Do you and your spouse have a secret language?
I’m not talking about speaking in gibberish or anything crazy like that. I’m just talking about shorthand language. For example, anytime I am doing something stupid and my wife wants to alert me to impending doom or injury, (like when I am using a metal staple gun to attach an electrified strand of Christmas lights to our house) she’ll shout,
It’s in reference to the IQ test I took as a kid where allegedly (according to my mother) I scored just one point shy of “Genius” on the charts. Much like the Loch Ness Monster, the actual document has yet to surface, but the score lives and breathes in our marriage on a regular basis.
We also use the word “Babe” when speaking to each other. Like, “Hey Babe, could you pass me the sports section?” or “Hey Babe, could you at least warn me when you are going to pass gas in the car?” It’s a term of endearment that conveys affection and intimacy. Unless, say, your toddler picks up on it and starts using the same word to get his preschool teacher’s attention.
But it works for us. It’s the language of love.
Dr. Gary Chapman has written a book called The Five Love Languages. You have likely seen it. It is one of the most popular resources for spouses, showing up in pre-marital communications workshops, couples Bible Study groups, or even the marriage therapist’s office.
In Chapman’s book, he describes the Love Languages as five different ways to express and experience love.
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Chapman explains that every person has a different preference in terms of how he or she prefers to experience love. Again, a sort of “marital shorthand.” And studies show that we tend to express love in the same way we prefer to experience it. But Chapman’s main point is that we do our marriages a disservice when we express love in a way that our partner couldn’t care less about.
Being a Words of Affirmation guy, I used to spend a lot of time telling my wife how great she was all the time. But that didn’t mean a hill of beans to her unless I first cleaned a toilet (Acts of Service) and klutzed my way through a Vinyasa yoga class with her (Quality Time). Over the years, we have adopted a new language, learning how to give what the other person needs, which ensures that our limited stores of relationship energy are used for maximum benefit.
But something happened last week that made me realize I’ve been missing the most important thing of all.
A Sixth Love Language.
And without it, the other five are doomed to fail.
At the beginning of the year, Gabby quit her job to come work for my company. Now, before you think I’m all high-falootin’, please realize that LifeWork Associates has a grand total of one employee. Me. And she was going to take a massive pay cut (i.e. she works for sandwiches and compliments) to help me get some more local business so I wouldn’t have to be on the road as much. It was a change designed to help us be more intentional about life and get back to what’s important.
And over the past few weeks, I have taken significant strides to help this little dream become a reality. Made over a dozen new business connections. Worked hard to develop a plan to make writing a viable part of my career. And, I have also done a lot of Acts of Service for Gabby. Changing light bulbs, fixing the latch on the back door, feeding the kids and getting them ready for school, mopping floors, opening dozens of stubborn jar lids and smashing an untold number of scary bugs.
But when we finally sat down last night for our half-hour of decompression before bed, Gabby seemed agitated. She was miffed that I left her favorite pillow in Atlanta while on a road trip with our son. She complained that I was hogging too much room on the couch. She even made a comment about the inconsistency of my toenail management regimen.
Has she been paying attention? I thought. I am pretty amazing over here. A virtual Shakespeare of love languages. But she’s harping on how a wayward toenail cut her ankle in the middle of the night?
I was concerned about me and how I wasn’t getting my Words of Affirmation.
Then she said, “And could you please copy me on emails about the book and about the business? This is a team effort, you know.”
And that’s when it hit me. I had neglected the Sixth Love Language. The one upon which the others are built.
The Language of Inclusion.
Over the past several weeks, I had been immersed in the language of “Me.” Doing things by myself and for myself. Building contacts. Meeting new people. Finding new exciting opportunities.
But I’ve been rowing alone. With one oar. Moving forward, but traveling in circles. Forgetting that Gabby is the one who introduced me to a lot of these people. She’s one who gave me the ideas. It’s like she baked the cake, but I got to eat it.
The whole thing.
I suspect we’re not alone. When schedules get busy and kids pull us in different directions with soccer and Girl Scouts and basketball practice, it is necessary to divide and conquer. When this happens, husband and wife experience both challenges and triumphs separately. And we communicate between interruptions using only five-second sound bytes. If this becomes the norm, it’s only a matter of time before “our life” gradually becomes “our lives.” Lived apart in the same house.
John Gottman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, has studied marital satisfaction for the past 35 years. Through his research, he is able to predict which couples will stay married or get divorced with roughly 90% accuracy. By reading his stuff, I have learned two things.
First, never invite him on a double date. He’s a total buzz kill.
Second, if you want your marriage to work, it has to be built on the Language of Inclusion.
In his work with thousands of couples, Gottman found that satisfied couples have the ability to talk through even the most challenging issues with mutual respect, valuing their relationship over their own positions. And he asserts that we can’t achieve this level of respect by staying apart. We have to share day-to-day events and respond with enthusiasm. We have to develop an understanding of our spouse’s worries, hopes and dreams. We have to make decisions in partnership. And most of all, we have to be working toward the same goal, developing a shared sense of meaning in our lives. Rowing in the same direction.
And no amount of floor scrubbing or gift-giving can do that.
No. It takes commitment. Talking through tired eyes when everyone has gone off to bed. Staying curious in the midst of everyday routine. Finding new questions for which you don’t already know the answer.
Living the Language of Inclusion.
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