Learning the Language of Love
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What says love to you? A tender touch? A surprise gift? Time with your honey? Gary Chapman joins blended-family expert Ron Deal, to talk about the love languages and the blended family.
Learning the Language of Love
Bob: Many of us have benefitted from Dr. Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, talking about how we express love to one another/how we receive love. He explains he realized that you have to understand this concept differently, depending on the dynamics of your family.
Gary: Once the concept was out there, and I had people coming to me in my marriage seminars and saying, “You know, how does this work in a blended family?” At first, I was thinking, “Well, it just works the same way it does in any family.” But when they began to share with me, I began to realize that there is a different dynamic here; because a biological child and a biological parent has one kind of relationship, but a step-parent and a step-child has a different kind of relationship.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 17th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How do moms and dads and siblings and step-siblings learn to express love to one another?—and receive love from one another in a blended family? We're going to talk about that today with Ron Deal and Gary Chapman. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Do you remember?—I'm guessing you do—do you remember where you were or when you first heard about the five love languages? I mean, we're talking about a concept that I feel like everybody listening has heard, at least, that title; right? Do you remember when you first heard about it?
Ann: I taught it, actually, the year that it came out. I had a Detroit Lions’ wives’ Bible study. I was really excited because this new book came out, and it's so attractional—the topic—that whether you're a believer or not a believer, everyone relates to it. The discussion that came out of this book was amazing.
Bob: It was rich.
Ann: But it also gave Dave and me a real language and dialog of how to understand each other.
Dave: Finally, my wife could understands me. [Laughter]
Ann: Because I didn’t before that.
Dave: I understood her perfectly. [Laughter]
Bob: I remember where I first learned the five love languages. It was from the author of the book himself.
Ann: Oh, you're bragging now.
Bob: I’m bragging. Gary Chapman joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Gary, welcome back.
Gary: Thank you, Bob. Good to be back.
Bob: And joining Gary today is our friend, Ron Deal, who gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®. Ron, welcome.
Ron: Thank you.
Bob: We're talking about, today, the issue of blended families, and love languages, and how those connect; because you guys have just finished a book on this subject.
Gary, I said that I first learned these from you; do you remember teaching me the five love languages?
Gary: Well, you must have been rather young [Laughter], because it was a long time ago. [Laughter]
Bob: I want our listeners—this was a classic moment in FamilyLife Today history—this goes back to when we first interviewed Gary. By this point, you'd already written The Five Love Languages for Children with Dr. Ross Campbell.
Bob: We were interviewing both of you. In the midst of the interview, we thought, “Well, the audience just needs to hear what those languages are”; so here's how it went.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Bob: Gary, go over for us the five love languages that you talk about in the book.
Gary: Well, they are basically:
Physical touch: you know, physically touching the child—hugging, kissing, touching in other ways.
Giving gifts: which a lot of parents are proficient at that, because they don't have time to do the others—giving gifts.
Acts of service: doing things for the child—in the early years, changing diapers; but in the later years, fixing bicycles—doing things for the child.
Quality time: giving the child your undivided attention/focusing on the child.
And number five is—[Pause and laughter] There you go! [Laughter]
Bob: We're going to leave that on the broadcast, gentlemen. [Laughter]
Bob: So there you go. [Laughter] We asked the author of The Five Love Languages to go over them for us. Have you blanked in other places, where you forgot them?
Gary: I think that's the only place I ever did that. [Laughter] That probably ought to be erased! [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, thanks, Bob, for bringing it up.
Bob: We carry along any dirty laundry we get. We have a dirty laundry pile.
Ann: Oh, Dave; we need to remember that. [Laughter]
Gary: I can't wait to hear our interview today! [Laughter]
Dave: By the way, you're not using that love language he forgot.
