“WHAT DOES IT TAKE to play football?” he asked. Then he proceeded to answer his own question. “A strong body, a brain, and a lot of hard work. But what bothers me is ‘relationships.’ This is much more difficult than anything I ever experienced playing football.”1
Counselor Chapman looked across the desk with sympathy at the troubled young man and was impressed that Brian2 indeed had a lot going for him. He was good-looking, had been a successful student and athlete in college, and was now doing well in his chosen career. He wanted to be married and have a home and family of his own, but for some reason his attempts at becoming involved in a relationship with any young woman seemed to fall flat.
Brian had been raised in a home that included an alcoholic father and a depressed, tired mother. He couldn’t recall any words of love, praise, and appreciation expressed to him by his parents. In fact, even now, remembering some of their critical, condemning words brought him to tears.
“Gentle words are a tree of life.”3
Words of Affirmation is the first of the five basic love languages Gary Chapman writes about in his book The 5 Love Languages, Singles Edition. According to Chapman, “For some, this is already their native tongue. They grew up in a positive linguistic environment, hearing many affirming words from their earliest childhood. These are the people who are known in their social circle as encouragers. They are constantly affirming, encouraging, and expressing words of appreciation to others.”4
For those like Brian, who were not so fortunate in their childhood environment, learning how and when to be affirmative, especially on a personal level, while also unlearning ingrained critical and negative responses takes time, guided effort, and practice.
The first assignment given Brian by Chapman was to take the initiative of reaching out to his parents. This he did, timidly at first and then over time with more confidence. During weekly phone conversations he repeatedly expressed his appreciation, love, and care for them. Ultimately his efforts were rewarded with an amazing healing transformation in the relationship between him and his parents. His new ability and comfort with sharing affirmation spilled over into his relationships at work and in his personal life with very positive results.
“For it is in giving that we receive.”5
Gift Giving is the second on the list of the five basic love languages, and it is one of the fundamental universal languages of love, according to Chapman. “A gift is a tangible object that says, ‘I was thinking about you and wanted you to have this. I love you and care about you.’”6
Beth volunteered to help Julie, an elderly woman, settle into a one-bedroom apartment after moving from her two-story home of many years. Julie’s new apartment was now filled with many unpacked boxes and furniture, way too much of both for the small living space available. Beth was eager to help Julie sort and get rid of as many things as possible. As they worked together unwrapping countless trinkets, decorative items, and boxes of memorabilia, Beth began to change her “get rid of stuff” attitude as she saw how Julie delightedly exclaimed over many of her keepsakes. In each item she saw with joy the faces of the givers and experienced anew their expressions of love.
For those who did not grow up in a home atmosphere where gift-giving and receiving was the norm, learning this language may be a challenge and require effort to understand and practice. “Fortunately, gift-giving is one of the easiest love languages to learn,” says Chapman. “It just requires listening to people and picking up on their interests and needs.”7
“Just as I have done, you also must do.”8
Acts of Service is number three on the list of love languages. “Helping others is universally accepted as an expression of love,” explains Chapman.9 Service given from a desire to help others is seen in a number of professions, such as medical work, teaching, caregiving, mission work, and volunteering.
Jeff had the reputation of being able to fix just about anything. Whenever retirees, a single person, or just about any church member got stuck with broken equipment at home, electronic malfunctions, computer difficulties, or something not right with their vehicle, it was Jeff they would call for help. He was always ready and happy to lend a hand no matter what or when the need.
Jesus presented us with the best example of caring service when, in the absence of the appropriate servant, He stooped to wash His disciples’ dusty feet. After doing so, He encouraged all of them (and us) to follow His example and offer loving service to others. Life presents many opportunities to be of help to those who truly need it. For those whose love language is providing acts of service, jumping in when a need arises is a ready response.
“My favorite place in all the world is next to you.”10
Quality Time is the fourth in the list of love languages. Chapman points out, “As humans, we have a fundamental desire to connect with others.”11 Roadblocks to quality time between couples and family members can include a lack of conversational skills, work overload, frequent travel appointments for one partner, and the big one—electronic devices. Families may be spending more time together but engaging in less interaction with one another, thus being alone together.
Sarah was raised in a home in which there was very little conversation shared between family members. Not only did she spend much of her childhood alone, but she continued to keep to herself in high school and college and focused mainly on academic achievements. Her choice of a career as a certified public accountant (CPA) further provided her much time alone. It is no wonder that her lack of communication skills was a constant source of frustration and cost her close friendships and meaningful relationships. Sarah needed counseling to help her connect with her emotions and be able to express thoughts, opinions, and dreams with others.
Besides conversing with people, quality time includes quality listening, with the goal of helping others feel valued, understood, and loved. According to Chapman, listening skills include the following components:
1. Maintaining eye contact when listening to someone.
2. Not engaging in other activities while listening.
3. Listening for feelings and affirming those feelings.
4. Observing body language.
5. Not interrupting, especially to interject one’s own ideas.
6. Asking reflective questions.
7. Expressing understanding.
8. Asking if there is something one might do to be helpful.
9. Never giving advice unless the other person requests it.12
In today’s society the pervasive presence of electronic devices has in many ways diminished that nurturing connecting of heart to heart through face-to-face verbal sharing of emotions, thoughts, desires, and joy and participation in enjoyable experiences together as couples, family members, and friends.
“Touch seems to be as essential as sunlight.”13
Physical Touch is the fifth love language. According to Chapman, “Tender, affirming physical touch is a fundamental language of love.”14 We need human touch right from birth in order to stimulate survival, well-being, weight gain, and physiological development. Very young orphan children who are starved for human touch can fail to grow to their height potential and often develop behavioral and social problems. Elderly adults, especially in care facilities, can experience debilitating depression that can lead to physical symptoms when they are devoid of nurturing social interaction and expressions of caring through physical touch.
Marti admitted during a counseling session that she was not a “touchy-feely” person. In fact, she didn’t especially enjoy people hugging her. She grew up in a family in which love was shared by the members, but without much touching. Her personal relationship with a young man was not progressing well because of this issue. His primary language of love was physical touch. Marti’s was words of affirmation.
To learn this particular love language, Marti was instructed to begin with her parents by giving them a hug each time she saw them for the next two months. The process was quite awkward and strange for all three of them at first. However, over time the family became more and more comfortable with this new way of showing affection and love. Marti didn’t have to change who she was; she just needed to learn to feel comfortable with a new way of expressing her love and care for others.
God is all about compassion and love. He made us with the capacity to experience and benefit from love, as well as to share it with others. We may not value or truly appreciate the love languages of others because our own style may be completely different. However, learning to understand and then effectively communicate with the people in our lives is key to meaningful relationships. We can partner with heavenly agencies in sharing encouragement, faith, comfort, joy, and love.
Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages, Singles Edition (Northfield Publishing, 2017), chapters 1-7.
1 Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages, Singles Edition (Northfield Publishing, 2017), p. 31.
2 Most names have been changed.
3 Proverbs 15:4, NLT.
4 Chapman, p. 38.
5 Francis of Assisi.
6 Chapman, p. 58.
7 Ibid., pp. 60, 61.
8 Ibid., pp. 60, 61.
9 Chapman, p. 73.
10 Charlotte Eriksson, a Swedish author of poetry, prose, and stories.
11 Chapman, p. 88.
12 Ibid., pp. 92-94.
13 Diane Ackerman, an American-born poet, essayist, and naturalist.
14 Chapman, p. 99.