Learning to speak a new (love) language

I recently finished reading Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, a book that is delightful in its simplicity and yet has the potential to be profoundly life-changing. (And as a former language instructor, I immediately appreciated his concept!)

Chapman’s premise about creating “love that lasts” is that every one of us speaks one of five basic love “languages” – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, or Physical Touch. We tend to speak and understand a particular language due to a multitude of reasons, from the general (culture) to the specific (family dynamics, personal experiences), but those reasons are not his focus; rather, he urges us to not only understand our preferred methods of communicating and receiving love (they may not be the same) but also to work toward an understanding of our partner’s methods: what makes him or her feel loved? how does s/he show love?

Chapman reasons that if we think we are loving someone to the utmost of our ability and yet our relationship is struggling, love is getting lost in translation. For example, if you consider giving gifts the way to show love but your partner would prefer that you spend some quality time with him in place of giving him things, he will feel ignored and you will feel your gifts are being slighted.

5 love languages

Until I reached the back pages, I was unaware that Chapman has actually written “Love Language” books for parents of teens, parents of young children, for couples, for singles, etc., but it did strike me immediately that here, perhaps, is an answer to a perpetual question in my life: how is it that I can feel so completely in synch with one child and so completely challenged by another?

I often marvel at how completely different my two children are, and I’ve just as often pondered whether the differences stem from gender (I have a boy and a girl), from birth order, or just from universe-appointed characters/personalities. Do they really share the same gene pool and the same upbringing?

I can often predict how my daughter will act and react, what she’ll do or say in a given situation, how she will interpret something, what will make her laugh or scowl: she is, in a word, my mini-me, something she may well resent in the future but seems okay with for now – it has certainly made early teenage-hood more manageable for both of us! We definitely share the same language, from love language down to our love of terrible puns.

My son often seems like a complete alien to me – I never know what will light him up and what will set him off, what will make him smile and what will bring on a storm. I have a deep suspicion that the dawning ‘tween years are only going to get more difficult unless I find a way to relate to him and make sure that love is not lost in translation.

Thanks to The 5 Love Languages, I do feel a bit better prepared!