Everyone wants to be loved and this is the month when our minds and hearts focus on relationships. People talk about falling into and out of love. They wonder, “Why can’t it always be the way it was in the beginning when we first fell in love?” Once that emotional high, known as the infatuation stage, wears off they often feel the relationship is over. This phase of love usually lasts around two years and is greatly affected by our brain chemistry.
Our thoughts are obsessing on the person and this is why it is hard to focus on anything else. Work along with all other areas of our life may be neglected. Our dopamine (the pleasure neurotransmitter) is high and everything is perfect in our life and with the one we love. This is unsustainable biology and eventually we will come back to reality.
What is love?
Love that lasts a lifetime must move beyond infatuation. To last love must be understood and nurtured. It is a myth to think once you fall in love with someone you just automatically live happily ever after. True love requires work.
When you say, “I love you,” to someone it means different things to different people. First of all we need a general understanding of what true love is. The love expert is God for that is the essence of His nature (1 John 4.8). The best definition of love is given to us in 1 Corinthians 13. 4-13: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. … Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love.”
What we learn from this definition is that love is both an action and a decision. It is not based on what we feel for someone but how we decide to treat them. There is nothing wrong with wanting feeling and romance in your relationship. However, true love goes deeper than that. True love is a process of spiritual growth in our life as we learn to allow God to reproduce His love nature in us. The Greeks had three words for love; one being agape – God’s love. In agape love is found the total commitment of self to the other and the unconditional expression of love regardless of my mate’s response.
The second thing we need is a practical understanding of what makes my mate feel loved. Eventually just saying, “I love you” (as important as that is) is not enough. Love must be shown; remember it is an action. Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love languages, gives us a practical approach on how to do this. He uses the analogy of a love tank that each of us have. With our car we expect to have to make regular stops at the gas station to refill our gas tank. If we don’t do that, we will find ourselves stranded by the side of the road. It is the same in relationships. Love is not a one stop experience at the wedding altar. As we live life with each other our love tanks run low and have to be refilled.
The five love languages
Chapman lists these five love languages as words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. People often get stuck when you tell them to try speaking your mate’s language. They say things like, “I don’t see how that is going to get them to do what I want them to do.” “I don’t see how that will get them to change and quit being so mean and thoughtless to me.” In most cases they probably already know what you want them to do or change because you have been telling them for years. What should that tell you? One is your way is not working and two you can’t make someone do anything. This is not what love is about. Love is about desiring the best for the other person; it is about wanting them to be happy. Go back and read God’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
Now you also have needs and want to be happy. However, the only way those desires will be met is if your mate chooses to do so. This doesn’t make it right for your mate to be mean. It is just dealing with a basic reality of human nature; when I feel loved, I want to love back. Doing what makes you feel loved won’t necessarily make your mate feel loved unless you speak the same love language. One goal in marriage is to understand your primary love language and also learn your mate’s. Then speak the right language to them.
- Words of affirmation
Words that are kind, appreciative, complimenting, encouraging, asking rather than demanding, and positive rather than critical or negative.
- Quality time
Giving someone your undivided attention, looking into their eyes and talking, doing things together, being present, making your mate feel you would rather be with them than anywhere else, planning a special time with your mate and being tuned in to what they like to do.
- Receiving gifts
Gifts say they thought of me, they remembered me, they are visual symbols of love. Gifts come in all shapes, sizes and dollar amounts. Gifts are not saved just for special occasions but should also be random acts of kindness. Chapman points out a very impactful gift can be the gift of self, “Physical presence in the time of crisis is the most powerful gift you can give if your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts.”
- Acts of service
These are doing things you know your spouse would like you to do, the old “honey do list.” You seek to show love and please your mate by serving them. This could include any number of large or small tasks you do for your mate. The key thing about these acts of service is they must be given willingly rather than being coerced by your mate.
- Physical touch
Physical touch is something we need as babies to meet our need for nurture and attachment. We use it in social relationships such as greeting another by shaking hands. In marriage it can be a major way we show affection and closeness. Perhaps you never grew up in a “touchy” family, but if that is your mate’s love language, it is critical to learn how to use touch in your relationship.
You will be amazed at the positive changes that will take place in your marriage when your mate begins to hear, “I love you” in their language.
Check the gauge
To keep from running out of gas, you check your gas gauge regularly. We must do the same thing in a relationship.
This will enable you to recognize the signs of either you or your mate’s love tank getting close to empty. The signs are such things as loss of patience, irritability, emotional distance, little time spent together, lack of physical touch and less sexual intimacy. You also may feel unheard, invalidated or constantly nagged by your mate. The frequency and intensity of your arguments may be increasing. When apart, you find yourself not missing or even thinking about your mate. You may begin to fantasize about an old flame.
It is past time to have a serious and honest talk with your mate about your love tank and theirs. Once you start to feel unloved you will become unsure of your mate’s commitment to you. This can turn to fear, distrust and becoming more critical and controlling. Soon your marriage will be in a full blown negative cycle spinning out of control. To build a love relationship that can go the distance, you must remember that love is a decision and an action. It also requires speaking the love language of your mate so you are daily refilling their love tank and for them to do likewise. This is a practical way we communicate our love and commitment to them in a language they will understand.
Dr. John Hawkins, Sr. runs Gateway Counseling Center in Boynton Beach along with his son John Jr. He can be reached by visiting gatewaycounseling.com.