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Learning to Show Love Effectively: An Essential Step to ‘Cleaving’

By Fr. Dr. Daniel Johnson

A couple of months ago, a young man came to me for counsel. He and his newly married wife had been experiencing some ‘misunderstandings.’ He explained the situation: one evening after he returned home, he noticed that his wife looked a little upset. He asked her the reason, and she said, “I don’t think you love me.” Shocked, he said, “How can you say that? I really love you!” She repeated, “No, I don’t think you love me.”

He became really upset. “If I don’t love you, do you think I would do all these things for you?” And he began listing all the things he was doing for her: the job he’s doing to make money for the family, how hard he works at his job from morning till evening, how he’s been saving up money for future purposes, how he’s bought her new clothes, how he tells her every day that he loves her, and how he encourages her. She didn’t seem to understand.

Frustrated and angry, he stormed out of the house and later came to me for help. I asked him if she had told him why she felt that he did not love her. He said, “I’m not sure.” I told him that she’s probably trying to tell him something – trying to convey ‘how she’d like him to express his love for her.’

“But I do love her, and every day, at least once, I say I love her. Besides, I do all of these things for her,” he protested. “Maybe you are speaking a different ‘love language,'” I remarked.

With a puzzled expression, he asked, “What is a love language?” I replied that all people speak ‘different love languages.’ By that, I mean everyone has a particular way in which they understand emotional love.

Later, I saw him and asked how things were. He said things were good now. He said that on that particular day, he had gone to play a game with his friends while his wife was working hard at cleaning the house. His wife told him that she would have felt ‘loved’ if he had helped her a little in cleaning up the house with her.

Some of you may be thinking, “What on earth is a love language?”

A love language is the way in which you can effectively communicate to someone that you love them. In other words, the other person, whether a spouse or another person, should understand that you do love them indeed by what you say or do.

The Tower of Babel Story

I remember how my Sunday school teacher once explained the story of the ‘Tower of Babel’ when I was young. In this story (found in Genesis 11), people started building a tower in rebellion against God. Their aim was to make a tower so high that it would reach the heavens. God decided to frustrate this plan. Until then, all the peoples of the world spoke only one language and so understood each other perfectly. So, God ‘confused their language so that they did not understand each other!

Imagine the confusion that must have taken place at the building site. Suppose that one worker said, “Bring me a ‘kalam'” (pot in Malayalam), and the other one brought him a ‘pen!’ (kalam means pen in Hindi). The first person hadn’t realized that he was speaking Malayalam, and the other one, Hindi! Or when one said, “I need ‘chor'” (rice in Malayalam), the other one would panic and start running in search of the thief (chor means ‘thief’ in Hindi).

There would be utter confusion; soon, verbal fights would ensue; then fistfights – all because what one person said, the other person could not understand. Finally, the project was left unfinished, and people scattered all over the world according to their language groups.

This is a good picture of what happens in most families. The wife speaks one ‘love language,’ and the husband speaks another one! Since one does not understand another, there is sure to be frustration, misunderstandings, and fights. The wife will think of the husband as unkind, uncaring, and unloving, while the husband will think of the wife as rebellious, lazy, possessive, and unloving, while both are trying hard to communicate love.

But before we move on, I need to clarify a common misunderstanding.

Love is Not a Feeling Alone

A lot of times, subconsciously we think that ‘love has everything to do with feelings.’ While that may be partially true, that is not a full picture.

Think about this picture: A young girl has just become a mother, and her baby is 3 or 4 months old. In the middle of the night at 1 am, the child starts to wiggle in sleep and then starts to cry. The mother is tired, worn out, and had just fallen into a deep sleep. Yet she wakes up hearing the cry. She knows that the baby is not hungry because she just fed the baby half an hour ago. She realizes that the baby needs a diaper or nappy change. What would a normal loving mother do? Everyone knows the answer – no matter how tired she is, she will get up and change the diaper, clean the baby, and only then go back to sleep, again only for another couple of hours until the baby wakes up crying for milk.

Think with me; at that particular time when the baby is crying – does the mother have ‘loving feelings’ for her baby? I don’t think so! Her body tells her she needs rest. But despite what she ‘feels,’ she will take care of the baby. Now THAT is love.

Love is not all about feeling, but about ‘doing’ and ‘saying’ things to make the other person feel loved, even if you do not have any ‘feeling’ of love at that time. Love is most of the time a choice, a choice to do the right thing even if you don’t ‘feel’ like doing it. This is important to understand as we move on with this topic.

My Experiment with Love Languages

Years ago, while still a teenager living at home with my mother, I used to get into serious conflicts with my mother. You see, I was her only son, and my father had died when I was small. So that just left the two of us in our home (similar to a lot of nuclear families nowadays), and more often than not, we got into verbal fights.

However, as Jesus started to change my life, I wanted my mother to know that I loved her. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t manage to do that. That’s when I read a book called ‘The 5 Love Languages’ by a well-known author and marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman. After almost 30 years of experience, he had concluded that everyone speaks a ‘love language.’ Learn to speak and understand your mate’s love language, and in no time, you will be able to effectively love and truly feel loved in return. From personal experience, I can tell you it works, not just with our marriage partners, but even with others – for me, it was with my mother!

You must be curious to know what these 5 are. They are:

1. Words of affirmation

2. Quality time

3. Receiving gifts

4. Acts of service

5. Physical touch

In one line each, let me tell you what they mean. Some of us feel good and loved when someone tells encouraging words to us; if that’s you, then probably ‘Words of affirmation’ is your love language. Some of us feel loved when our spouse spends quality time with us, alone, without any distractions – giving us undivided attention, to listen to us or just to be there. That is the language of ‘Quality time.’ Although all of us like to receive gifts, some of us feel especially loved and cared for when we receive something – need not be an expensive or big thing, but something ‘thoughtful.’ Chances are that your love language is ‘Receiving gifts.’ If you are someone who’d like your spouse to ‘help’ you in things you’re doing, then you probably have the 4th one mentioned – Acts of service. However, there are among us, spouses who love to be touched – I am referring to ‘non-sexual’ touch; like holding hands, gently touching, and maybe even standing side by side. To some of us, ‘Physical touch’ communicates that our spouse loves us.

Back to our couple.

In the story of the couple I told at the beginning of the article, the wife was probably speaking the language of ‘Acts of service.’ That was her primary love language. That was why she was telling her husband that she would feel loved if he ‘helped’ her at least a little with the household work.

On the other hand, the husband was probably speaking the language of ‘Words of affirmation.’ That is why he was telling that he says every day ‘that he loves her,’ and that’s probably why he says all sorts of good things about her.

You see, the basic problem is that, without noticing, each of them was speaking their own love languages to the other! This is because we assume that our spouse also speaks the same love language as we do. So, we try to express love to them the way ‘we would like it to be.’ But that may be like speaking Malayalam to an African man!

But if you and I were to understand our spouses and put in an effort to speak their love language, I can assure you there would be dramatic changes in our marriages.

Here is what you can do. In the days coming ahead, try to understand what your love language is. You may find that you have more than one; sometimes you do have one primary and some others as secondary. But more importantly, think back and look to find the love language of your spouse. Observe them. What do they like for you to do? Your past history would serve as a good pointer. Ask if necessary.

If you find out, great. If you’re confused, don’t worry. We’ll soon discuss each love language a little more in detail.

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