Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. John 13:35, NLT
But do those around us recognize what we communicate as love? Careful observation of another will give us a clue to her particular definition of love. And some introspection will give us a clue to our own as well.
Love languages are components in the brightly wrapped packages that we have labeled “love.” In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman states that people express and receive love in different ways: quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Dr. Chapman states: “If we wish to love each other, we need to know what the other person wants.”
Problems begin when we receive love in ways that don’t match up with love as we have come to define it. We don’t recognize it as love—it must be something else, but we’re not sure what it is. And if we give our own love language to others, and theirs don’t match up, they don’t receive it as love. For example: if I equate receiving presents as showing love, I will try to show my love for others in that way. But if the person I am trying to love views presents as bribes–spending uninterrupted time together is love for them–they won’t accept my presents as love.
Words of Affirmation: When a baby makes the sound “da da,” we respond with praise and excitement. The same for waving bye-bye, having curly hair… When they are learning to roll over, crawl, walk, we applaud every effort and encourage them with our words, “Come to mommy.” “You can do!” “What a big boy you are!” But it’s not too long before the honeymoon is over. When a seven-year-old can’t stay focused on cleaning up his room, we are more apt to say things such as, “What did I tell you to do? If you don’t get back in there and clean up that room right now there will be consequences!”
A child whose primary love language involves affirming words will experience great trauma from parental criticism. Hundreds of 35-year-olds still hear words of condemnation spoken twenty years earlier ringing in their ears: “You’re too fat–nobody will ever date you.” “I can’t believe you’re so dumb.” “You’re not much of a student. Might as well drop out now.”
Quality Time: It’s undivided attention—just you and your loved one. With a small child, you’ll be sitting on the floor rolling a ball back and forth, playing mommy and baby with dolls, or making “vroom” sounds as you push little cars around. Quality time is spent getting into her world at her level. This focus of attention changes shape as the child grows, but the principle is the same. If he’s into basketball, learn to play Horse. If it’s piano, spend time really listening to a practice period. Adults who use qualilty time as a measuring stick for love will often says phrases like, “I remember that my father never missed my high school games.”
Receiving Gifts: Parents and grandparents often go overboard in this area. However, unless this is the child’s primary love language, gifts don’t have much of an emotional impact. How can you tell? Where is the gift a few days later, and what condition is it in? Did you hear an unsolicited thank you? Does she show others the gift, play with it often over extended periods, and give it a place of prominence in her room?
Acts of Service: When an infant arrives, acts of service are what keep babies fed, clean, and well. And parents continue this cycle of cooking, washing, taxi service, and helping with homework. Many kids take this for granted. Others notice and express appreciation–then you know these acts spell out L-O-V-E to them.
Physical Touch: Touching is an emotional communicator to babies. Have you ever been at an extended family gathering where the adults are standing in line to be the next one to hold the baby? They cuddle him, kiss him, and rock him. And the baby feels loved without understanding the word. Hugging, holding hands, and sitting on laps continue throughout childhood as physical touches that show love. It may look different and not be appreciated in front of peers, but a teenager whose love language is touch will let you know. Does your son come up behind you and grab your arms, give you a little push, or lift you off your feet in a bear hug? That’s a clue that physical touch is important to him.
Knowing how those around give and receive love allow us to truly be Christ’s disciples. If you need a little help figuring it out, ask yourself these questions:
- Have I ever felt loved in my life? When? What made me feel loved?
- Do you show love for the satisfaction of giving rather than receiving?
- How have you recently shown love to someone? What did you expect in return?