Interpreting Love Languages

What is your definition of love?  What actions do you interpret as love?  We all have a “language of love” we have been compiling since early childhood. The ways your parents communicated their love to you….The ways you saw other people communicate love to one another….Even television and movies helped form your “language of love.”

The amazing, yet overlooked, characteristic of “love languages” is that everyone’s is different. What says love to you may not say anything to someone else.  You were wondering why your expectations of love seemed to be on a different wave length than your mate’s?  It could be that you and your mate have completely different “love languages.”

We would like to recommend a book by Rich Buhler that deals at length with this topic, as well as with the difference between love and approval.  A majority of the people who come to us during GTO weekends or for private counseling have huge misunderstandings in these two areas: they don’t know or understand their own or their mate’s “language of love,” and they’ve grown up thinking love equals approval and disapproval equals lack of love.  Rich Buhler’s Love, No Strings Attached delves into these two problems and helps us find solutions.

What is your language of love?  Almost anything can say “I love you” if the motive behind it is actually one of love.  Here are some examples of love languages that Rich says husbands and wives have told him.

Women responded that they appreciated things like the following because they were interpreted as expressions of love.

  • My husband’s bragging about me to friends.
  • His remembering a special day.
  • His calling from work to say “I love you.”
  • His washing the dishes for me.
  • His looking at me across the room at a party.

Men said they appreciated the following because they interpreted them as expressions of love:

  • My wife’s giving me a surprise in my lunch.
  • Her taking interest in my hobbies.
  • Her initiating sex.
  • Her defending my reputation.
  • Her accepting my advice.

Actually, the two most often mentioned responses by women in Rich Buhler’s survey were (1) hugs and kisses and (2) being listened to.  For men also number (1) was hugs and kisses and (2) was unconditional acceptance.

Well, as you can see, the languages of love are many and varied.  So where’s the problem? As we mentioned before, the problem is centered in this simple fact: we don’t know or understand our mates’ love language.  We have had our own language of love for so long, we think everyone else must have the same language as ours.  Not true! Here’s an example from Love, No Strings Attached.

Dan and Sue had come to Rich for marriage counseling.  He first asked Sue how she expressed her love to Dan — what little things did she do to show him she cared? Sue spun a romantic scene in which she would pluck a perfect rose from her garden, put it in a special vase, and place it on his nightstand.  She was telling him, “You’re special; I love you.”

Rich turned to Dan.  “What does this mean to you?”

Dan looked sheepish, “Nothing. I just thought it meant Sue liked flowers. I didn’t know.”

Rich then asked Dan how he expressed his love to Sue.  Dan quietly related that he sometimes felt bad about all the pressures Sue faced as a working wife and mother.  So when she went to bed early or was away for the evening, he would clean the house and do all the dirty laundry.  Sounds great, huh?

But when Rich asked Sue how she felt about that, he was surprised at her reaction.  She told him how capably she had fulfilled her responsibilities as a wife and mother until a few years ago when she had suffered a serious back injury with months of recuperation in traction.  How helpless she had felt, month after month, as her family had learned to live without her!  Now, finally, she was beginning to function normally again — feeling useful and productive by being able to do things around the house like the cleaning and laundry.  To Sue, Dan’s act of love was really an act of thievery — he was stealing her opportunities to feel useful.

Both Sue and Dan were speaking love to each other in their own language instead of in the other’s language.  No wonder they weren’t communicating.  If we spoke German, and you spoke French, we could talk to you all day in German, but you wouldn’t understand most of what we said.  If we really wanted to communicate with you, we would have to speak in your language, not ours.

We, along with Rich, would like to recommend a solution for this problem — an exercise in the language of love.

STEP #1: MAKE YOUR LANGUAGE OF LOVE LISTS. You and your partner must first spend some time alone, putting together two lists.  The first: The Ways I Expect to Receive Love. The second: The Ways I Communicate Love.

STEP # 2: PRIORITIZE YOUR LISTS.  Once your lists are complete — say, 10 to 12 items each — review your own list, ranking the items according to their importance.  We have found for the couples we’ve done this with, that the best way is to divide them into three categories: A, B and C. “A” being the most important, “B” the second most important, and “C” being very nice, but not as important as “A” and “B”.  Each of you categorize your list in this way.

STEP #3: COMPARE LISTS.  Now, sit down with your mate, and compare lists.  How do you think your “Ways I Communicate Love” will stack up to your mate’s “Ways I Expect to Receive Love”?  Some of you already know several of the ways your mate wants to receive love, but did you know that particular way was an “A” and not a “C”?

STEP #4: POST YOUR MATE’S LIST.  Keep each other’s “Ways I Expect to Receive Love” lists and post them somewhere you will notice them consistently.  Work them into your language of love on a regular basis, taking special note of those “A”s.

“It is vital that each of us steps outside our own view of things and realizes that the people we love sometimes see things differently. It is an act of love to take the time to learn another person’s language and to use that knowledge to develop a better relationship.”*  We encourage you to use this exercise to do just that!

*Love, No Strings Attached by Rich Buhler, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987.

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