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?