The Love Connection
How do you measure the value of love? It is both scriptural and poetic to say love is sacrificial, kind, patient, long-suffering, keeps no track of wrong, does not boast, is not rude and thinks the best. However, in truth, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 speaks to the moral qualities of love, which flow from the character of God. Love serves to validate a relationship by communicating appreciation and affirmation. When we are on the receiving side of these two actions, we are able to measure the value of love directed toward us, as well as the value of the relationship.
People feel appreciated and affirmed through acts of kindness, because acts of kindness validate love. Kindness is life-giving. Patience and long-suffering validate love; or when someone acts sacrificially towards you, their actions validate a life-giving message that brings value to your relationship. When these attributes are absent, the ability to validate the relationship is often missing; and when this is lacking, the depth of any relational connection will often be in question.
Appreciation and Affirmation
You just moved into a new neighborhood, away from all that was previously familiar. You hear a knock on the door and open it to find your new neighbors standing there with a plate of cookies and welcoming smiles. Suddenly, you feel validated through this simple act of kindness.
And why wouldn’t you? Kindness, courtesy, and making a newcomer feel welcome are acts of love; and acts of love affirm and communicate appreciation. In this case, these acts validate an acceptance within the community and speak to the broad power of love. Acts of kindness and love have an influence even on strangers.
What about the home environment, where relationships are much more intimate and interrelated and dependent on each other? Does the character of love look different just because family members are more familiar with each other? It shouldn’t, because it is in the home environment that children learn the value and meaning of love.
Love is so important to God that He made it the distinctive identifying mark of Christ-followers. In John 13:35 Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Loving others is a badge that identifies Christ-Followers. God’s love is always intentional and purposeful. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 provides the many “applications” of love; John 13:35 speaks to the why of love. However, the place where many families struggle is in the how to of love. How can we communicate love to others in such a way that the person we are directing our love towards actually feels validated, affirmed and appreciated? What does loving another person look like? How does a mother or father know whether their efforts to communicate love are actually having an impact on the one they direct their love toward? Practically speaking, what are the various ways to communicate love?*
Making the Love Connection
Husbands, wives, and children all have different primary “touchpoints” of love—that is, points of emotional attraction. A touchpoint is like an emotional portal to the soul. It is an open channel that allows the sensation of love to pass directly to the inner person. It becomes the primary point of connection, in which the meaning of love might be affirmed or misunderstood.
Have you ever attempted to communicate with someone who did not speak English, nor did you speak their native language? You may connect some ideas, but you do not fully connect all your thoughts and intentions. On a ministry trip to Russia, I (Gary) remember my first visit to Moscow, and specifically my first view of the Kremlin and Red Square. A crowed had gathered in front of Lenin’s tomb, and I learned that everyone was waiting for a single event—the famous changing of the guards. Those around me spoke Russian. I did not and therefore, their words were meaningless to me. As the replacement guards started their march toward the tomb, I heard someone in the crowed shout out, “Hey Larry, stand over here. You can get a better photo.” Instantly, I turned to the sound of English. I connected with it. No one else in the crowed turned. English was not their primary language.
Spanish, although still a foreign language is one that we recognized. If Spanish was spoken that day in Red Square, I would have identified it—not as quickly as English, but I would have identified it as second language. I could have picked out French as well, although I would not have tuned into French as quickly as Spanish or English. The languages we are most familiar with are the ones with which we connect.
The events of that afternoon provide a great analogy: what happens with foreign languages occurs with emotional languages. We may speak our primary emotional language, but it often comes across to others as an unknown tongue. This is exactly the point that author, Justin Swihart made in 1977, when he put forth the original concept of emotional love languages. We are grateful for his insights and ground-breaking work.*
* FOOTNOTE: Swihart, Justin, ‘How to Say I Love You’ (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1977), also wish to acknowledge a ministry acquaintance, Dr. Gary Chapman, for providing his additional insights and expanded applications. We highly recommend his book, ‘The Five Love Languages’ (Northfield Press: Chicago, 1992).
The Six Emotional Love Languages
There are six different emotional languages. Everyone has the capacity to speak all six, but there is usually one or two primary emotional languages that we all connect with. The challenge then, is figuring out what specific language do people, who are closes to us, use as the primary conduit to receiving love. Here are some examples we trust will make this point clear.
