Five Love Languages: Great Ways to Improve or Save Your Marriage
Falling Out of Love and Staying Married
Save Your Marriage: Get Started in Less Than Two Hours
I've been a therapist and life coach for over 30 years. I seek out the best ways to succeed in life. And Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages is the easiest, most powerful way to renew a marriage I've ever found. My wife and I got into it on the web in under two hours - the benefits were immediate and lasting!
In The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman proposes that most marriages run aground due to one simple problem. We fall in love, and everything seems wonderful. Then we fall out of love, and we don't know what to do.
There is a solution: What we need to do is to learn our partner's love language, and use it to help them feel loved again, every day.
It sounds simple, and too good to be true. But Dr. Chapman's 30 years of experience and his stories of renewed marriages are very convincing. And my wife and I are trying it - and it's working better than anything else we've ever tried.
The "Delusion" of Being in Love
Falling in love is a natural phenomenon. It's what gets relationships started; it's the rose-colored glasses phase. It feels very real. And it runs on hormones.
Dr. Chapman says that when we are in love, we are delusional. I don't agree completely, but he does have a point. Certainly, we are unrealistically optimistic. We are convinced we can succeed for sure, even though most marriages fail. Somehow, it will be different for us. We can't explain the how, but we're sure of it. 32 years ago, my wife and I felt that way. But we were on the realistic side: We believed we could make it work, but we didn't say it would be easy. The real signs of delusion come in when a couple thinks it will be easy, or says, "We just don't have those kinds of problems."
No one has the kinds of problems that cause trouble in marriage when they are in love. But the in love phase typically lasts between 6 months and two years. Then the crap hits the fan. We've fallen out of love - and it's time to learn to love.
Web Site and Book
The five love languages is a web site and also a book. The web site, www.5LoveLanguages.com, is a great place to get started. A couple can learn the basic ideas, discover each others languages, and start making each other happier in under two hours.
I know, because my wife Kris and I did exactly that.
In Love - Out of Love - What's it Like?
Dr. Chapman illustrates the in love, then out of love transformation with this common experience. Say a quiet guy falls in love with a talkative girl. While they're in love, they both think it's great. She thinks he's a great listener. He thinks she makes dates easy by keeping fun conversation flowing.
Then the hormonal flip occurs. They are out of love. Nothing else has changed. Only now, they see each other differently. She is saying, "I just can't get to know him - he's like a clam." And he says, "Will she ever quit talking, talking, talking?"
If you hit that moment where, suddenly, you were out of love, then The 5 Love Languages is likely to be a big help. Let me tell you how it works.
The Love Tank
We all need love. Dr. Chapman believes that the primary value of marriage is that, when it works, we feel loved by our husband or our wife.
Starting a relationship is like buying a new car. And being in love is like the car coming with a free tank of gas. But sooner or later - usually six months to two years down the road - that first tank runs dry. What then?
We have to learn how to fill our partner's love tank. And we do it giving them love in their own favorite love language. There are five love languages, and we must find out what one works for our spouse, and deliver. If we offer the wrong love language, we can be loving for years, but our partner won't feel loved. Many marriages go on for years with each person trying to love the other, but the feeling of love just doesn't get through. Learning to love in your partner's favorite love language can turn that around - even in just a week or two.
It's All in the Timing
Some couples fall out of love at the same time. In other cases, one falls out of love before the other. But once either partner is out of being "in love," the challenge has begun.
In an ideal world, people would learn the love languages before they fell out of love. Then, when the in-love period drops away, we get to work and start loving in the right language. Many of Dr. Chapman's clients said things like, "Why didn't somebody tell me this thirty years ago?"
But the mysterious gift of love is that, once it's restored, the pain of the past is quickly forgotten. Kris and I are discovering that now. Let me show you how it works.
What Are the Five Love Languages?
Here are the Five Love Languages:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
Each of the five love languages has different "dialects." That is, two people who both have the same love language may want love to come in different specific ways. My wife and I are exploring exactly what phrases and actions work for ourselves, and sharing them with each other. I'll give some examples of each language now.
Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation work best when they are specific, frequent, and genuine. Words of Affirmation are important to both me and Kris. But she likes to hear, "life is tough, but you can handle it." I like a more positive spin. When I'm feeling a bit insecure, I want to hear, "Sid, you're a great writer, you write fast, and you can deliver a great article on time."
