These few words spoken to a child in a moment of sincere inquiry caused me to pause and truly think about how my family expresses love. What became apparent to me is not only that we need to express our love in ways that reach those we love, but that we also need to understand their signs and words of affection outside the lens of our own love language.
When my honey heard about this topic, he asked "what are they?" To clarify, they are:
1. Words of affirmation: people who experience love through this language find verbal expressions of love, acceptance, and affirmation as feeling loved.
2. Quality time: people who experience love this way feel most loved when their loved one gives them undivided attention. Focus. Putting everything aside and simply being with them.
3. Gifts: to show love to a person who has this love language requires not simply buying something. It's buying the perfect gift. Although this isn't my primary love language, it's certainly my secondary, which I've realized by the fact that I always find it important to not just give someone I love a birthday or Christmas gift, but to give them the gift that will mean the most to them. My honey did this a few years ago on Mother's Day. We'd been watching "American Idol" and he heard me say that the song one of the contestants sang was one of my favorite songs. He pocketed this, then went online and found several versions of the song and burned six of them to a CD for me. The fact that he heard me, then spent time creating something just for me meant more than any chocolate, diamond, or fancy dinner.
4. Acts of Service: This is most definitely my love language. I distinctly remember watching my husband vacuum and feel enormous love. When he says, "Let me do that for you" or "How can I help you," all I hear is "I love you." I find myself expressing love this way by serving others. Whether it's picking up my daughter's messy clothes, paying property taxes so my honey doesn't have to worry about them, packing animal crackers in Ty's lunch or bringing coffee to a friend, I show those I love that I do in the way I experience it. In researching the topic, I read that laziness or making more work for someone with this language actually comes across as expressions that their feelings don't matter. Love is expressed to those with this language by actions that require thought and a positive spirit.
5. Physical touch: enough said. This love language is expressed through the brush of a hand. A kiss on the cheek. A squeeze of the knee.
In looking at these, I easily identified mine. Those close to me can tell me all day they love me. They can give me gifts. Take me to a movie. Hold my hand. But when they selflessly do a simple task like empty the dishwasher without being asked or help me bring groceries in from the car or unpack their backpacks and lunch boxes without being asked, I feel loved. Because these simple acts say to me "I appreciate you. I want to make your day easier by helping with the little tasks that I can." They demonstrate thinking about someone else over yourself--and to me, that is the ultimate expression of love.
In thinking through this, I also realized that expressing my love through my own love language might not be the most effective way to show those I love how I feel. Just because Acts of Service is my love language doesn't mean it's my husband's or daughter's or son's. I must see how they express their love to me and return that in kind. Because to show them how I love them requires me speaking their language. Just as a gift or word doesn't express as much to me as undertaking a task for me, I need to understand how my family experiences love and show it in a way they understand instead of a way that feels right to me.
Because at our core, loving and feeling loved is the penultimate and we owe it to ourselves and those we love to get it right.