My parents have been married for close to 60 years! Isn’t that incredible? Even more incredible is that they are still very much in love with one another. There’s is not a story of staying together just because they have a shared history and six children, fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, to consider. No, I’m certain that if asked they would say they’re more in love today, almost six decades later, than the day they married. How is that even possible? If you were to ask my father I’m pretty sure he’d tell you that it all boils down to this: being thoughtful.
We have a very romanticized view of what love is supposed to look like and feel like. That image gets planted like a tiny seed when we’re little kids. Disney is full of romantic stories where true love always wins the day. And adult depictions of love aren’t any better. Any rom-com worth seeing will show impossibly gorgeous people who overcome all obstacles put in their paths, to then drive off into the sunset together – a life full of incredible sex and romance to keep them happy all the rest of their days.
That’s a pretty amazing and idealistic view of love, but I’m guessing that even if you’ve had the good fortune to swoon in the early days, when you were just forming that romantic attachment to your partner, that you’ve also realized that this type of love is not super sustainable over the long-haul. There has to be something else to fall back on as a couple to allow the waxing and waning of romantic love to flow as it does over a lifetime of loving one another.
So how does “being thoughtful” fit into this idea of love? It doesn’t sound very romantic.
I think thoughtfulness is the foundation for the concept of “Love Languages.” Have you heard of these? Dr. Gary Chapman has written a whole book based on this concept. Basically, there are five different ways people express their love to one another: Physical Touch, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, and Receiving Gifts,. If you’re interested, you can read much more about “Love Languages” here in an article written just a couple of days ago on lifehacker. I feel lucky that my husband and I figured out each other’s love language before this concept had ever been discovered! I think speaking one another’s love language can really help a couple keep communication and intimacy happening during the normal waning period of romantic love. Something to tide you over until that romantic love returns again.
Early on in our marriage, I would go out of my way to pick up my husband’s dry cleaning so that he wouldn’t have to do it later in the day. When I came home and handed it to him with a flourish, he’d barely acknowledge what I’d done and would mumble a quick, “Oh, thanks.” And I would fume silently. “Doesn’t he appreciate me and all I do for him?!” Clearly, I’m an “Acts of Service” kind of gal. I express love by doing things for other people and I feel especially loved by others when they do things for me.
In contrast, my husband used to say nice things to me all the time, “I love that dress!” and I’d respond with, “What this? I’ve had it for years – I think it’s old and ugly.” And I’d watch as he deflated before my very eyes. See, he’s a “Words of Affirmation” dude. He expresses love by telling others what he thinks is wonderful about them, and feels most loved when he is acknowledged by others through verbal affirmation.
Once we figured this out, and started trying to speak one another’s love language, instead of defaulting to speaking our own, things began to change. And today, I take the time to let my husband know when I think he looks extra sharp going off to work. Or better yet, when I tell him what a great Dad he is to our children, he stands about three inches taller! And if he sees that I’ve had a long day, pours me a glass of red wine, offers to put the kids to bed and finish up the dishes while I sit and watch some bad reality TV? He’s probably going to get lucky later on, because he’s definitely speaking my language!
In my classes I have couples do a quick 5-minute assessment that I’ve created based on the actual quiz that you can find here. And I challenge them to start consciously speaking the other’s primary love language. At first, honestly it can feel completely fake and cheesy. But a really interesting thing starts happen as you’re actively working to speak in the language your partner responds to best: you are practicing thoughtfulness. You are thinking of your partner deliberately and trying to show them how much you love them. And oftentimes, they respond with more thoughtfulness and this lovely circle of positive feedback starts to surround you both.
Then 60 years go by and you’re even more in love than the day you met!
Okay, so there’s probably going to be a lot more stuff that goes on between speaking one another’s love language and being happily married for 60 years, but I think it’s a great place to start. Give it a try as a couple – it only really works if you’re both willing to invest the time and attention this deserves. I think you’ll find it really helps to strengthen your relationship. This is a great thing to do even before baby arrives – but it’s never too late to try to speak to each other with love.
Have you heard of “Love Languages” before? Have you ever tried “speaking” your partner’s love language instead of your own? How did it feel for you? Did you find that it strengthened your relationship?