Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Better Relationship is a Great Gift

Love is the Greatest Gift

Of course, the best gift we can give to anyone in our life is love. That is what we are seeking to express when we get gifts for boyfriends, husbands, fathers, sons and friends. And, if it is a thoughtful gift, most people will appreciate it to some degree. But, did you ever notice how some people appreciate gifts even more than you expect them to? Or have you noticed that even if you put a lot of thought (and money) in to a gift some people don't seem to give it the appreciation you expected?

Part of the reason for this difference in reactions among gift recipients is the way they receive love the best, or their "love language" as it is explained in the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman. This book helps to explain how to show love to people in our lives in ways that will be the most meaningful to them. It is a huge help, not just in romantic relationships but in relations with everyone around you as well.

Three's a Crowd

I had read this book around the time I graduated high school. My dad recommended it to me, and I am forever grateful to him for that. I read it and took it to heart, and even shared the ideas in it with some high school kids on a Youth Group trip I was chaperoning. They ate it up just as much as I did. It turns out we all have not just a need and desire to be loved, but a real longing to love other people fully as well.

A few years ago, several years after I had read this book, my husband (then boyfriend) and I were having problems. He was working a lot of hours, usually seven days a week and late in to the evening every day. My logical mind was happy for him that he was getting so many hours because he was paying off debt and setting himself up with a strong financial future. It was also making a good impression for him at work, which would help him with promotions down the line.

However, I knew that the relationship was struggling a lot. I was trying not to be upset, but I just didn't feel loved anymore. I couldn't tell if he did or not, all I could see in him was that he was tired and focused on work. It didn't seem like he was making any efforts towards our relationship so I felt like I wasn't important and that he didn't love me.

Naturally, I thought about how I felt and what I would like to do to improve the relationship. For me it was obvious, to fix a relationship you need to spend time together. So I thought about it and found a Glock Armorer's class. (It is all day class where you learn how to fix and maintain guns.) I thought that he would enjoy it because he loves guns and is interested in how they work. He also loves learning. I figured that I was making a small sacrifice because I wasn't as interested in the subject matter, but I thought it would be really fun to sit together and to have him help me the whole day and to teach me more about it.

He agreed to go, even though he had to take a day off work. It had been months since he had a day off and figured one day wouldn't hurt. I was really looking forward to spending this quality time with him. That is, until the day before when he said, "Bob offered to pick us up so we can all ride together to the class, so I told him that'd be great." I was completely dumbfounded. He had invited his coworker, who he was spending about 80 hours a week with already, on our date. We were supposed to spend the whole day together, just us! I was heartbroken. He had no idea at the time what he had done.

We still went to the class as planned, but just as I expected, I was largely ignored the entire day. There was another guy from their work that was there that they didn't expect and the three of them had a jolly time. I struggled through the class, not just to keep from crying from disappointment, but because the material was difficult for me. A nice old man took pity on me and helped me through while my boyfriend laughed and joked with his friend. It was terrible…for me.

Still Not Getting It

Within a few weeks of that incident there was another one that was a similar clash in the understanding of love languages. There was a gem show going on across from his workplace. He and his coworkers decided to go over on their lunch break. My boyfriend had sent me a text message with a picture of some beautiful jewelry his friend had bought for his wife. I replied, "That's nice I guess, but I know she would rather spend time with him than with that piece of jewelry." He seemingly ignored the comment to talk about the great deal his friend had gotten.

That same day he came over and gave me a necklace. Now, don't get me wrong. It is a beautiful necklace. Probably one I would have picked out myself, which is pretty good for a guy to pick something that good on his own. I don't know the cost, but I'm sure it was expensive. I love it and still wear it and all that, but it hurt inside that he didn't understand what I really needed was time with him. I wondered how many hours he had to work to earn enough to buy that, and how I would have traded it for just an hour alone with him.

Time to Go

Finally, I decided to break up with him. I hadn't been happy for months. I "knew" he didn't love me, and according to all of my past experiences I figured he wouldn't be willing to work on the relationship to make it work. So I told him that it was over. I hadn't ever seen him that emotionally affected by anything in the entire time I knew him. I was honestly completely shocked. I had no idea that he cared that much, because from my perspective he didn't show it at all ever. He even wrote me a letter begging for another chance.

I remembered my dad's advice about the 5 Love Languages book. I started to realize that if he really did care for me, maybe he just didn't know how to show it in a way that made me feel it. I asked if we could listen to or read this book together and he agreed. At first it was hard because he would text message or talk in the middle of listening to it. Maybe he is great at multitasking, but it made it seem like it was unimportant to him and that hurt my feelings.

