They’ve been married two years, and she comes to him in near tears: “Why don’t you ever eat the things I bake for you?”
“What?” he asks, surprised.
“I bake cookies, I bake cakes and cupcakes, fancy desserts, pies, and it just rots on the counter,” she says, chin quivering. “Sometimes you take it to work and tell me the staff enjoys it, but you never eat it! I even called your mom and asked her for recipes for things she used to make for you when you were a boy!”
The stunned silence is loud for a moment. “I don’t like sweets,” the man says, with a grimace and a shrug. “I just thought you really liked baking.”
And then they were both weeping, this time with laughter, long and loud. For two years she tried valiantly to love him, exactly the way her mother told her how to love a man: through his stomach! It never occurred to her to ask her husband how he might like to be loved.
In 1992, Gary Chapman published the book “The Five Love Languages.” Chapman says something so brilliantly obvious, yet, somehow, many of us never thought of it before he said it: Individuals have their preferred way of loving and being loved. Chapman lists these “languages” as words of affirmation, service, physical touch, receiving gifts and quality time.
For me, it was fascinating to notice the languages that don’t compel me. For example: service. If my darlin’ is doing laundry, and cheerfully includes my pile of grubbies in the load, I am pleased, grateful and appreciative. But, I would hardly notice if she did not. Meaning, I wouldn’t feel slighted or not loved. I would simply do it myself when I was out of underwear. And, while I’m always delighted when she surprises me with a thoughtful gift, I would not be especially troubled were she not to give gifts as often.
But, touch. Oh my. If she stopped touching me, I’d be immediately and acutely aware. I would feel discarded. I revel in her absent-minded tracings through my hair, the way her fingers draw circles on my arm while we watch television, the way her hand drags across my back when we pass in the kitchen.
And, words of affirmation. For me, love cannot be realized unless it includes the words “I love you.” Endearments. Solicitations of romance and desire. That she misses me, longs for me, admires me — in words. When the words stop, I quickly find myself feeling disconnected and even discarded.
Quality time. It’s sublime. And it’s so, so flattering when my mate initiates, fights for, and fiercely defends time for us to be together.
Pay attention to the ways your mate loves you. Because, in most cases, it’s the way your mate most wants to be loved.
But committed love-relationships are not only about working to make sure everyone is getting and giving the love they most like to get and give. It includes the willingness to grow, to learn to appreciate and be grateful for ways of loving and being loved that you might not have ever chosen, in and of yourself.
Like everyone, you have your favorite ways of being loved. But what a nice gift it is to be open to receive your mate’s favorite way of loving you! To learn to appreciate it. To value what it means to your mate. And, if nothing else, to learn to enjoy how much fun your mate has loving you that way.
Likewise we do well not to assume our favorite way to love our mate should always trump the menu card, just because we enjoy loving that way. It is an act of faithfulness to learn and practice our mate’s primary love language.
I offer to clean the downstairs shower at my girlfriend’s house (service!). Then, things get busy and I forget. Then, in a not-so-minor miracle, I remember. I go downstairs and make it shine! When I get home, an e-mail awaits me. You’d have thought I had given her the crown jewels. You’d have thought a prince just rescued her from a castle tower. Her gratitude is profound. She feels loved.
Wow. It’s that easy? And to think, if the situation were reversed, I’d have just thought we got too busy. And then I’d have cleaned the shower myself. I don’t get it.
But, I don’t have to get it. I have to believe it! And do it. And not just for her. For me, too.
Because it’s fun to make your beloved feel loved.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.