Bob: The Words of—I'm not using Words of Affirmation. [Laughter]
Dave: This is very—unbecoming words of affirmation. [Laughter]
Ron: This is called stepping on somebody's love language. [Laughter]
Bob: All of us around the table can testify to the fact that this idea of the fact that we communicate love differently and we understand love differently in any relationship—I don't know what it was, but that's been life-changing for so many people/so many relationships.
For Mary Ann and me—for me to lean over and rub her neck a little bit—that just annoys the heck out of her. [Laughter] She hates when I do that. I'm trying to say, “I love you,” and she's going, “Leave me alone!”
Ann: Wait; what's your love language, Bob?
Bob: My love language is mostly words of affirmation, and physical touch would be in there as well. And for her, interestingly, she said, early on, acts of service. When we had kids, it was acts of service. Now, it's quality time; it's time together that's more important.
Our love languages do shift over time; don't they?
Gary: I think that there are seasons of life in which another love language may jump to the top.
Bob: Yes; but the whole big idea here—that when we can learn—if I want to say, “I love you,” I should not say it in Swahili; because you're not going to understand that. I need to say it in the language that you receive it in; otherwise, I'm just whistling in the dark; right?
Gary: Absolutely; “If you're going to say it to me, say it in southern English”; okay? [Laughter]
Bob: “I'm going to affirm y'all.” [Laughter]
Ron, you and Gary started talking, a while back, about the idea of love languages and blended families. I remember hearing this and thinking to myself, “Well, can't blended families just pick up the main book and read it, and go, 'This makes sense'?”
Ann: Yes; what's different?
Ron: I'd love to answer that; but before I do, you didn't ask me where I was when I first heard.
Bob: Oh, I didn't. Do you remember?
Ron: I do; because I was in graduate school, studying marriage and family therapy when this book came out in 1992; right Gary?
Ron: I was in the throes of studying lots of things, and this book comes out. It's so practical and so straightforward—like you get it—like: “This is how you sacrifice and show love. You find the language of the other person—not your language—find their language; speak their language.” It's just the way you laser-beam your sacrifice on behalf of the other.
It was amazing and earth-shattering. I don't think most people realize—I'm going to brag on Gary for a second—how influential that book has been. Everywhere I go, I will hear, from academic presentations to somebody doing a marriage enrichment workshop, and they will just say something that is an offshoot or an idea that grew out of this very simple, but deeply wise, principle of sacrificing and speaking in ways that the other person really hears your heart for them.
Bob: So, back to the question of blended families—why can't they just read the main book? Why do they need a translation?
Ron: The bottom line of the why we need another book to apply the love languages is—deep within the assumption of how to live this out, is this idea—well, let's just take Dave and Ann for a second here. I'll make you my examples.
Dave: Maybe not. [Laughter] It depends on where he's going with this.
Ann: Dave always gets nervous; I get excited. Okay!
Ron: Okay; so they're in a marriage relationship. If Dave discovers Ann's love language—and it is?
Ron: If Dave says, “Okay, quality time”—and he arranges some time to spend with Ann—we assume Ann wants quality time with him. We assume Ann goes: “Wow! This is great; because I value Dave. I cherish our relationship; and therefore, he's investing in me in ways. He is showing me his love, and I want to receive his love.”
That begs the question: “What if you're in a relationship with somebody who doesn't really want your love?—doesn't really want you to articulate or express love in a way that is deeply meaningful to [them]?—because they kind of value you, but they really don't value you a lot.” What if this is a step-parent/step-child relationship? The step-child is fine with you in their life, but they don't really need quality time with you. What they need, and what they're starving for, is quality time with their biological parent that they don't get to see as often as they would like to.
All of a sudden, as a step-parent, you can be—on target, on task, have the insight of knowing the child's love language—only to have it fail when you try to implement it.
Ann: So, if you have a step-son and his love language is touch, and you're thinking, “Okay; I'm going to hug this kid,” “I'm going to rub his head,”—you're saying that may not be the best approach with him.
