I was in the Chicago airport when I met Jan who was on her way to visit her fiancé for the weekend. She asked where I was going and I said, “I’m going to Milwaukee to lead a marriage seminar.” “What do you do at a marriage seminar?” she asked. “I try to give people practical ideas on how to work on their marriage,” I replied. With a question in her eyes, she asked, “Why do you have to work on a marriage? If you love each other isn’t that all that matters?” I knew she was sincere, because that was also my perception before I got married.
I wish I had known that romantic love has two stages. The first stage requires little effort. We are pushed along by euphoric feelings and commonly call this stage “being in love.” When we are in love, we freely do things for each other without thought of cost or sacrifice. We will drive 500 miles or fly half-way across the country in order to spend a weekend together. It all seems effortless. We may expend great energy in doing things for each other, but we do not consider it work. We are delighted with the opportunity to do something nice for the other person. We want to make each other happy, and we often do.
However, this euphoric state, which I’m calling “the tingles,” is temporary. After marriage, the tingles evaporate. Research indicates that the average life span for the tingles is two years. For some a little longer, for others a little less, but the average is two years. In my own marriage, Karolyn and I came down off the high within six months after our wedding.
Before we were married, no one informed me that there are two stages of romantic love. I knew that I was in love with Karolyn, and I anticipated having these feelings toward her for the rest of my life. I knew that she made me happy, and I wanted to do the same for her. When I came down off the emotional high, I was disillusioned. I remember the warnings my mother had given me, and I was plagued with the recurring thought, “I have married the wrong person.” I reasoned that if I had married the right person, surely my feelings would not have subsided so quickly after marriage. These painful thoughts were hard to shake. Our differences seemed so obvious now. Why did I not see them earlier? In time, my positive feelings turned to negative feelings of hurt, anger and disappointment.
I wish someone had been there to tell me that what I was thinking and feeling was normal; that in fact, there are two stages to romantic love, and I needed to make the transition. Unfortunately, no one was there to give me this information. I later discovered that the second stage of romantic love is much more intentional than the first stage, and yes, it requires work to keep emotional love alive. However, for those who make the effort to transition into stage two, the rewards are astounding.
The need for emotional love is universal. It is in fact our deepest emotional need. For those of us who are married, the person we would most like to love us is our spouse. If we feel loved, life is beautiful –– if we do not feel loved, the world begins to look dark. The second stage of love requires both information and work. The information needed is how to meet each other’s emotional need for love. What makes one person feel loved does not necessarily make another person feel loved. In my own experience as a marriage counselor, I discovered that there are five fundamental ways of expressing love emotionally. I call them the five love languages. I later wrote a book with that title to help others learn how to connect with each other and keep emotional love alive. Here is a brief summary of The 5 Love Languages.
First is Words of Affirmation — using words to affirm the other person. “You look nice in that outfit.” “I really like the movie you selected.” “I do appreciate what you did for me.” For some people, words of affirmation speak volumes emotionally. Conversely, if you give this person negative condemning words, you will kill emotional love quickly.
The second love language is Acts of Service — doing things for the other person, things you know they would like for you to do, such as washing their car, running an errand, sewing on a button or helping them with a computer problem. For these people, “actions speak louder than words.” I remember a young lady who said, “How could he love me? He never does anything to help me. He says ‘I love you, I love you,’ but the words are empty.” For this woman, acts of service was her primary love language, and her love tank was sitting on empty.
A third love language is Gifts. My academic background is anthropology, the study of cultures. We have never discovered a culture in which gift giving is not an expression of love. The gift says, “He was thinking about me. Look what he got for me.” The gifts need not be expensive. It is, in fact, the thought that counts. However, it is not the thought left in your head that counts, but rather the gift that came out of the thought in your head. If her love language is gifts and you come up empty handed on her birthday, you have extinguished the fire of emotional love.
A fourth love language is Quality Time — giving your spouse your undivided attention. Some people pride themselves on being able to watch television, read a magazine and talk to their spouse at the same time. While this may be a wonderful mental ability, it is not quality time. Quality time is taking a walk together in which the two of you talk about life. It’s sitting together sharing your history, your desires and your frustrations. It may involve an activity such as planting a flower garden, but the activity is not the important thing. The focus is on the two of you doing something together.
Love language number five is Physical Touch. We have long known the emotional power of physical touch. Holding hands, kissing, embracing, the whole sexual part of the marriage, running your hand through their hair, putting your arm around their shoulder or driving down the road and simply putting your hand on their leg can be a powerful message of love to the person whose primary love language is physical touch.
Out of these five love languages, each of us has a primary love language — one of the five speaks more deeply to us than the other four. Seldom do a husband and wife have the same love language, and by nature we speak our own language. Whatever makes me feel loved is what I tend to say or do for my spouse. But if it is not her primary love language, it will not mean to her what it means to me. This explains why couples can be sincerely expressing love to each other and still not be meeting the other’s emotional need for love. Sincerity is not enough — we must learn to express love in a language that is meaningful to the other person.
Successfully keeping emotional love alive means making a conscious choice to speak the love language of your spouse. This requires a willing heart. Love indeed is a choice that we make every day. If we know what would make our spouses feel loved, then we choose to love them or not love them on a daily basis.
One husband said after he discovered that his wife’s love language was acts of service, “If it is going to take my washing dishes, vacuuming floors and helping her with the laundry for her to feel loved, you can forget that.” Do you understand what this man is saying? He has the information. He knows what would make his wife feel loved, but he is making the willful choice not to do it. I don’t know how you feel as you read the statement of that husband, but my own attitude is that if washing dishes, vacuuming floors and helping Karolyn with the laundry would make her feel loved, then bring on the laundry, give me the vacuum and show me the dirty dishes. To me, it is a small price to pay to live with a happy wife.
Certainly love requires sacrifice. The choice to love is the choice which keeps emotional love alive long after the initial euphoric tingles have faded.
Dr. Gary Chapman is the best-selling author of The 5 Love Languages, which has sold more than 10 million copies in 50 different languages and remains on the New York Times best-seller list. Dr. Chapman also serves as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and has been a family counselor for more than 35 years. He and Karolyn, his wife, have been married more than 45 years and have two adult children, Shelley and Derek.