Keeping Love Alive and Finding it Again When You Lose it
I want to review the important changes that take place when you go from dating, engaged, even living together, to being legally married:
- A new legal status begins. Your union is officially recognized as the highest form of commitment between a man and a woman because you have formally legalized it with a contract.
- A new relationship begins. Marriage is unique in that within this framework you have created an exclusive and permanent relationship, different from any other, including friends and family.
- A new identity begins. You will now be identified and considered as part of a marriage unit.
- A new role begins. As husband or wife you will begin to function in a new role within the marriage.
- A new family begins. The act of marriage creates a new family unit which will take precedence over every other group or family you have been part of in the past.
These are some of the important changes that take place when we marry (aside from where we will live, etc.). The quick point I want to make by repeating these is that if we know, accept and are willing to adapt to these changes, our transition from single to married life will be more successful.
After several years of married life some couples experience boredom and loss of love for one another. This chapter will address this issue and lay out a strategy to recapture a love that may be lost for a certain period.
Keeping Love Alive
Most of the time when people talk about the experience of love they are talking about a feeling. That warm, happy, content and excited feeling we experience when in contact with our partner. As the years go by some couples lose that feeling and often have strange ways of trying to rekindle the flame of love. For example, they will try to make their spouses jealous, thinking that this will move them to once again take interest in the relationship. Some will attempt different approaches to sex, drop hints that they should make an appointment with a marriage counselor or even give their partner the "silent treatment" hoping that this type of torture will get the other's attention.
What many do not understand is that the feeling of love is not created by demands, sex or manipulation. The feeling of love that a person has is largely created and maintained through the use of loving communication. The thing that produced love within us in the first place was the communication of love by our partner. When our love weakens or diminishes, the first place to look for a solution, therefore, is in the area of personal communication with our mate. You see, love is moved from one person to another through communication. Not always, but in many cases, the love problem is really a communication problem.
In my experience providing pastoral counseling for couples dealing with marriage problems, I have seen people who have the capacity to love, who want to love, who need love but do not communicate well, and for this reason have love problems. I sincerely believe that in most marriages the best way to increase love or to find it when it is gone, is to find better ways to communicate with each other about our love.
The Language of Love
What holds a marriage together is love. The tool that transfers love, builds love and maintains love is communication. Communication is to love as blood is to life. "Better an open rebuke than love that is concealed" (Proverbs 27:5). In this passage Solomon is saying that arguing and disagreeing are better than no communication at all, since the couple is at least communicating. Non-communicated love is and feels the same as no love.
When I say that communication is the language of love, I am not just talking about verbal communication. In our media culture we put a lot of emphasis on oral communication and think that if it is not said verbally (so we can see and hear it), then for some reason or other it has not been properly communicated.
In his book, The Language of Love, Gary Smalley says that the language of love can be communicated in many ways, not only through the use of words. He mentions the following types of love languages:
- Words: Expressions of appreciation, loyalty, affection, love, admiration, attraction, etc. (using the words of love).
- Gifts: Tokens of love and appreciation (things you buy or make for special occasions or specifically for your loved one).
- Actions: Things done to please and comfort the other, the home, the family, care of the other's possessions, etc.
- Time: Paying attention, giving a generous quantity of time, focused listening, watching, etc.
- Physical Affection: Touching, holding, non-sexual affection, sexual intimacy.
According to Smalley, one of these is our primary language for love and is the hot button that satisfies and assures us that we are truly loved. Usually when love dies it is because we are no longer sure that we love or are loved. We can express or receive love in all of these ways, but one of the languages is the primary manner that convinces us that we are loved. If love is not expressed in this way we will not feel loved, no matter what else the other person says or does. In other words, if you talk to me in my language of love, then I will feel loved.
Examples of the language of love in action
The wife's hot button for knowing that she is loved is words. She needs poems, love notes, saying sweet things, compliments on her looks and confessions of desire. The repeated words of love are what convince her that she is loved. The husband, on the other hand, grew up in a house where his dad was the strong and silent type. No fancy words. He has grown up like his dad in this way but has learned to say I love you through generous service: he fixes her car, he takes care of the house and he does a lot of repair work for her elderly parents. What tends to happen here is that she will not feel loved because he is not expressing it in the way she needs it expressed (she needs words, not a new muffler on her car). She will question his love and he will point out all the things he does for her, but she will not be satisfied because he is not speaking to her in her love language. This is how affairs begin, someone else discovers your love language and begins to speak it, and you let them because it satisfies your need to be loved.