Ron: Imagine walking up to a stranger [Laughter] and giving him a bear hug and a noogie; you know?—rubbing their head and going, “Oh, you're so cool!” They're like: “I'm calling the cops on you. Get away from me.”
Obviously, you can't show an intimate form of love to somebody who doesn't, also, reciprocate and desire that level of love in return.
Bob: Gary, you've been doing pastoral counseling with couples/with step-families for years. Have you seen, as you've tried to apply love language ideas in step-families, that
it's not the same as it is in an intact family?
Gary: I have, but it was several years before it really dawned on me that that was true; because I didn't work with that many blended families.
But once the concept was out there, and I realized/and I had people coming to me in my marriage seminars, and saying, “You know, how does this work in a blended family?” At first, I was thinking, “Well, it just works the same way it does in any family”; you know? But when they began to share with me the kind of things, Ron, you were just talking about, I began to realize: “No, there's a different dynamic here; because the biological child and the biological parent has one kind of relationship, but a step-parent and a step-child has a different kind of relationship.”
That's why I was open to the concept when Ron came to me and said, “Could we work together on this?”
Bob: I understand, where step-parent and step-child—there's a detachment there—but two people, who come together as husband and wife, in a blended marriage—I would think that would be more like a first marriage. How does love language thinking get short-circuited between a husband and a wife?
Ron: As Gary and I started talking through the book, he taught me something about dialects, which is a whole concept that we could spend a little time talking about. Imagine—one of the stories we tell in the book is about a woman who was married to her husband—a wonderful, loving marriage relationship. Her husband was tragically killed in a car accident. Fast forward a few years—she meets a man; they marry.
Her first husband's love language was physical touch; second husband's love language—physical touch. “Ahh,” she says, “I know exactly what to do.” Turns out—back rubs are not his thing—and that kind of puts him off, as a matter of fact. She's now confused; she's now lost: “I thought I knew what it was.”
Well, turns out there's just a different dialect/there's a different version of physical touch. She has to do two things—she has to unlearn the patterns of showing love that she learned—
Bob: —which have become reflexive for her; she just does this instinctively.
Ron: Yes; and now, she has to relearn a new dialect to connect with her current husband.
Dave: How does it play out? Obviously, you mentioned already; but with the children—because the love language idea—Ron, you already said it—really is based on trust.
Ron: Yes, that's it.
Dave: Blended families have a time table of trust; talk about that.
Ron: Well, on other FamilyLife Today broadcasts—and in our podcast: the FamilyLife Blended podcast—we have talked at great length about how you cook a step-family; and it's with a crockpot—that's the bottom line. It is slow and steady persistence that wins the day—that warms up ingredients/that softens their hearts and, then, moves them toward one another. Like crockpots cook ingredients, that's how it happens in a blended family.
Bob: —low heat over time.
Ron: —low heat; lots of time.
Ron: Imagine that your step-child's love language is physical touch. You can find something that is an expression of that, that the child can receive from you. It just may not be bear hugs yet; it might not be noogies.
Ann: How do you discover that?
Ron: Well, it's trial and error. I would love to be able to say, “Here's the chart: Step 1…” [Laughter] No, it's trial and error; you give it a try and see what happens. Every child is going to have a different pace at which they can receive something that connects it as more intimate into their heart and life.
It may be with Child “A”: if physical touch is their love language, fist bump—that’s pretty much all you're going to get from that child. But Child “B” is a little younger, a little more outgoing, a little more adventuresome—they're receiving you more quickly than their older sibling is. Theirs is quality time, and they're more than happy to spend an hour with you playing a board game.
You can get more intimate sooner with some children than you can with others. You pace with the child. You find out where they're comfortable, start there. With the passage of time—and the crockpot—the fist bump becomes side hugs. The side hugs, perhaps—may not necessarily—but perhaps, graduate into big ole bear hugs. That is the culmination of the relationship cooking process, and who knows if you'll get there and how long it will take. The point is: “You're patient to persist and keep moving where the child is.”
