The moment I saw him I knew we were meant for one another. As I looked into his eyes I could tell the attraction was mutual. I had desired a special companion for years, but only recently had I discovered the courage to seek a new love. The excitement was unspeakable as I acknowledged he was the one for me. It was love at first sight! I asked his owner about his pedigree and the selling price. I wrote the check and scooped up the small, furry golden retriever as he kissed my hands in gratitude.
I began polling the family for their ideas of the perfect name. I made the appointment with the veterinarian and started the eleven year journey of loving and caring for my special pet. I have spent many hours serving his needs for food, shelter, and attention. He has spent many hours giving me affection and a listening ear without interruption or criticism. He has reinforced my belief that nurturing, and loving is time consuming and often confusing. But it is always well worth the effort.
We truly live in a “throwaway” world: where replacing something is easier and quicker than applying the time and energy to fix a situation or the relationship. This disposable mentally has invaded our marriages and families to such an extent that new spouses and new children are becoming the norm. According to research from the National Stepfamily Resource Center, almost half of marriages each year are remarriages for one or both partners. Most involve children. Half of Americans today are presently or will be in a step relationship in their lifetime. No matter what your status — married or remarried, children or stepchildren, the need to express love and nurturing requires knowledge and dedication.
One of the best resources for understanding how to give love and nurturing to your family is a book by Dr. Gary Chapman, titled The Five Love Languages. My oldest son shared this book with me during his college years. It has become a favorite resource for our family and I’m careful to use it with my seven grandchildren. Larry and I both use it in pre-marital counseling and in our personal relationship.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the five languages discussed in Dr. Chapman’s book. They are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Words of affirmation are best described as encouraging words, kind words and humble words. For the recipient who is emotionally built up by words of affirmation, a day filled with criticism and fault-finding is almost overwhelming. To feel nurtured and loved, this person needs simple, straightforward statements of affirmation. Nothing fake or unbelievable, just share a simple truth and watch your relationship change for the better.
Quality time simply means giving undivided attention. Some couples think that they are spending quality time if they are in the same room, sitting next to one another while watching television or flipping through a magazine. That’s not quality time – that’s quality proximity! Quality time means your spouse or child has your attention, without Droids, cell phones, iPads, or work lists for a determined period of time. It usually doesn’t take hours and hours but just a few minutes of undivided attention. If spouses and children who have to compete for your time and attention, eventually they will give up on receiving your love.
Receiving gifts is a love language fundamental to all cultures. For the spouse or child who receives love in this manner, the simplest gift will bring joy and contentment. The price tag doesn’t matter as much as the thought behind the gift. When my children were growing up, I had the occasion one day to explain why a four-leaf clover was considered valuable. I explained how rare it was to find one and how fragile the tiny leaves were. In just a few minutes, my youngest son returned with a four-leaf clover as a present for me. I couldn’t believe he had found one. I was so touched by his gift that I pressed it, dried it and to this day have it in a little round frame with the date on it. As a mom I felt loved and special because of a gift that literally cost nothing.
Acts of service can be a demanding love language. The spouse or child who needs acts of service to feel loved often smiles when the dishes are done, or the clothes are cleaned and neatly stored. Where we might think of it as a chore or obligation, they perceive someone taking care of their need natural needs as an expression of love.
Physical touch is the fifth love language. Research data in the area of child development has shown that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed are healthier emotionally than children who are given no physical expressions of love. The adult whose love language is physical touch needs a touch on the hand, a pat on the back, a hug, or a kiss everyday in order to feel loved.
Determining the love language of your spouse and your children and applying it diligently will help each family member thrive. It will promote a safe and nurturing environment that will secure the boundaries of your marriage and family. It will make the confusing task of loving and caring for each other much easier. Love with wisdom!