Monday, February 8, 2016

Saying I Love You

When I was in high school I was part of a youth ministry group that met once a month in different parts of the state. I usually didn't do the driving. In fact most of the time the driving was done by the man who would later become my husband. As my mom would drop me off at the pickup point, her last words would always be, "Drive safely! Call me when you get there!!"

We'd set off on our adventures, listening to music, cracking jokes, and buying out gas stations of all their junk food. When we'd arrive at our destination it was all hugs and laughter as we got reacquainted with friends we hadn't seen in a month. As we'd sit down to get ready for business, one of the adults would ask, "Did you all call your parents?" and we'd all roll our eyes and get up to go do so.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that "Drive safely. Call me when you get there." was my mom's way of saying "I love you."

Have you seen "The Princess Bride?" (If you haven't, I'm not sure we can be friends any more.) Westley is frequently seen telling Buttercup "As you wish." There's a scene near the beginning when the narrator explains that "as you wish" really means "I love you."

There are lots of ways to say I love you to someone. Obviously those specific words will get the point across rather nicely, but often we use other ways to express our love to others and sometimes those ways don't always translate well.

Maybe it's because you don't know your love language or the love language of those you love. Not only do we all express love in different ways, we interpret love in different ways. It's important that those with whom we are most intimate hear and understand our expressions of love in order for our relationships to be wholly fulfilling.

Often when I'm out shopping, I'll see something that reminds me of Ken. I used to buy him little trinkets when I was out, to deliver to him later. Sometimes if I didn't have the money, I'd just snap a picture and text it to him. I was always so excited to see his reaction when he would receive my little tokens (or pictures of them). And usually, his response was underwhelming. He didn't seem anywhere near as full of joy as I had felt when finding these items. I was telling him I loved him, and he wasn't hearing me.

On the other hand, my first teaching job coincided very closely with me becoming a mother. I spent more than eight years in different classrooms and had three kids of my own in that time. I spent my days surrounded by children, only to bring a few of them home with me to continue caring for. I would be standing in the kitchen making dinner and Ken would get home from work. He would wrap his arms around me from behind and kiss my neck. And I would cringe. I hated it. I hated cringing. And I hated hurting Ken. To me, it was just another set of hands on me after a full day of little hands touching me. But to him, it was an expression of love.

Then I had an inspiration that helped us both to work out these issues (that we really didn't even recognize as issues). I read something about love languages and took an online test. I discovered something about myself that I already intrinsically knew, but had never verbalized. Then I had Ken take the test and he had a similar realization. Putting our "aha" moments together we realized that we were not speaking the same languages when it came to love.

According to Gary Chapman, there are five basic ways that we express love emotionally. Each person has one specific way in which they naturally express love, AND in which they prefer to receive love. It's important to know how you naturally express and receive love so that you can recognize it. It is equally important to understand how your partner gives and receives love so that you can reciprocate. It turns out that Ken and I were not both set on annoying each other, we just needed some translation to help us get our messages across.

When we took the test, we learned that our love language preferences are exact inverses of each other. That means that my most natural way of expressing love is ranked lowest for him and vice versa for me. We were both expressing love to one another, but we weren't hearing it in the way it was intended.

The Five Love Languages

Receiving gifts-

I'm not a gold digger by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a very sentimental person. Little trinkets always bring back huge memories for me and I have a hard time parting with those types of things. It is for that reason that I would often buy little trinkets for Ken while I was out and about. Those trinkets triggered specific memories for me and I hoped they would do the same for him. It was also my way of letting him know that he was on my mind when we were apart.


Act of service-

It's hard for a lot of people to ask for help, and I'm no different there. However, if someone does something for me, it means a lot. Again, these don't need to be big, sweeping actions; just small things that free up space or time for me. When Henry learned that setting the table with dishes from the dishwasher saved him time, I was excited because it also meant less work for me. When my students at work get the mail or deliver papers from the printer without being asked, I appreciate it doubly.

Words of affirmation-

This falls in the middle for both Ken and me. It's not something we tend to do or need very often. Words of affirmation are very important to some people though, and it's important to know which of the important people in your life need a few extra "you go girl"s on a regular basis. Do you know someone who really glows when you compliment their outfit, or quote them back to themselves? Those people thrive on words of affirmation and really appreciate it when you notice and comment on something they've done well.

Quality time-

Sometimes in the evening, Ken wants to just snuggle on the couch. I'll be honest, I get a little antsy just sitting there doing nothing, but that's what he needs. Just to spend time together in silence, or talking about nothing in particular. It's important to make eye contact and not try to multi-task when you spend time with someone who especially values quality time.

Physical touch-

This was the hardest thing for me to realize when Ken and I took our test. All those times I was irritated with him for coming up behind me? I finally recognized them as his way of reconnecting after a day apart. He wasn't trying to annoy me, he was trying to tell me he loves me.

Coming to terms with the fact that our love languages were so opposite of one another's was both difficult and empowering. Ken now recognizes my trinkets as thoughts of love. He may not "get" the whole reason I bought it, but now he understands the love behind the gift. He's also started picking up little things for me when he's out. For example, when he makes a late night run to the grocery store for milk, he often comes back with Reece's peanut butter cups for me. It's not a big thing, but I know he was thinking of me while he was out.

I now make an extra effort to put down all my devices and really connect with Ken in the evenings after dinner. I go out of my way to hold my hugs a little longer and a little tighter because that's how he hears "I love you" from me. And I've learned to anticipate and enjoy the sneaky hugs I get while making dinner.

I imagine there are some couples who find this easy because their love languages are so similar. I have this type of reciprocity with a few friends who naturally give and receive love in the same ways that I do. It may make the relationship seem easier in some ways, but it doesn't mean that opposite love languages are a bad thing. It just means you have to put in a little extra effort to get your message across.

If you've never heard of love languages before, take a minute to go take this test (it'll open in a new tab for you). If your spouse or significant other is around, have him/her take the test too. Incidentally, I mostly had romantic love in mind when I wrote this post, but there's a quiz for kids too. If you want to make sure that your kids "hear" you, you might want to have them take the quiz too.

If you want some more Romance themed posts, check these out:

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