Bob: Gary, sometimes step-parents want this thing to hurry up because they're so anxious to see family cohesion happen in their second family.
Gary: Yes; let's face it—when you marry the second time, and there's children involved, you want those children that are not your biological children to love you. And you want them to know that you love them, because you really do love them. So yes, you figure, “Well, I've got the love language down; so I'll just jump in here, and before we know it, we'll just be one big family.”
The thing that Ron is pointing out, I think, is true; that is, we're failing to reckon with what's going on inside the child. That child has a tie to the other biological parent—and they're already going through hurt and pain over what's happened—whether it was the death of a parent or divorce. They've gone through trauma already, and they're not always ready to move as fast as we want to move. That's why I think this book is going to be very, very helpful to blended families.
Dave: My mom and dad divorced, and then my dad remarried. I ended up being a step-son with a step-mom and going on a vacation with them to Europe. My dad was an airline pilot, so it was a free trip. I didn't know this until years later—it was their honeymoon—think about that! I didn't even realize until years later. I found out later, when my step-mom made fun of me crawling into their bed on their honeymoon night. [Laughter] I was afraid; I was 12/13 years old—
Ann: —and you were in a separate room.
Dave: —and I was in a separate room. I went across the hall at midnight, just scared; you know.
Here's what I do remember. I remember my mom's love language—my bio mom—was
touch. She loved to hug. I'd walk in the house—hug.
Ann: —and kissed everyone on the lips.
Dave: Yes, my friends come in the house—hug. It embarrassed me to the point, so I got hugged a lot by my bio mom/my real mom.
When I went on this trip, my step-mom wants to hug me; and I recoil. Even though this has been a normal thing in my home, I remember, as a 12/13-year-old thinking, “I'm not where you are, Dad.” I knew that already: “You guys are in love; I'm not.”
I remember she sort of looked at me, like, “What's wrong with you?”; and now I know. Just you having discussions—like: “There I am, right there. I am not taking that crockpot journey,”—it's going to be years for me, actually. And yet, she's trying to show me: “I love you. I love your dad. I love you immediately, as a mom,” almost; and I wouldn't take it. That's where your book comes into play—help families understand this.
Ron: How confusing for the step-parent, who's going: “But I'm doing everything right. I read the book. We took the inventory online. Our kids took it. We know what their bull's eye love language is. We even know what their secondary love languages are. I'm doing that right, but they reject it from me; but they receive it from their biological parent.”
Ann: I would think, at that point, a step-parent would become very discouraged and almost be very inclined to pull away and pull out. What's your advice to them?
Ron: Not almost—you nailed it. They are going to pull away. They are going to feel rejected and “Why try?”—right?—“I'm just defeated on every level.”
Our encouragement to them today is, “No, no, no.” It's the dynamic that Gary was talking about that is causing what feels to be rejection. It's: “Too much, too soon,”—maybe is a way to say it. You're on the right track. What I love, step-parent, about your heart in that moment, is that you are sacrificing; you are extending yourself; you are trying to connect to the heart of this child—that—we don't want to lose at all. We just want to direct it, so that it's in a way that the child can, perhaps, receive it. You may have to lower your expectations a lot. That, in and of itself, feels a little defeating.
Ron: It's like: “No, no, no; this is just the journey you go on. Lower your expectations, find out what they can receive from you.” It may, in your heart, be very disappointing: “What?—fist bump? That is so impersonal. That doesn't even feel like love at all.” Well, okay; but it's you reaching them in a way that they can reach back.
Bob: I'm thinking back to Dave's example with his bio mom and his step-mom—both having the same love language. I'm thinking: “If he starts showing his step-mom the same level/ same kind of affection he's been showing his bio mom, he's going to feel like he's betraying his bio mom: ‘That's what I do with her; that's not what I do with this new lady.’” That's an added layer in this; isn't it?
