It would seem that love just comes naturally, and so it does. Babies come into this world hard-wired to attach to their mothers. We also have a natural drive once we reach puberty to search out a mate. Yet, for many, the ability to feel and/or show true healthy love has been diminished due to growing up in an abusive home or one in which love simply wasn't expressed as much as it should have been. Many people need to learn how to show love to those nearest to them.
Dr. Gary Chapman has written several books focusing on five love languages. His main premise is that there are five primary ways that people communicate their love to those close to them. Each person has one of these languages that helps them feel the most loved, but most people do appreciate all of them to some degree. Making the effort to express all five to those close to us will help to make sure that those we care most about go through life feeling loved. It will also help our homes be happier places to live. The five love languages are: verbal affirmation, spending quality time, giving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
Verbal affirmation means to offer praise and appreciation for the things that our loved ones do. It can also mean to offer encouragement when someone is going through a difficult time. Parenting books and magazines have been preaching the value of positive discipline for years. While one certainly needs to use negative consequences for bad behavior, it is of vital importance to praise and reinforce good behavior. Children need to know that they are good (at least most of the time), that they have God-given gifts, and most of all, that they are loved for the special person that God has made them to be. Our spouses need that type of praise as well. It is often easy to take our spouses for granted, to overlook the things that they do every day. Going to work each day or doing the laundry for the hundred and second time may not be glamorous, but a simple “thank you” goes a long way to helping someone feel appreciated for all the effort that he or she puts in. Also, never underestimate the simple power of saying “I love you.” Both our spouses and our children need to hear it.
Spending quality time with those we love is another way of demonstrating how much they mean to us. Quality time means focusing one's full attention on the other. Yes, many times during the course of a day we need to divide our attention. We may need to talk to our children or our spouse while we are making supper or folding laundry. Every day, however, we should make an effort to really focus on the other person for a while, without multi-tasking. Perhaps that means doing a fun activity together. Playing a board game or participating in sports can be a great way to spend time with those we love. Taking a few minutes during the day, perhaps at night right before bed, to actually talk to and connect with one's spouse can go a long way in helping a marriage be more harmonious.
Some people respond best to being given a gift. Everyone likes to know that they are thought of and a gift can be a physical expression of your love. These gifts need not be expensive or overly frequent, but a gift can be seen as an investment in the relationship especially for those who do not feel loved without them.
What acts of service help your spouse or your children feel most loved? Perhaps they appreciate having their lunch made each day for them. Perhaps knowing that you always fill up the gas tank helps them feel cared for. Having the coffee maker going in the morning can be a sign of love. There are so many opportunities throughout the day to serve those we live with. While many may go unnoticed, there are certain actions that are definitely appreciated. Take the time to find out what those acts are and make those a priority.
Physical touch is also a very important way of showing love. Hugs and kisses for our children are vitally important. While they may reach an age when they no longer appreciate this type of contact, a hand on the shoulder or gentle squeeze of the hand can still convey our love. Our spouses may have different types of touch that they feel most comfortable with. Some like frequent hugs and kisses. Others may be more reserved in their affection. Once again, it is necessary to discover what makes one's spouse feel loved, as well as to communicate one's own needs. This is important with more intimate expressions of love as well.
These five ways of loving provide a strong blueprint for learning how to demonstrate our love to those around us. While for many people these acts just come naturally, most of us can use the gentle reminder to make sure that those around us do feel loved. It is easy to fall into old routines and to stop paying as much attention as we should to those we live with. Having concrete ways to show our love can be a tremendous help in improving our closest relationships. To find out more about Dr. Gary Chapman and the Five Love Languages, please visit: www.fivelovelanguages.com.