Loving with Purposeful Service
This means doing something special for another person that you know is going to be appreciated. It is often something unexpected and something outside the norm of everyday life. Maybe for a husband it means putting gas in his wife’s car on Sunday night, so she does not have to worry about it during the week. It is not that his wife is not capable of putting gas in her own car, but he knows how much she would appreciate this simple gesture of service.
When a husband comes home from work knowing the large patio area needs sweeping only to discover his wife did it for him. She chose to love him through a very specific act of service. Whenever you do something for another person beyond the normal course of events, you are saying, “I love you,” in action.
Loving with Words That Affirm
One way of expressing love is to be the voice of encouragement. Taking the time to verbally pat someone on the back is a way of saying, “I love you.” “You’re such a compassionate person.” “I need to learn from you.” “The flower garden looks beautiful. You must have worked on it all day.” “That dress really complements you.” For some, there is no greater way to express or receive love than by words of legitimate praise and recognition.
Loving with Gifts
The giving of gifts is another way to emotionally communicating love. Although it is often a simple gesture, it packs great meaning because of what it represents. Impromptu gift-giving (unlike giving gifts on occasions such as birthdays or holidays) sends the message, “When we were apart, you were on my mind and this gift reflects that moment.” A modest gift is a meaningful token that can say to a needy heart, “I love you.”
Loving with Closeness and Touch
Physical touch and closeness is a special way of saying, “I love you.” Holding hands, putting your arm around your spouse’s or your child’s shoulder, or just standing close to each other sends a special love message. A husband may be working in his garden, and his wife chooses to sit near him, with a book in hand and begin to read. The fact that she could have read the book anywhere in the house, but decided to be close to him, sends a message of love. Some couples enjoy being near each other even when silence prevails. Just knowing the other person is right there is enough to confirm a partner’s affection and care.
Loving with Dedicated Time
Dedicated time is quality time to the one eager to receive it. Those who choose to love this way are saying, “I’m putting everything else aside, because I want to spend time with you, to hear about your day, your thoughts and what is going on right now in your life.” Providing dedicated time requires that you invest yourself in the other person by giving him or her your undivided attention. It involves two people who are actively participating in the conversation and going beyond the “fact” level of communication. It may only be for ten minutes, but for the person whose primary emotional language is tied to dedicated quality time, those ten minutes are precious.
Loving with Thoughtful Gestures
Thoughtfulness is the only emotional touchpoint that utilizes the other five expressions of love—acts of service, gift-giving, words of encouragement, quality time, and closeness. However, there is more to thoughtfulness than simply how it is expressed. It starts with the seed of thoughtfulness, which is the intuitive ability to recognize opportunities to bless another person. The following narrative is a true-life story demonstrating the power of thoughtfulness.
“I was at a conference last week, chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. She noticed the skirt I had on, and commented on the colors and how nice she thought it looked on me. I thanked her, and in passing casually mentioned that I was having difficulty finding a top to complement it. From there we went on to talk about other happenings in our lives and eventually departed, knowing that in a couple of weeks we would see each other at another event, which happened to be today. I had forgotten about our conversation regarding my skirt, but my friend had not. This morning, she handed me a pretty box, and inside was a blouse that matched the skirt perfectly! I felt loved, appreciated and validated because of my friend’s thoughtfulness.”
What makes thoughtfulness a unique love language? In the case above, most women understand it is one thing to find a matching blouse when you have the skirt in hand, but for her friend to have matched the color of the skirt from memory reflected purposeful attentiveness. In this case, the thoughtful friend was not necessarily looking for an opportunity to be a blessing, but she recognized the opportunity when it presented itself.
The frustration experienced by the first woman of not finding a matching blouse, minor as that may have been in the grand scheme of life, became for her friend an opportunity to be a blessing. That is what those whose primary love language is thoughtfulness tend to do. They seem intuitively to recognize opportunities to extend kindness and generosity, and at some point in time, they act on those opportunities.
These are the people who tend to remember everyone’s birthday with a thoughtful note, or notice the color details of your new kitchen and show up with the perfect accessory. Staying attentive to the little and big details of a conversation, and recognizing opportunities to express a thoughtful gesture, is a unique way of saying, “You are loved.” Those thoughtful people in our lives are the same people who feel loved when a thoughtful gesture is directed toward them.
This post is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Life Series.