The thrill of romance fills the air every Valentine’s Day. While everyone should experience the excitement of being in love in his or her life, love itself is not a seasonal event, but a lifelong undertaking requiring much effort from two people to make it last.
I have many friends whose marriages have lasted for many years, and some who were happily married until their spouses died. But I have also seen a number of broken marriages among my contemporaries. Men hardly ever discuss the state of their marriage with their friends, but listening to isolated comments from both men and women friends, I have gathered some clues on what has made them happy husbands and wives.
“When I wake up in the morning, breakfast is ready, and my office clothes for the day are all laid out neatly.”
“We make it a point to go out of town or check into a hotel to celebrate our wedding anniversary.”
“He always thinks of something unusual to give me on my birthday, and I’m always looking forward to that.”
“Whenever I ask her for anything, she asks the maid to do it.”
“I don’t understand why we have to visit her parents every weekend.”
“He never calls when he’s on a trip. And I’ve gotten used to his forgetting our wedding anniversary.” (This one reminded me of the lyrics “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.”)
I subconsciously filed these and other random comments in my mind, perhaps in an effort to help navigate my own ongoing relationship at the time. But somehow I couldn’t put them together to come up with some sort of “unified theory” on what made love relationships endure and prosper. Although many books have been written on the subject, the bottomline seemed to boil down to a couple’s compatibility or incompatibility.
This was my simplistic conclusion until I read Gary Chapman’s now classic bestseller, “The 5 Love Languages—The Secret to Love that Lasts.” This is one book I can recommend without hesitation to couples who want to keep their relationship glowing and growing. As the description puts it, “This is a book about saying it—and hearing it—clearly. No gimmicks. No psychoanalyzing. Just learning to express love in your spouse’s language.”
A world-famous marriage counselor known for his practical approach, Dr. Chapman has a major premise: People speak different love languages. In linguistics, we grew up learning the language of our parents. This is our primary language which we understand, speak and are most comfortable with. If we meet someone who speaks a different language, we cannot communicate effectively unless we learn that person’s language.It is no different in the area of love. Dr. Chapman says that our emotional love language and that of our partner may be as different as Chinese is from English. No matter how hard we try to express our love in English, if our spouse speaks only Chinese, we will never understand each other.
After many years of marriage counseling, Dr. Chapman has concluded that there are five emotional love languages. And just as there are numerous dialects in each major spoken language, there are also many ways to express our love in each love language, limited only by our imagination.
Being in love vs real love
But first we have to distinguish between “being in love” and real love. Being in love is that euphoric state where everything seems perfect, where we see only the best traits of our lover, a state we think will last forever. According to Chapman, a study conducted among scores of couples showed that the average life span of a romantic obsession was two years before reality set in. He claims that our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love, but to love and to be genuinely loved by another. Real love grows out of reason and choice, not instinct, and this requires effort and discipline.
This is where the five love languages come in—how we express our love, and how we receive our partner’s expressions of his love. One of these is our primary love language (with my personal comments and examples):
Words of affirmation. Its strongest expression is in the three simple words, “I love you.” But more than this, sincere compliments (“You look very lovely in that dress”), words of encouragement (“You’ve got the talent. Go for it”), kind words and words of forgiveness are its many dialects.
Quality time. Setting aside a special time for the two of you, and giving undivided attention to your loved one, is the hallmark of this love language. (“We take a leisurely walk around the village, just the two of us, at least twice a week.”)
Receiving gifts. Gifts are visual symbols of love, and are usually appreciated, not for their intrinsic value, but for the thoughtfulness behind them. But according to the author, the most important gift is the gift of self—your presence when it is needed or wanted most by your spouse. (“He stayed all day and all night in the waiting room until I finally gave birth to our baby.”)
Acts of service. This means doing things you know will please your spouse. (“He drove me to the supermarket even if he was running late for his golf game.”)
Physical touch. This is a simple but powerful way of expressing affection, not only among couples, but for everyone—babies, children, parents, siblings and friends. It is heartwarming for me to see young, middle-aged and elderly couples holding hands as they stroll around the mall or a park.
It is more exciting to fall in love, and much harder, but ultimately more fulfilling, to make real love last a lifetime.—CONTRIBUTED INQ