There is an interesting feature about this language of love business. People tend to receive their love messages in the same way that they give these messages. Let us, therefore, go back to our couple and see how this would work in their situation. Remember, she receives love through words, so this is usually the way she gives it; and he gives through action/service, so this is usually how he receives or recognizes love as well. In a situation like this, she tells him that she loves him and expresses it with mushy birthday cards and efforts at talking about their relationship. However, she is not interested in hanging out in the garage with him or working on projects together. He needs to hear, "I love you" by her involvement with him in his interests and things. In the end, he feels smothered by her words and she feel rejected by his silence. Both are trying to love but each is missing the point, and the sad thing is that they do not even realize it!
A helpful exercise to get couples into a serious and productive discussion about their relationship is to have each spouse write down what they believe their own and their spouse's love language is, and then share this information with one another.
I have told you that some people want love, need love and desire to give love, but fail in love because they do not communicate it well. The answer for them is not to start loving, they are already trying to do that; nor is the answer to love differently. I do not think people can change their basic personality in order to accomplish this.
The answer, I believe, is to find better ways to communicate about loving so we will receive and give the love that is already in our hearts for the other. The way to do this is to make the communication itself more effective and productive.
Here are three ways that can help improve communication with anyone, but especially the type of communication that conveys your love for another:
Be Totally Honest
but speaking the truth in love...
- Ephesians 4:15
For communication to be productive you need to be honest, even if it is risky at times. Too often we end up saying what the other person wants to hear so we can get what we want. This works in the short term but is disastrous for long term relationships. The best example of this is when we compare the hierarchy of needs that men and women say that they want from each other. This survey shows what men and women acknowledge privately among themselves as their top five needs, but rarely acknowledge to each other for fear of ridicule or rejection.
Top Needs: Men
- Sexual Fulfillment: It is number one because this is the way God created them. The natural production of seminal fluid in a man causes the constant need for gratification. It is the greatest single struggle each man must deal with in order to mature emotionally, socially and spiritually. Men will admit to other men that this is their primary need but rarely do so to their wives.
- Play Mate: Men want their wives to be their buddies and friends.
- Attractive: A wife's looks and demeanor either build up a man's pride or bring it down.
- Domestic Support: Men say that they want to return to a quiet, clean and accepting home each day.
- Admiration: Respect and encouragement. They want their wives to admire their work, achievements, style.
Top Needs: Women
- Affection: Not necessarily sexual intimacy. Romance, cuddling, holding, tender words and touch.
- Attention: Sharing his thoughts and soliciting hers in return. Really listening to her with feedback.
- Trust: Her world, especially when there are children, is supported by him. She has to have confidence that she is his number one priority over the job, hobbies, buddies and family.
- Financial Security: Enough to live on and provide for the family. Enough to give the children developmental advantages.
- Involvement: Getting involved in home and family matters. Truly providing leadership. Home is not simply a "pit stop."
What the survey showed were things we kind of knew from experience and observation. Men are generally immature and more self-centered. They want attention and gratification, and are not always willing to give in exchange for these (they need coaching). Women are more high-minded and are usually willing to invest more into the marriage to make it work. However, they tend to ask for conflicting things. For example, they want financial security for their children which places a greater burden on the husband if he is the primary earner. At the same time they want him to be at home and more involved in home-life which requires time, time that may be needed at work. In their case, women need to understand that they cannot have it both ways.
Productive communication needs to be honest and also...
For communication to be productive it also needs to be clear. More arguments, divisions and hurt feelings come from communication that is simply unclear than from intended insults. Those who speak need to make sure that the hearer has indeed understood what was said and the meaning of it. The hearer needs to reassure the speaker that he has truly been understood. Our words and actions need to convey what we mean. If what you are doing or saying means, "I am truly sorry" and not just, "I'm tired of arguing" make sure that the other person knows this.
Practice good feedback methods. Say or do what you will but always make sure, through feedback, that the other person is understanding your words and intentions ("Tell me what I have just said").
Productive communication is honest, clear and...
We must tell the truth, express it clearly and tell it all. Some do not agree on this point, but when one area of discussion is taboo or one of the partners declares a problem or discussion off limits (don't go there), this creates frustration, resentment and a gradual closing down of the communication network between people. There is no greater joy or protection than a loving partner with whom we can share all of our hearts. It is not always easy, but productive communication requires:
- Mirroring: Confirming that you have accurately heard what has been said.
- Validation: Confirming that you can see the other's point of view, even if you do not agree.
- Empathy: Confirming that the other person's feelings are valid even if you do not feel them as intensely as they do.
If we want to regain and renew love, we begin by renewing productive communication with our partner.
Discuss each other's love language and how well you are communicating it.
Establish a quiet zone (no kids, tv, phones, computers) and do the couple's exercise sheet. Once complete, take the time to share and discuss your answers.