Learn to Speak Your Spouse's Love Language

Husband and wife embracing

What is your primary love language? What makes you feel most loved by your spouse? What do you desire above all else?

For more on the 5 love languages

If the answer to those questions does not leap to your mind immediately, perhaps it will help to look at the negative use of love languages. What does your spouse do or say — or fail to do or say — that hurts you deeply?

Ignoring our partner's love languages is like ignoring the needs of a garden: If we don't weed, water or fertilize, it will die a slow death.

When you're trying to figure out your primary love language, it helps to look back over your marriage and ask, "What have I most often requested of my spouse?" Whatever you have most requested is probably in keeping with your primary love language. Those requests have probably been interpreted by your spouse as nagging — but in fact, they have been your efforts to secure emotional love from your spouse.

Another way to discover your primary love language is to examine what you do or say to express love to your spouse. Chances are what you are doing for her is what you wish she would do for you. If you are constantly doing acts of service for your spouse, perhaps (although not always) that is your love language. If words of affirmation speak love to you, chances are you will use them in speaking love to your spouse. Thus, you may discover your own language by asking, "How do I consciously express my love to my spouse?"

But how can we speak each other's love language when we are full of hurt, anger and resentment over past failures?

Love doesn't erase the past, but it makes the future different. When we choose active expressions of love in the primary love language of our spouse, we create an emotional climate where we can deal with our past conflicts and failures.

The "in-love" experience is on the level of instinct. It is not premeditated; it simply happens in the normal context of male-female relationships. It can be fostered or quenched, but it does not arise by conscious choice. It is short-lived (usually two years or less) and seems to serve for humankind the same function as the mating call of the Canada goose.

The "in-love" experience temporarily meets one's emotional need for love. It gives us the feeling that someone cares, that someone admires us and appreciates us. Our emotions soar with the thought that another person sees us as number one, that he or she is willing to devote time and energy exclusively to our relationship. For a brief period, however long it lasts, our emotional need for love is met.

In time, however, we come down from that natural high back to the real world. If our spouse has learned to speak our primary love language, our need for love will continue to be satisfied. If, on the other hand, he or she does not speak our love language, our tank will slowly drain, and we will no longer feel loved. Meeting that need in one's spouse is definitely a choice. If I learn the emotional love language of my spouse and speak it frequently, she will continue to feel loved. When she comes down from the obsession of the "in-love" experience, she will hardly even miss it because her emotional love tank will continue to be filled.

Meeting my wife's need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional needs will be met, and she will feel secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank.

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"What if the love language of your spouse is something that doesn't come naturally for you?" I am often asked this question in my marriage seminars, and my answer is always, "So?"

When an action doesn't come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.

We are talking about love, and love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself. Most of us do many things each day that do not come "naturally" for us. For some of us, that is getting out of bed in the morning. We go against our feelings and get out of bed. Why? Because we believe there is something worthwhile to do that day. And normally, before the day is over, we feel good about having gotten up. Our actions preceded our emotions.

The same is true with love. We discover the primary love language of our spouse, and we choose to speak it whether or not it is natural for us. Love is a choice. And either partner can start the process today.

Dr. Gary Chapman is a family counselor, radio host, associate pastor and author of several books, including The Five Love Languages and One More Try.

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