can use it to connect and deepen your relationships with others.” I think singles can also use this knowledge to teach yourself how to give and receive love to… yourself! Radical self-love will form the bedrock on which the foundations of all your future relationships will be built on. So do like Justin Bieber says; ‘baby, you should go and love yourself.’ See, he’s going to be fine.
There are also the 5 Love Languages determining exercises and quizzes for your kids; for your littles, middles and teens. Learning how to connect with them on a deeper level is a good idea too, yes? Yes!
All of the quizzes end with the 5 Love Languages described in detail. You can download them and save them or print them out for future reference. Or you can tattoo your primary emotional communication preference and its meaning on your beloved’s arm, for their future reference. Use the info how you see fit. You do you, here.
But wait, there’s more! If you call now, I’ll throw in the links to learn your Apology and Appreciation Languages too. All for the astoundingly low price of… nothing! They’re my gift to you for reading this far. They’re the hidden Easter eggs you get for steadfastly forging on, into the forest with me. Well done, my friend. Love on!