I Just Called To Say…I Did The Dishes

Dirty Dishes
Image by elston via Flickr

Which is your “love language” — words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time or physical touch?

Interesting piece in The New York Times about The Five Love Languages, a best-selling book that’s sold 7.2 million copies in North America and been translated into 40 languages:

“Each of us has a primary love language,” Dr. Chapman said, and often secondary or tertiary ones. To help identify your language, he recommended focusing on the way you most frequently express love. What you give is often what you crave. Challenges in relationships arise because people tend to be attracted to their opposites, he said. “In a marriage, almost never do a husband and wife have the same language. The key is we have to learn to speak the language of the other person.”

I read this book a while ago and think it’s an interesting argument. My husband grew up in a family whose behaviors were profoundly different from mine — and in many ways much healthier and happier. The only son, and the youngest, of a Hispanic family, a surprise baby who arrived to a 49-year-old mother and a preacher father, he grew up secure in their love.

My mother, who has suffered bi-polar illness for decades, sent me to boarding school and summer camp when I was 8, places that offered physical and emotional security, (all good) but which left me wondering why she didn’t want me around. In our family, love showed up as stuff: great clothes, jewelry, material objects. No one was, or still is, very good at saying “I love you” or hugging. Entire years have gone by between visits to either one of my parents and acts of service? Hah!

So it’s been an interesting experience being with a man who is (thank you!) extremely generous with gifts, but whose primary love language is verbal, words of affirmation. Not a day goes by without him saying “I love you” several times, for which I’m deeply grateful.

Because I still can’t say it easily, and rarely do.

But he knows I love him deeply.

Because…I clean house. I detail the car. I buy groceries and cook delicious meals. I make our home as lovely as I possibly can so that when he walks in the door after a 12-hour absence he feels welcomed and valued.

My primary “love language” is different from his. Given my own emotional matrix and upbringing, and ongoing ways of relating to my parents, it’s tough to completely shift gears in this respect. My father is not a huggy, verbal guy when it comes to showing affection, but does come to visit us whenever he can and that helps. He recently spent two days with us and we finally talked about some stuff we’ve never even discussed, a bold and scary step for both of us.

This difference in emotional style is very common amongst married and committed couples — and a frequent cause of conflict — but knowing it and talking about it openly can make a real difference. It has for us, certainly.

How does this play out in your relationships or marriage?

9 thoughts on “I Just Called To Say…I Did The Dishes

  1. My husband and I reflect the difference in love language. His is the work ethic, providing as best he can for his family. Mine is similar, but I come from a demonstrative family that finds it easy to say, “I love you”.
    We married when we were both 57, after previous marriages broke down, having known each other as teenagers but not seeing each other for 36 years.
    He tells me that I have taught him to express himself. He can now even tell his children that he loves them, where he wasn’t able to do so before. And he has given me a confidence in myself and my abilities that I have never had before.
    We complete each other and it is great!

    1. It’s especially impressive to me that we can change our styles late(r) in life. My Dad, at 82, is dating a woman who is very devoted to her two adult kids and very expressive about this to them in word and deed. I see (and am grateful for) her influence in this respect.

      How nice you found one another!

  2. That’s an interesting idea. My parents have completely different styles of showing affection. I’m much more like my mum. My dad can’t express things in words, but he’s thoughtful and consistent. My boyfriend shows love in a lot of ways, but mostly in the little services – bringing me a hot water bottle when we meet up because he knows I will be cold, surprising me with home-made gingerbread for which he googled the recipe after taking note of me craving it the week before.. He says I’ve helped him expres things in words too. I’ve learnt that love doesn’t have to be expressed in words. I didn’t think that before.

    1. He sounds like a keeper!

      It’s the most obvious and expected way to express love, but I think the words are often overused while the alternate ways overlooked or even dismissed because they are non-verbal.

  3. Wow, I can totally relate to the love language you were brought up in, because that is basically my family. We don’t talk about what’s bothering us, if we do we make fun of each other, and we never say “I love you.” My fiancee is the polar opposite and comes from a very touchy-feely family who say they love each other often and hug just as often. It’s nice to have that kind of balance and to have the person you love to be so loving, because it kind of helps us to slowly become that way, or at least try to.

  4. Makes me feel better! 🙂

    I am now a bit better about expressing my love, although still not verbally a lot. It’s very helpful and healing to find and enjoy a husband who really “gets” you even if you behave so differently in this respect…and to learn their style. Congrats on your engagement.

  5. How interesting! I hadn’t really thought about this before. I think that after more than 25 years of being together, my husband and I have each become more like the other in how we express our love. I’ve learned that not everything has to be put into words! My husband is definitely one who expresses love through service and actions – for example, he loves to cook for us and for other people. I am more inclined to hugs than he is, but he always returns mine! And keeping in touch throughout the day even in little ways is so important. Thanks for your like on my Winter Sights in Aberdeen post, by the way!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s