Words of affirmation affirm to our beloved that he or she can make his or her own dreams real. Be sure you speak about your beloved's dreams, not what you want them to do for you, not your dreams for them. If you don't know their dreams, ask!
Quality time is time together with our full attention. When one partner in a marriage needs quality time and the other doesn't, the dialog often goes like this.
She, "We never spend any time together."
He, "You're kidding. We went out to dinner just last Thursday."
In this dialog, he doesn't understand that being in the same room does not feel like quality time to her. If you're having this problem, be sure to give your full, undivided attention to each conversation. Don't watch TV or text while talking to your partner. Be there, and listen.
For some, quality time is in listening. For others, it is in doing things together. Some couples play tennis. My parents played bridge. My wife and I play scrabble. It doesn't matter what you do. You don't even both have to like it. As long as one of you likes it, and the other feels the joy of making his or her partner happy, that works. In fact, Kris and I often switch off. One date is what she likes, the next is what I like. For some, quality time can be short, and daily. Others like longer times, such as weekends or vacations. But we're both filled with joy from the attention we receive and the love we share. Quality time activities become times we remember forever.
Quality time is important because feelings move slower than words. In the light of my lover's full attention, my love tank slowly fills - completely.
Some people feel loved when they receive gifts. If so, learn to give them gifts. I can't talk too much about this one, because it's not high on my list, or on Kris's. But learn what works for your beloved. Does she - or he - like frequent small gifts, or large ones? Random occasion gifts, or gifts for usual days like birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine's day? Surprise gifts, or requested items? Gift giving is a skill we can learn.
Acts of Service
Some people feel most loved when we perform an act of service for them. It may be doing a job the other hates, like changing the cat litter. Or it may be helping out when we're stressed or running late. It may be preparing dinner and having it ready when your wife or husband comes home.
The love language of physical touch is not mostly about sexuality. In fact, it's good to keep the two quite separate. If your partner's love language is physical touch, then touch appropriate to your culture and the situations is called for - frequently. This can be holding hands at a restaurant or church, hugs, shoulder rubs, or massage.
Dr. Chapman says, "the body is for touching," and I find that to be a beautiful and simple thought, and also a caution about avoiding tension and anything that might be close to abuse or threat. He also notes that if a person's primary love language is physical touch, then he or she will deeply need to be held in a crisis. If we hear difficult news - the loss of a job or the death of a parent - then being held and loved at that time is crucial, and the memory lasts for years.
How to Use the Five Love Languages
Of course, it's easiest if a couple decides to work on the Five Love Languages together. But if your partner is not willing, you can still make it work. Dr. Chapman tells many stories of one partner who turns a marriage around by taking the lead. Here are the steps:
- Learn Your Own Love Language
- Learn Your Partner's Love Language (or Guess)
- Love Your Partner in His or Her Love Language
- Teach Your Partner to Love You in Your Love Language
- Enjoy the Renewed Flow of Love
- Face the Big Problems - If There Are Any Left
- Keep Filling the Tank
The Love Languages Assessment
Here are some tips for taking the assessment to learn your love language, which is both in the book and on the website.
- Take the right assessment, there are different ones for wives, husbands, dating women, and dating men.
- Adapt the questions to your situation. For example, if you haven't felt any love from your wife for a long time, replace the phrase, "When your wife does [this or that]" with "If your wife did [this or that]."
- Adjust for cultural differences. When Kris saw "When your husband helps with the dishes," she just replaced it with the reality of our lives "When your husband does the dishes."
- Don't worry about getting every question just right. There are enough questions that your top love language (or languages) will come out, even if you're unsure in a few cases.
It only takes 20 minutes to learn your love languages - then you'll know for the rest of your life!
#1 Learn Your Own Love Language
Start by learning about the five love language and learning your language. The easiest way to learn the love language is to take the profile test which is free on the web site, and also in the book. It takes just about 20 minutes.
You may have more than one primary love language. Some people have two. I'm a bit odd - I have a three-way tie.
You may know your love language as soon as you read about them, or by taking the profile. If not, there are three things you can ask yourself to figure it out:
- What hurts the most? Our primary love language is also our greatest vulnerability. If you're hurt by a forgotten birthday, then maybe receiving gifts is your primary love language. If you feel abandoned when you don't get a hug, consider physical touch may be what you need.
