Tirah and I are big fans of Gary Chapman's book: "The Five Love Languages." Tirah recently did a summary of the five love languages in this blog. For the sake of review they are: 1. Acts of Service, 2. Words of Affirmation, 3. Quality Time, 4. Gifts, and 5. Physical Touch. Tirah is a Physical Touch and Quality Time person. I'm an Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation person. So when I'm expressing love to Tirah, I will habitually express it by means of acts of service and kind words. Tirah will habitually express her love for me by means of physical touch and quality time. Because of reading this book I learned that I needed to express love in her languages more often in order for her to feel loved, and she needed to express love in my languages more often in order for me to feel loved. We got fairly good at this and thought, 'yay! we've learned the 5 love languages... what's the next great thing we can learn for our marriage?' Little did we know...
Recently we came up against some issues in our marriage that made me realize that we had only scratched the surface on love languages. We both felt like our 'love tanks' were not being filled. What was happening was that while we had learned a little bit of our partner's language, we were not fluent in it, and couldn't really understand it when it was spoken to us. I liken our state to some tourists that are visiting France, and had learned how to say, "Bonjour... comma tally voo?" and then suddenly the french person starts speaking very quickly in french and the tourists realize that while they thought they knew french, they were far from fluent in it. (Of course that probably wouldn't happen in real life... the french person would simply roll his or her eyes and start speaking to the tourists in English. But that's beside the point.)
At times Tirah would do an act of service for me as an expression of her love for me. But it might be an act of service that she really didn't enjoy. That way of expressing love is after all a foreign language to her. I then would not notice or appreciate this expression of love because there was no joy in it. (The accent was too thick.) Likewise I might give her a kiss every day as an expression of love for her, but she might not feel loved by it because she sensed that it was not my native love language. (The accent was too think.) So what was to be done?
In a marriage we are not meant to give up our individuality for the sake of someone else. It is our two individualities that make the marriage a more full expression of humanity. We may never have our spouse's native love language become our own native love language. We will probably always speak with a little bit of an accent. But we can work on becoming more fluent in speaking and listening to their native language. We can become bi-lingual.
In order to help this process of becoming more fluent, Tirah and I have started doing some new things. When Tirah does an act of service for me that she may or may not enjoy doing, she will tell me that she is doing it because she loves me. Because I am a words of affirmation guy as well, this really helps me 'hear' that love. (Tirah has mentioned that this feels awkward; like she's bragging. But I've assured her that it helps me feel loved.) Because I then respond affirmatively (preferably by kissing her rather than simply saying 'thank you.') to her use of my language, she begins to find joy in it, and feel loved by me in return.
Likewise when I'm stuck at work and not able to spend as much quality time with her as she would like, I might send her an email (speaking in my native language of words of affirmation). But if I can remember to tell her in my email that I want to kiss her and that I want to spend time with her, she can hear my love better through the accent. The more I think of physical touch and quality time as forms of acts of service for her, the more I become fluent in her language, and she can 'hear' my love.
We still have a lot more to learn about our love languages. To help us remain aware in this process we've thought of putting up signs around the house saying, "Whose love language are you speaking in right now?"
Depending on what your love languages are, it will differ as to how you interpret your spouses expressions of love, and become more fluent in their language. The important thing is that we all engage in communicating our honest needs with each other as married couples. Through this sharing of ideas, we can become more fluent and maybe even bi-lingual.