How We Communicate: Love Language
We had come just so far in the family counseling process. The sixteen-year-old daughter was no longer hitting her ten-year-old brother or her mother, mom wasn’t crying and laying in bed all day long anymore, and dad was making a concerted effort to come home in time for dinner each night. Even with all the progress, however, something was still missing. We had hit a wall and I wasn’t sure what it was. Wasn’t sure, that is, until a particularly frustrating session when the daughter burst out with, “My parents don’t love me.”
Her mother was shocked. “I do too! I buy you things all the time!”
Her dad added, “And I tell you how proud I am of you regularly. How can you say we don’t love you?” Both of them shook their heads in total bewilderment.
“You never spend time with me,” was the tearful response. “Mom is always busy when I come home from school and keeps on working when I’m talking, and you,” this was directed at her father, “you disappear into your office right after supper every night. I wish we could go shoot some hoops or something.”
Suddenly it became clear to me what the wall was. I decided to test my theory a bit to see if I was right, and turned to the ten-year-old brother.
“Do you feel mom and dad love you?” I asked gently.
He looked more than a little worried as he scrunched up his face. “Um…” His eyes darted nervously between both of his parents. “Not, um… not really.”
“You don’t!?” they responded in shocked unison.
“Um… no,” he whispered.
They looked at me helplessly. “We do love our kids though. What are we doing wrong that they don’t feel loved?”
I decided to take it one step further. I looked at mom and said, “Do you feel your husband or kids love you?”
She began to respond with “Of course I do!” but then quickly her face dropped and tears came to her eyes. “Well, now that you mention it, I don’t. I mean, I know they love me, but I don’t feel like they love me.”
I turned to the father, “Dad?”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he said slowly, “But truth is, I’m not really feeling the love either these days.”
Bingo. My theory was confirmed! My questioning headed in a new direction.
“Lindsey, if your parents did the following things, what would make you feel most loved? They bought you a new outfit, mom baked your favorite cookies, they sat down with you after supper and played a board game with you, they hugged you before bed, or they told you how great you were?”
“Oh, that’s easy!” was her response. “The board game, for sure!”
His face lit up. “I love it when mom hugs me!” He added, “And when Lindsey tickles me and daddy wrestles with me, I feel super-duper loved then.”
It was mom’s turn next. “Mom, what would make you feel most loved by your husband and children? They did the dishes for you, they kept you company as you went grocery shopping, they complimented your cooking, they cleaned the house for you, or they bought you a really pretty piece of jewelry?”
“The jewelry,” was her response without second thought. “I love getting gifts.”
“And dad?” I continued, “Cleaned the car, told you that you were the best dad in the world, kissed you on the cheek when you came home each night, went to Lowe’s with you, or bought you the new book you’ve been wanting?”
Dad’s eyes actually filled up with tears. “I’d give anything to hear someone — anyone — in this family say that I was the best dad in the world.”
I began by explaining to the family that we each have a “love tank”, if you will — place in our heart that needs to be filled up regularly by those we love. When it’s not filled up, even if we have the best family in the world, we can feel empty and like something is horribly wrong.
The problem is, in most families, the individuals in the family unit each speak a different love language. If they speak in their individual love language to their family members, they feel as if they are loving on them. However, if that’s not the particular love language of the receiver, that person will never feel loved.
Let’s break it down further. There are five primary languages that each person speaks. This means this is how they show love and this is how they feel loved.
This is not sexual touch. It’s simply touch. We all know people who love to hug and kiss us when they see us. These same people will pat our shoulder while they’re talking to us, grab our hand, or even reach up and touch our face. As annoying as it may be to someone who isn’t into touch, this is that particular person’s primary love language. They show love by touching and they feel loved by being touched.
Words of Affirmation
Some people feel most loved when you tell them that you think they’re awesome, that you’re proud of them, and word gets back to them that you were boasting about them to your friends. These same people will boast about their family to others, tell their spouses how much they appreciate them, and tell their children how proud they are of them.
Acts of Service
Other people show their love by doing things for people. They clean cars, mow lawns, shovel snow, bake meals and cookies, and offer to babysit friend’s children. They are always doing something for other people.
Those who’s primary language is quality time, thrive on one-on-one time with others. This is not time spent sitting on a couch in front of a TV, but is time spent in eye-to-eye contact, talking, laughing, and sharing. It may include things like shopping together and going places together, but it is especially meaningful when eye contact is made.
People who speak “gifts” for their love language are always buying things for others. It may be as small as a refrigerator magnet, but they’ll buy it because it made them think of the person. These same people could be given something as simple as a candy bar wrapped up, and they’ll be thrilled just because someone took the time to buy it, wrap it, and give it.
When you have an individual who’s love language is gifts but their spouse’s love language is quality time, a gap appears in each spouse feeling loved. The spouse who speaks gifts is constantly buying gifts and thinking that they are doing everything they can to show their love. Meanwhile, the receiving spouse, who’s language is time, feels neglected and unloved because gifts do nothing to fill their love tank.
Such was the case of the family I was counseling. Dad’s language was words of affirmation and he was giving them regularly to his wife and children. The problem was, his wife spoke gifts for her language, Brandon spoke physical touch, and Lindsey spoke quality time — so no matter how much dad spoke positive words, none of them ever felt he loved them.
The same was true for all of them. They were all speaking different love languages and constantly loving on each other, but no one was ever feeling loved because their specific language was not being spoken.
Once the family learned about the different love languages, the wall that was in the way of their final healing as a once-wounded family came tumbling down. With different homework assignments that I gave them each week, they each began to purposefully speak each other’s languages.
In addition to that, they also began to notice when their family members were loving on them, even if it wasn’t their primary language, because now they understood what language the person was using to show love.
The time came when family sessions came to an end. Not only had they gone from a family with a severely depressed mom, a work-a-holic dad, a sad little boy, and a violent teen girl — they had become a family that became fluent in love languages.
One final note: Some people have one primary language that they use to both show and receive love. Others will have a primary language that they use to show love and another with which they receive love.
NOTE: Names and details have been changed in such a way that absolutely no identifying information has been given.