What I Learned About Love
Once a month, I spend an hour talking to BK about success in life and business.
He usually begins the conversation with a question about some business-related issue he’s been thinking about. It’s always a good, nuanced question that sparks the ensuing discussion. In our first few sessions, he did most of the asking and I was the guy with the answers.
During our most recent phone call, we touched on many topics – including the history of The Agora and my newly baked theory on how ingrained personality traits determine the potential and contributions of individual employees. And then somehow – I can’t remember how it happened – the conversation turned to love. Or rather the expression of love.
BK mentioned a book I had not read called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman.
I am habitually suspicious of popular books on marital relationships. Most of them are simplistic or downright idiotic. So I braced myself to be disappointed.
BK summarized the book’s argument thusly:
Loving someone and making them feel loved are two different things. To make someone feel loved, you must understand the sort of thing that feels like love to him/her. Generally speaking, there are five ways to demonstrate that:
Words of Affirmation– Using words to build up the other person. “Thanks for taking out the garbage.” Not – “It’s about time you took out the garbage. The flies were going to carry it out for you.”
- Gifts – A gift says, “He was thinking about me. Look what he got for me.”
- Acts of Service– Doing something for your spouse that you know he/she would like. Cooking a meal, washing dishes, vacuuming floors are all acts of service.
- Quality Time– Which means giving your spouse your undivided attention. Taking a walk together or sitting on the couch with the TV off. Talking and listening.
- Physical Touch– Holding hands, hugging, kissing, sexual intercourse are all physical expressions of love.
Of these five, Chapman posits, everyone has a primary love language that speaks more deeply to him/her than all the others. Discovering each other’s language and speaking it regularly is the best way for two people to keep love alive.
My immediate response to this: “This is silly.” But then BK asked, “Which one do you respond to? Which one feels most like love?”
And that sort of shocked me. Because there was an answer – a definite answer – and it came to me directly from the deepest part of my emotional brain.
“I respond to Words of Affirmation,” I said.
“And what about K?” he asked.
I knew the answer to that, too. I knew in some very clear and certain way that K’s answer would be “Acts of Service.”
I thanked BK for the insight. I admitted I’d never even thought about the possibility that feeling loved is different for different people. I actually felt embarrassed, because I’ve spent a fair amount of my thinking life on the subject of love and this was completely new to me.
I thought about the ways I express love to K, and they covered the range except for one: Acts of Service. And I thought about the ways K shows her love to me. Service is a big part of it, but she’s frugal in the Affirmation department.
So that was something else to think about – the fact that we are each parsimonious with the one thing we want for ourselves. And is that an ironic accident or a subconscious decision?
I should pause here to say that if all this sounds only too obvious to you, you will understand how I felt. Here I was, a year away from my 70th birthday, learning something I should have learned in high school.
I tested the Five Love Languages hypothesis the next morning by doing something for K that I wouldn’t normally have done. It was a small action. A modest gesture. And sure enough, she was taken by it. She even mentioned it later to her sister in front of me.
“Gee,” I thought. “This is powerful! I ‘ve got to do more of it more often.”
But… and this is a big “but.” If you think about the complexities of any relationship – parent/child, husband/wife, brother/sister, and friendships – you can readily see that keeping the relationship balanced and healthy requires more than simply making the other person feel loved. Other skills are involved. You have to know how to stand up for yourself. You have to know how to have a civil disagreement and how to compromise.
So, yes, I am going to practice this new skill because I want K to feel loved. But I’m also going to practice the other relationship skills because… well, because love is complicated.