I recently read the book The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, and its theory has been pressing on my mind ever since. I think it's true! I learned what my love language is (actually, I'm bilingual, speaking and understanding two love languages equally), and I learned what my husband's love language is--and that was a bit of a surprise!
The premise is this: We give and receive love differently. What feels like love to one person, does not to another. If you feel love in one way, and give it in the same, but to a person who receives love differently, it's as if you are literally speaking a different language. It can lead to many misunderstandings in a marriage relationship, where you have one spouse saying, "I just don't feel loved!" while the other spouse sits aghast, saying, "How can you not feel loved when I do (fill in the blank here)?" Simple. Different love language. Learning to speak your partner's love language can be as tricky as learning another spoken language. It might even feel unnatural at first, requiring conscious effort. But when you see the results of your partner's emotional love tank filling up, the rewards can be immeasurable, and returned to you ten-fold.
The five languages are these:
Words of Affirmation: you know, like praise, verbal encouragement, notes of adoration, love letters.
Physical Touch: this would be signs of physical affection, hugs, kisses, sex, massages, foot rubs.
Acts of Service: From a woman's perspective, a man helping around the house, pitching in without being asked, lightening a load. From a man's point of view, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. A woman who serves him.
Receiving Gifts: this is the person who loves a present. Small or large, wrapped or unwrapped, surprise or planned, give them a gift and they feel loved.
Quality Time: they just want a piece of you. A moment alone, just for them. A vacation, a walk after dinner, date night, just time to talk.
Now, we all like all of these, of course, but one (and sometimes two) are understood the loudest as our primary love language. (There are tests in the book for you and your spouse to take to determine what languages you each speak.) It's very interesting, actually. And while it revealed much to me about my relationship with my husband, as well as how I best feel loved and why, lately I've been transferring this theory to my relationships with my children as well.
I know the author has written a Love Language book for kids (and teens, in another volume), but I think I can pretty well figure out my children just from what I learned in the original book. And here's the funny thing:
They each speak different love languages!
Of course they do. Who said parenting was ever easy, right? But knowing this gives me a great advantage. Parents usually love their children in their (the parent's) love language because it is most familiar to them. I have one child who speaks my love language, so that child has a very full emotional "love tank". But with my other kids, I needed to listen more to their cues, and that, the author suggests, is a big, loud, screaming hint into the love language of others. Listen to what they ask for and what they complain about. (Same thing in marriage: if there is one theme that you usually are complaining about, odds are it has something to do with a love language that is not being spoken.)
I have one child whose love language is Quality Time. You know how I know? This child always wants to go on dates with me. I mean, this is something I do with all of my children, but this one child regularly reminds me, and is always looking forward to the next date. This child also is always the one who asks if I will play a game, read a story, or go on a walk. It doesn't matter where I'm going, this child wants to come with me.
I have another child, who I used to think was just a selfish, money-hungry, greedy child (kidding), but now I realize that this child's love language is Receiving Gifts. It can be a pack of gum or a video game or a bike. It almost doesn't matter what the gift costs, as long as it's a gift. This one is harder for me because Receiving Gifts is not my love language. In fact out of the five languages, it ranked last when I took the test. I love getting gifts, of course, and especially thoughtful gifts, but it is not how I feel loved.
I have another child, who, like me, speaks a primary love language of Words of Encouragement. The little love notes I stick in the kids' lunches every single day (easy for me, since it's my love language, so it feels natural to express love this way) mean the most to this child. The emails/letters/cards I send whenever the kids are away at their dad's are most appreciated by this child. Another tipoff here was that this is how this child most often expresses love to me, and we of course, do what feels natural to us.
Even the baby, though he's still young, has expressed signs of what his love language will be. I believe he's another Quality Time. He most often requests, "Snuggle me, Mom", and his second request is "Play with me, Mom?" Board games, Legos, Play-Doh, or coloring, he just wants me doing it with him.
Because three of my children speak love languages other than my own, it takes a bit of coordinating, and conscious effort to be sure that I learn to be fluent in the way that they will most feel love from me. I can plan little gifts and surprises for one, and outings and dates with another, while still expressing love in other ways too. And that's what I'm working out, while half of my kids are still gone. What can I do to make them feel so incredibly loved when they get home? It can be so frustrating to feel like nobody speaks your love language, that you need love in a way that you are not getting it. When that happens, we go looking for our love in different places.
So for my Quality Time child: I plan to bring this child with me on errands whenever possible. This child likes to go on my walks with me too. I also plan to have a dinner date before school starts to set new goals and talk about the upcoming year. Another idea I had was to keep this child up a bit later than bedtime to sit downstairs with me and have a bowl of cereal, just to talk.
For my Receiving Gifts child: I will reward more with tokens of love, rather than just words. A few bucks for extra jobs around the house, a pack of gum or a bag of chips just because, a little treat wrapped and left on the pillow with a note of love. His own pint of Ben and Jerry's when I go to the store.
For my Words of Encouragement child: Regular emails just because, expressing my love and appreciation and admiration. Periodic cards that I picked out especially with this child in mind, with a loving message written inside. Public praise of good works and a job well done, a note left in a backpack or on a pillow.
It takes some effort, but the best investment of my time as a parent is learning to speak the languages of my children's hearts. I believe that when their love tanks are empty, nothing I say matters, but when love tanks are full, everything I say does. I want them, especially now during these teen and preteen years, to feel the love that I have for them so that they will not go looking for love and acceptance in unhealthy or dangerous ways. If they know that I am willing to love them in the way that they understand and need, then they are more likely to trust me in other areas as well.
And of course, the loving is always good for the one giving the love too.
(p.s.--In case you were wondering, my second primary love language after Words of Affirmation, is Acts of Service, with Physical Touch being my secondary language.)