- What have I asked for again and again? We ask for - or demand - what we need. Demanding doesn't work, because love can't be forced. But our demands can tell us what our love language is.
- How do I naturally express my love? We often give love using the language we would like to receive. So, if you find yourself washing the dishes, your primary love language is likely to be Acts of Service. If you are buying gifts, you probably want to receive them.
The Love Languages of Cats and Dogs
I believe that the love languages are profound and powerful because they go back a long way. They go back before our thinking, verbal mind into our lives as animals. Cat's love to be petted (Physical Touch). Dogs love to be played with (Quality Time). Both love to be fed (Acts of Service). Dogs love praise (Words of Affirmation) and treats (gifts).
Feeding, nurturing, encouraging - these are part of our mammalian heritage. When we love through all the senses of the body, we love deeply. Then our beloved feels our love.
#2: Learn Your Partner's Love Language, or Guess
It's easiest, of course, if your partner is willing to take the profile, or to read the web site or the book and discuss it with you. But if not, you can figure out your partner's love language in other ways, just like you can figure out your own:
- What hurts your partner the most? If she cries over forgotten birthdays, think about gifts.
- What does your partner complain about or demand most often? If you're hearing, "you never listen to me," or "we never have fun together," he or she probably wants Quality Time.
- What does your partner request most often? If she's asking you to clean up or help her out, she probably likes Acts of Service.
- What does your partner do for you, or others, to express love? Most of us naturally give in the language we want to receive.
Some of us, though, are married to people who are very withdrawn or blocked about receiving love. You may not be sure. Or you may assume that he or she wants physical touch because of the call for sex, and you might be wrong. So, if you're not sure, try this simple experiment: Try one love language a week for five weeks, and see what makes your partner light up and love you back.
Love is a Verb
Stephen R. Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, speaks on renewing marriage by saying, "Love is a verb." Dr. Chapman agrees: We renew marriage by acting in genuine, un-self-interested love. Quite simply, we give. And when we do it in the right love language, we renew the love in the relationship very quickly.
#3: Love Your Partner in His or Her Own Love Language
Now it's time for some selfless giving. Fill your partner's love tank to the top in his or her own love language. The book, The Five Love Languages, is really useful here - it has lots of tips on how to try different ways of expressing the languages, and even how to simply ask your partner how he or she likes to be loved.
#4 Teach Your Partner to Love You In Your Love Language
Now, the fun starts. Dr. Chapman tells many stories that show that, once we fill our partner's love tank, they will want to fill ours. This can happen within weeks, or at most, a couple of months. And when it does, we can tell our partner exactly how we want to be loved, because we already know our own love language.
Often, at this point, a partner who showed no interest or criticized the idea becomes cooperative or even enthusiastic. It's amazing what a full love tank will do.
The Way to a Man's Heart is Through His Stomach
My wife quoted the old saw, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" and asked, perhaps, if feeding people might be a sixth love language.
It could be. But here's another way to look at it. Feeding a loved one is a single act that fills your beloved's love tank in all five languages at once:
- The food you prepare is a Gift.
- Sharing the meal is Quality Time.
- Tell him your feeding him because you love him - Words of Affirmation.
- Playfully feed him by hand, or put a hand on his leg under the table - Physical Touch.
- And when you do the dishes - that's an Act of Service if ever there was one!
#5 Enjoy the Renewed Flow of Love
Once you are both filling each others love tanks, things get easy and fun. Kris and I experienced this about a week after we got started. We're a month in, and things slipped a bit due to the Christmas runaround, but we're reading the book together now and learning to love one another better and better.
Dr. Chapman recommends one simple technique that works with just two questions and one action:
Ask: On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is empty and 10 is totally full, "How full is your love tank?"
If the answer is anything less than 10, ask, "How can I make that a 10?"
Do whatever your lover asks of you.
When we keep our partner's love tank full, and they do the same for us, many things we thought were problems or issues just quit seeming so bad. In Dr. Chapman's experience, the couple's sex life naturally rejuvenates itself. Once we feel loved, we stop resenting and resisting, we want to love and to make love. It's that simple. And once we're back in love again, all those little things that built up into arguments or walls of silence just don't seem so important any more.
#6 Face the Big Problems, If There Are Any Left
For some couples - especially those who found the Five Love Languages after only a few years of difficulty - just living the Love Languages is enough.
