I had a revelation at 6am this morning – when I have most of my epiphanies – to do with the book I’m reading: The Five Love Languages. As I mentioned before, the Five Love Languages – as defined by Gary Chapman – are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch.
Chapman argues that, for a relationship to thrive, we must first identify and then learn to speak our partner’s love language. I’ve always assumed my language is Acts of Service. I do the laundry out of love, I cook and clean and make coffee out of love. It has frustrated me beyond measure that my husband doesn’t understand. Not just that he doesn’t do those things himself, but that he doesn’t recognise them as acts of love from me.
Hubbie’s love language is Physical Touch. Not (just) in the obvious male way – Chapman distinguishes between sexual desire and touch as the primary love language. If you have sexual desire, but can take or leave the hugs, hand-holding and incidental moments of day-to-day physical contact, then chances are you have a different primary language.
Thinking it through this morning, using the techniques Chapman suggests, I suddenly realised that the Acts of Service may well be learned behaviour from my parents. Chapman recommends thinking back to the time when you and your partner were first dating, to understand the thing about your partner that made you think ‘he’s the one’. Hubbie and I lived apart for the whole of the two years between meeting and getting married. Picking up dirty underpants and cooking rarely figured in our equation. Oh yes, I liked that he cooked, that was a bonus. Who doesn’t love a domesticated man?
But the thing that first snared me, on day one as we chatted online before even meeting, was that he listened. My favourite times in our courtship were the long phone conversations, lying in the dark with just the two of us speaking. No interruptions, no distractions, just voices, sharing, listening. (Well, I assumed he was listening. I did have an ex who confessed years after we broke up that he used to mute the phone and watch TV while I rambled, but at least – even at the tender age of 16 – he realised my need to speak and indulged it.)
All my life I’ve felt that no one really listened to me. As discussed that’s not uncommon. But as I thought it through this morning, I realised that I blossom when I am listened to. I have a good friend who is a listener and I come away from our coffee catch-ups fizzing and smiling and alive (and feeling guilty for being what Chapman calls a ‘Babbling Brook’). Growing up, and even now at least once a month, my family tease me remorselessly for being a chatterbox. I hated it; still do. The endless words were driven inwards, to diaries and inner thoughts (not helping the depression) and now to my blog and my novels. And always I feel guilty for speaking, for hogging the attention, for asking to be heard.
Chapman lists a dialect of Quality Time as ‘Quality Conversation’ which includes quality listening. I was so quick to accuse myself of being a rubbish listener that I missed the point. Being listened to is my primary love language.
I went to an author lecture by Joanne Harris last night and came home bubbling with excitement and a need to discuss it. Hubbie paused his TV program but I still felt I was interrupting. I realise now that an act of love – to me – would have been for him to turn off the TV and give me his full attention.
And again, earlier in the evening, I was getting angry and frustrated with my son because he kept interrupting me, endlessly, as only a three-year-old can. And it dawned on me that the yelling I often resort to, that has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, possibly stems from an insatiable need to be heard.
I know my daughter’s language is quality time and I suspect my son’s is too, (although – like his Dad – physical touch is also super important.) Certainly both children talk as much as me and get just as frustrated if they aren’t attended to. That’s tough on hubbie – being in a house with three chatterboxes all vying for airtime. No wonder he switches off and stops listening; it’s probably a self-defence mechanism. However, if we can become a family that hugs and hears, that loves and listens attentively, we might just cut back on the shouting and increase the joy. It’s worth a go.
I told the doctor yesterday, when talking about my depression, that I didn’t need any more therapy; that words didn’t help and the last psychotherapist I saw made it worse. Turns out I just needed to hear (read) the right words. I can’t recommend the book enough and I will always be grateful to the lovely lady who leant it to me.