A New Hope

Eventually, we did the little quiz together to figure out what our love languages are. If you haven't read the book or heard of this concept before, the love languages are as follows:

·         Acts of Service
·         Physical Touch
·         Quality Time
·         Words of Affirmation
·         Gifts

Basically, everyone likes most of these things (probably all to some degree) but there are usually one or two that if we don't receive them then we feel unloved. That is our primary love language and we need it. Everyone is different and there is nothing wrong with any of them. They are all important, but there is a particular one is most important to each individual.

What we found out, surprise surprise, is that my primary love language is Quality Time. So it had been really hard on me to have him working so many hours and spending so little time with me. The damage was severe when in the example above, I expected to get to spend a whole day together and he invited his friend along. He had no idea that it was that important to me because Quality Time isn't a language he speaks naturally.

We realized we needed to learn each other's languages and how to speak them. So we decided to do a five week challenge where we do something that is in the other person's language every week. This made a huge difference. It was still a long hard road after that, as all relationships are difficult. But, this book saved our relationship and has been a continued help for years. We even try to incorporate the ideas for our friends and family members, trying to show them love in the ways that they understand.

We really started to understand how to show each other love in an effective and meaningful way. Please don't think that this was all one sided either. I am writing from my perspective because I knew my feelings best. I have struggled through learning his languages just as much. Relationships are hard! But they are even harder if you're attempting to get through it in another language. Let this book start teaching you and your man how to speak each other's languages.

It turns out he had always wanted to be a good boyfriend. He wanted to work hard to give me all that I needed and to show me how much he loved me. He wanted to make me happy just as much as I wanted to make him happy, probably more. But how can anyone be expected to know how to do something if no one has ever taught them? Sometimes we make lucky guesses, but everything we really know needs to be learned.

As a Gift

There are a few ways to approach this book as a gift. One is to suggest reading it together. That is what we did, and it didn't cause either of us to become defensive because we were working on it together. I don't remember now, but I hope I suggested it in such a way that implied that we both needed to understand the concepts, and not just him. If you have a fairly strong relationship and you would like to improve it, then there is probably no danger in buying it for him and seeing if he is willing to read it on his own or together. You should read it, too in either case though.

Another way to make it a gift is to read it yourself. He doesn't even need to know that you read it. Then apply the ideas. You will probably be able to figure out what his primary language is, and you can start to adjust your actions to love him in a way that he will really understand. Showing him love in his language really is the best gift you can give him. He will notice it, and probably respond in a loving grateful way even though he doesn't realize what the change is that occurred.

This book is also a fantastic gift for teenagers, people starting to date, or anyone who is starting a relationship. It is one of the books that will be required reading for our children before they are allowed to date. (Getting a drivers license requires training and testing. Why shouldn't dating? It is much more difficult and dangerous.)

It can be a romantic Valentine's Day gift or anniversary gift. It is even a great unasked for wedding gift for friends. Even if it isn't on their registry, a young couple should have this and will appreciate it later.


The same author, Gary Chapman teamed up with Jennifer Thomas to write a similar book called The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in all Your Relationships. It turns out that we all apologize and forgive in different ways as well. My husband and I read this book together and started joking about couples who literally yell at each other when they apologize. If you say it loud it shows that you mean it more, right? It is funny to us, only because we started to really understand how to ask each other for forgiveness and to give it freely.

It turns out that I was holding grudges and denying forgiveness just because he was saying it in a way that I didn't understand. How can you say you're sorry if you're just going to do it again? I needed a plan for change. It was great to learn that about myself, and for him to start to understand, too.

I was amazed at how liberating it was for both of us when I learned to apologize to him in a way that he understood and could accept. I have learned to accept responsibility for my actions, to not make excuses and to apologize directly for what I had done. It was hard to swallow my worthless pride at first, but when I saw how much it meant to him and how well it worked to heal our hurts, I started to delight in it. It has become so much easier to just admit that I was wrong.

This book is also essential reading for anyone who desires to be in a loving and selfless relationship. It helps all relationships, not just romantic ones. Apologizing is a skill that most people lack, probably for want of practice. It could probably change the world if we all worked on it even a little bit.

Details and Notes

The author of these books is a Christian and there are some Bible verses and ideas in it, but even if you are not religious in any way you can still get a lot out of these books. It isn't overwhelmingly strong or preachy at all. If you give it as a gift, the recipient won't get the impression that you are trying to evangelize; it is just plain good advice.

There is also a book about how to love and discipline children according to their love languages. We read this one together to help prepare us for our own kids. (The 5 Love Languages of Children) We learned a lot. There is another book about showing appreciation in the workplace in ways that are meaningful to coworkers and employees. (The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People) These books both utilize similar concepts, but are applied to specific situations.

The books are available in several formats. If he has a Kindle eReader then the Kindle version is a great follow-up gift, or add-on if you're buying him one. The audio versions are great if you want to listen together.

What do you think? Have you had any success with relationship books? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below!