Monday, October 30, 2006

Love Languages

Emily posted recently about Love Languages, specifically referencing Gary Chapman’s book. In recent years, I’ve had numerous conversations with Molly on that topic, and also several e-mail conversations, with FTN among others, in recent months.

Molly and I were discussing it the other night, and we came to an interesting conclusion, I think. As with all communication, there is both the sending and the receiving of messages in our ‘love-languages’. Thus, the wise lover needs to know his spouse’s love-language in both its sending and receiving modes.

That is, he needs to know what his spouse’s love-language is, (a) so he can speak it to her, but also (b) so that, when she speaks it to him, he can recognize and understand what she’s ‘saying’ to him. If I speak English, say, and Molly speaks Chinese (a not-entirely-inapt comparison), I need to understand Chinese so I can speak it to Molly, but also so that, when she speaks Chinese to me, I can understand what she’s saying. If I can speak Chinese to her, but can't understand when she speaks it to me, my understanding of Chinese is incomplete, at best.

Many years ago, there was a joint space mission between the US and the Soviet Union; in order to solve the 'communications problem', whenever the two crews were together, the Americans spoke Russian, and the Soviets spoke English. That kept things on a simple enough level; by placing the burden on the 'speakers', the strategy biased things in favor of the 'hearers' of the message. And, I suppose, that is similar to what we want to be doing with 'love-languages' - sending our love-messages in a language that we ourselves might speak imperfectly, but which the 'receivers' of our messages will easily understand. .

Alas, egocentric creatures that we are, we all tend to operate out of our own love-languages in both the sending and receiving modes. My love-language is ‘physical touch’; Molly’s is ‘acts of service’. Thus, my tendency is to express my love for Molly in lots of physical affection, but she’s inclined to receive love more easily if I give it to her by, say, sweeping the kitchen floor. Likewise, she shows her love for me by cooking for me and doing my laundry, whereas I would most easily recognize her love if she would initiate some steamy sex. So both of us have a ‘double-challenge’ – I need to learn how to give her ‘acts of service’, realizing that that’s how she’ll most easily receive the message, “I love you” from me, but it’s also extremely helpful if I understand that the cooking, cleaning, etc, that she does for me is directly expressing her love for me. Conversely, Molly needs to learn to give me the ‘physical’ messages that I easily understand, but it’s also helpful for her to recognize that the ‘physical’ messages I send her are a way that I show my love to her. We need to be sort of ‘bi-directionally bilingual’.

We can fail to communicate love in either way – by failing (or refusing) to ‘send’ messages to our spouse in the language they understand, or by failing to understand the messages our spouse sends us in their own language.

We have two friend-couples who illustrate the two sides of this. In Couple A, the husband’s ‘love-language’ is ‘words of affirmation’, but his wife is a fairly reticent woman, who, when she and her husband went through the book and he told her how he’d like her to treat him, said, “I can’t do that; it’s not natural for me.” So, she fails (refuses, really) to send her love-messages to her husband, because she won’t learn to speak his ‘language’. In Couple B, the husband loves to give his wife gifts – throw her elaborate parties, take her on exotic vacations, etc – but his wife wants no part of it, and is vocally critical of the waste of time, money, etc. So, while he is sending out love-messages in his own ‘love-language’, he might as well be speaking Swahili, because she doesn’t ‘get it’. (Now, I’m not meaning to imply here that these ‘failures to communicate’ are always the wife’s fault; those are just the two examples that came up in our conversation. I’m sure that the failures are sufficiently reciprocal; or, if anything, that men are more clueless than women – that would hardly be surprising, would it?)

So, at the end of the day, my point is this: when we learn about the concept of ‘love-languages’, it’s easy to complain that “my spouse can’t/won’t speak my love-language”; but we can mitigate the problem, at least to some extent, by recognizing our spouse’s love-language when they speak it to us. Even if it’s not the ‘language’ we prefer to hear. It’s nice to hear “I love you” in Italian or French, but if our spouse says it to us in German or Russian, it helps if we can understand what she’s saying.

And even Germans and Russians can figure out how to be happily married, can't they?


And, in a couple days, I'm sure I'll be able to step back and appreciate the wonderful season my Tigers had. But, for cryin' out loud - HOW FREAKIN' HARD IS IT TO THROW THE DAMN BALL TO THIRD BASE?!?

OK, I'm better now. . . I think. . .check back with me in a couple days. . .



Anonymous said...

i'm randomly reading your blog Desmond, as always very insightful yet again. I speak Swahili by the way. It's not that hard. Really.

Desmond Jones said...

Anonymous - Thanks. And, just for fun, how do say 'I love you' in Swahili?