But for some of us, there will be more work to be done. And sometimes, there are really big challenges.
#7 Keep Filling the Tank
What happens when a couple keeps filling each others love tanks in the right language? It's what we all dream a marriage can be - lasting joy as each person grows in love and confidence.
More Work to Be Done
We may find that old misunderstandings need to be worked out. Dr. Chapman tells one story of a man who tried to love his wife through service. She didn't feel loved, but she thought he liked doing all the cooking and cleaning. When they sorted it out, they switched roles, and she took on many jobs he'd been doing for years.
Some couples - and Kris and I are sorting this out now - got very bitter before we learned how to really reach other with our love. We find two things are useful:
- Go slow, and make it tender. My wife yearns for physical touch, but she isn't always ready for it. So we take it in small doses.
- Healing through forgiveness. To learn more about this, read about The Five Languages of Apology.
Really Big Challenges
In Dr. Chapman's experience, if a person receives sincere love (given with no expectation of return, only care and hope), then he or she will return to love. But what if this doesn't happen? One possibility is that you picked the wrong love language. Another, according to Dr. Chapman, is that your partner has fallen in love with someone else.
Do not panic! That is not the end of the world. Continue to love, Dr. Chapman says, and one of the following will happen:
- Your partner will fall out of love with the other person, and return to you.
- Your partner will leave, but you will have already started your healing process, because you know you've done all you could do.
In these challenging situations, we want to learn to love so that we become loving, not only to fix our marriage or to be loved.
Dr. Chapman shares some inspiring cases of marriages that were renewed even after infidelity. But he does point out that this is a deep betrayal, and it hurts. Recovering will almost certainly require more than living the love language. Genuine repentance, forgiveness, a return to love, and individual and couples counseling are all called for.
There are also other serious issues Dr. Chapman does not talk about as much. Physical abuse is one. Psychological illness, such as depression is another. My sense is that, when such deeper problems are present, a couple will have a lot more strength and patience to deal with them and work them through if they are nourishing themselves and each other by loving each other in the love language their beloved understands best. Please note that I am not recommending that anyone stay in an abusive relationship. I'm also not offering guidelines about what is best if one partner in a marriage has a severe psychological illness. Safety for all involved is paramount, and, in a safe setting, love has restoring power.
Love Languages for Everyone
Some Books by Gary Chapman
The five love languages are universal - so they apply to more than just marriage. Dr. Chapman has books for couples, for husbands, for men and women who are dating, for parents of children, of teens, and of adults. Dr. Chapman is Christian, and most of his clients are, as well. But his methods work for all of us, and his occasional presentation of Christian language is appropriate to his examples and not at all pushy or offensive.
Dr. Chapman is also an anthropologist. The book has been translated into Spanish, and has been very useful for people of different cultures and languages. Because of Dr. Chapman's own background, he does not address the use of the Five Love Languages by gay and lesbian couples. But it seems clear to me that it is likely to work for everyone.
Giving Unconditional Love
I would like to share another perspective on the whole topic of being in love, and the purpose of marriage, and perhaps of life itself.
I agree with Dr. Chapman that, when we are in love, we see the world differently. Everything seems possible.
But does that mean, as Dr. Chapman thinks, that we are delusional?
Or, maybe, when we are in Love, we see the world as it is truly meant to be - as we can make it, if we choose to Love.
Dr. Chapman holds that the primary purpose of marriage is to be loved. And, in as much as he means why most people get married, I would agree.
But I'm going to suggest a deeper purpose. Perhaps we feel wonderful when we are in love not because we are being loved,but because we are loving. That is, perhaps it is our own act of loving that makes us joyful.
If so, then maybe when we "fall in love" we are having a taste of Heaven on Earth, a taste of what this world is meant to be. And when we fall out of love, it's time to get to work and to start bringing Heaven to Earth. If first we love our beloved, and then we love our families, and then we love everyone with unconditional love, I find that we discover endless Love here and now on Earth. This, to me, is what it means to Love as the Divine Loves. And perhaps marriage is a path for awakening this deeper Love in all of us.
If so, then loving our beloved in his or her own love language is both practical and spiritual. it renews our marriage, and moves us forward on our Divine Path as well.
More by this Author
When hurt, it's hard to forgive. In marriage we build walls of silence. To renew intimacy, we must be able to apologize and forgive. Let's learn how . . .