Gary: I think so, and the child feels that. They might not be able to verbalize it; but they sense that, “You're not my mother.” They may even say it that way—“You're not my mother,”—and the person says: “Honey, I know I'm not your mother. Remember, I told you that. I'm not going to try to be your mother, but I do love you.”
The dynamic is, not only with the step-parent feeling rejected, but also the child feeling like: “Wait a minute. Don't come on so strong here; you're not my mother.”
Bob: Ron, I'm wondering: “For a family that is a step-family—to engage with this content that you guys have put together—do they need to have the basics in place before they pick up a book like this and say, ‘Let's try to figure this out’; or if you're in the middle of still trying to build a foundation under a step-family, does this help build that foundation?”
Ron: It does. We have written the book in such a way that it stands all on its own. If you've never read anything else—never watched any video series we've ever produced or anything like that—this is going to walk you through, start to finish. It wraps the wisdom of the five love languages into the application in a blended family situation.
Bob: I don't know how many times, over the last decade—I'm talking to couples, who are in blended families, talking about the challenges/talking about the traumas—and I've said to them, “Have you heard of a book called The Smart Step-Family?”—which is the first book you wrote on this subject. They said, “No”; and I said, “Start there.” Should I still say that; or should I say, “Get that and get this, and read them together”?
Ron: I think each has its own message and its own content that is unique in each book.
I think you could start with either, but they will complement each other; in other words, this whole application of the love languages is not in The Smart Stepfamily at all. Some concepts will carry over, but this is a very unique book that Gary and I have put together.
I've got to tell you—I'm extremely proud of it. I feel like—you know, it's strange—I've written a number of other things; but I feel like this book is going to have the quickest, fastest, most profound impact on people simply because it has, as I've already said, the wisdom of the five love languages wrapped into it. We are channeling people's surrender and sacrifice in their love relationships, in a very focused way, that I really believe is going to make a big difference.
Bob: Well, you wrote a book with Yoda; I mean, come on. [Laughter]
Ron: I know! [Laughter]
Ann: Gary, is that?—that's probably a nice compliment that you haven't heard before.
Gary: I haven't heard that before. [Laughter]
Dave: “Yoda, you are,”—[Laughter]—something like that.
Bob: “A fine book you've written”—which copies we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. [Laughter] You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. In fact, we feel so strongly about this book the two of you have written, that we are making it available to any FamilyLife Today listener who will make a donation to support this ministry.
This is a book that, if you're in a blended family, you need to have it—read it; read it together; start to practice it. If you know somebody—maybe somebody you work with in your office or somebody who's in the neighborhood—get this book and give it, as a gift, to them. This could be a great way to open up gospel conversations with those folks.
The book is our way of saying, “Thank you,” this week when you make a donation in support of this ministry. Your donations expand the ministry of FamilyLife Today. You enable us to reach more people, more often. You're really investing in the lives of husbands and wives, moms and dads, single folks—you're making it possible for them to get practical biblical help and hope every day.
Again, when you make a donation today, we want to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of the new book, Building Love Together in Blended Families. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate by phone. Again, the title of the book by Gary Chapman and Ron Deal: Building Love Together in Blended Families. Donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to donate by phone.
By the way, Ron and Gary are going to be speaking together at an event that's coming up in April. It's our 2020 Blended and Blessed live event; it's happening in Houston, Texas. It's going to be live-streamed all around the world. Along with Ron Deal and Gary Chapman, Laura Petherbridge, Bill Butterworth, and others are going to be part of the day. The theme of the day is “Building Love Together in Blended Families”—how to apply the five love languages for step-families.
Find out more; go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and there's a link there. You can either attend live in Houston or you can sign up for the live-stream for your church, for a group, or just for you to watch at home. Again, more information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we're going to talk about, among other things, the love language of quality time and what you do when there's competition for quality time in a blended family. Ron Deal and Gary Chapman will join us tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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