by Rachel Bass Guennewig
I feel a small sense of dread when I think about Valentine’s Day. I seem to sabotage myself with dreams of sweetness and romance that do not often correspond with my husband’s plans for the day. It has taken me a while to peel off the layers of self-inflicted drama, to see what is really important to me, and then try to match it with what my husband wants for Valentine’s Day. This has not been easy for us, or very romantic, frankly. We have really different expectations of what romance and showing love looks like.
Before I got married I read the book The 5 Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman. Chapman says that we all express love in different ways and the key to a happy relationship is recognizing your own and your partner’s “love language,” so that you can effectively communicate and receive love.
The five love languages are: Words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. I would have never thought that understanding that someone loves me is all that complicated. It seems to get messy by the reality that we all come with different experiences of love and rejection, different models for what “normal” looks like, and, Lord help us, such a strong need to know that we are loved.
My husband’s love language is acts of service. I wish I would have understood this better when we were dating. He told me how much it meant to him when his great aunt would patch the holes on his jeans. Since then he has come home with two sewing machines for me. I do not sew. When his jeans wear out, I usually suggest we go to the store and buy him some new ones and he looks at me like a dejected little puppy. So, he walks around with big holes in his jeans, surely praying that someday I will surprise him by patching them.
My love language is quality time. I want to sit on the couch together, go for a long walk with no destination in mind, go to a park; I have a whole list of options. The obvious problem comes in when my husband tries to show me he loves me (according to his own expectations) by changing the oil in my car, when I would much rather he take the car to the local 10-minute oil-change place and spend that time with me instead.
We have talked about our different expectations and needs for love and we are both well enough aware of our different love languages. The struggle is to be true to our own way of showing love, while going out of our way to communicate love in the way that the other best understands it.
This challenges my husband to put on his long to-do list to spend real, quality time with me–an action that is out of his comfort zone because he is a doer and a fixer. And it challenges me to do things for my husband that I know mean a lot to him, like baking cookies or making dinner, as an expression of love, instead of a task that I begrudgingly do without much care or attention.
Although I know that the author of Romans was not referring to Valentine’s Day, I am taking to heart what they say in Romans 12:10-11, “Let love be genuine; hate was is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” For me, this is a reminder to recognize, accept, and be grateful for my husband’s gestures of love. I only miss out on all the love he is trying to offer by disregarding his efforts or trying to change him. And I could probably figure out how to put a patch or two on his jeans, just because I love him that much.
Rachel Bass Guennewig is an ordained ELCA pastor. She lives with her husband and adorbable baby girl. She teaches monthly yoga retreats in Illinios at http://dailybreadyoga.wordpress.com/.
1. What do you think is your love language?
2. When was a time when you felt loved by someone (romantic or not) and why?
3. Has there been a time when someone was showing love for you but you didn’t recognize it?
4. As you think about your partner, significant other, or someone you really care about, can you guess what their love language might be? How might it shift your relationship with that person to “outdo one another in showing honor” according to their love language?