This is an excerpt from “Liberated Learning” by Crystal Stafford, available January 2022.
Have you ever seen love grow cold? No one who marries thinks it will happen to them. Have you seen children who, despite their parents greatest efforts, they still feel unloved? Have you seen parents who don’t seem to connect at all with their own children, but who connect really well with everyone else? The root of these issues lies in the connection of a love language.
When I was younger, I knew a particular husband and wife. They found it easy to love in the first days of their relationship. But as time passed by, they began to feel their love grow cold, even empty. They told themselves that love was not a feeling, but a choice, so they continued to choose self-sacrifice day after day. They chose honor, and they chose sacrifice over selfishness.
The husband would always boldly tell his wife that he loved her and that she was the most beautiful woman in all the land. But somehow, the words did not make her feel loved. And the woman would spend all of her free time thinking of things she could do for him. She would clean the house, make delicious meals, tend to the children, and the gardens, and anything she could think of that would make him happy. But somehow, all of her effort did not make him feel loved.
They both wondered why.
They weren’t speaking the same language
The answer was wrapped in the way they showed love to each other. The husband gave out lavish words because that is what he wanted to receive. That is the key that opened the door for his heart. So he continually gave words to his wife that did not open the door of her heart.
The wife gave her days in service to her husband, because that is what she wanted to receive, and that is the key that opened the door for her heart. She continually worked hard to give and serve, which did not open the door of his heart.
By some act of Providence, be it a dream or a thought, the wife realized what was causing this emptiness. She suddenly saw that her husband’s words were so abundant because he wanted them back in return. This understanding changed the way they felt loved and they began to speak one another’s love language. The husband would do acts of serving for his wife, to lighten her load. The wife would think of compliments and uplifting words to say. It was not easy , or natural, but with time and patience, they *learned to love in the way their spouse could understand. They felt deeply satisfied with this change, and both were able to connect with meaning.
Every door has a key; A key that turns the lock, and opens the way.
This is the hidden reality of a love language.
What is a love language?
The answer to this question will give you access to things you have never been able to reach, and understanding of people that may have seemed impossible to get along with.
A great book on love languages was written by Gary Chapman, titled “The Five Love Languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate”. This book was so successful that it soon had other books of the same vein, such as “The Five Love Languages for Teens” and for kids, and for singles, and for Men, for the Military, etc.
There are very effective strategies in this book for relating well to others. One of the strategies is how to identify the needed love language of those you have a relationship with. We see how to identify and communicate love effectively to those in your life. This tool comes in as an essential key with your children. They must feel seen, heard, and understood in order to feel loved by you.
One idea I learned in the book was that we all have a different love need, which generally comes in five forms. And, most of us have one dominant way we feel loved, and a secondary way we need to be loved. Different people give and receive love in different ways. If you can learn to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your relationships, you can find the root of conflict, and connect much more clearly.
Here are the 5 love languages and a brief summary of each
Acts of Service.
For a person who needs this form of love, your actions speak louder than words. They need you to show them by doing things they appreciate. Every person is different, and you have to know what they want and value. This could be helping with chores, if the house is undone. It could be washing the car, filling the tank with gas, buying the groceries, or paying the bills. It could be making dinner or helping kids with homework. Some people like a foot rub at the end of a long hard day.
For a child, this could look like bringing them breakfast in bed, or doing a task for them that needs to be done. You could paint their bedroom, or do something they really value. If they ask you for help with a task, they are asking you to show them that you care. If they need help with something and you say no, or I don’t have time for that, it can be very hurtful to this kind of person.
When Gifts is your love language, you feel most loved this way. It does not have to be costly to be meaningful. With my children who are gift receivers, I can give them a small token from the store and they appreciate it so much. One of my kids who loves gifts loves it when I surprise her with food. Her favorite is Asian food, so any kind of chow mein noodles from an Asian food shop is her favorite. But she loves any kind of food gift. My other child who loves gifts most likes when I give her crafting supplies. Anything to do with arts and crafts makes her happy. I could give her a small colorful notepad with a pen and she would be so pleased. It’s not the cost that matters, but the thought and knowing what they like. If you neglect to show them care by thoughtful giving, they will not truly feel seen or loved.
Time together, with focused attention, is a deep need for this kind of person. If the parent or spouse is distracted by their phone or focused on it, or talking on the phone to a friend, or watching a tv across the room, this is very hurtful to a quality time person. It says to them that they are not important and that the other things are more deserving of attention.
Quality time people need you to have focused conversations, and they want you to know them well. They have lots to say and love to talk to you about their dreams, and interests. If you know how to ask questions and pay attention, it is easy to have quality time with this kind of person. Simply asking “How was your day? Tell me about it” in a quiet place without distraction will make them happy, if you listen. And by listening, I mean looking with your eyes.
This goes for children as well. They want to be seen, heard, and understood. I have 2 children who have quality time as their primary love language. They want long conversations and lots of eye contact. This is how they feel most loved. If you observe your child, or spouse, you will be able to see what they value and need most based on what they tend to do for you and what frustrates them, if you don’t do it.
Words of Affirmation.
This love language is a word need, to affirm people. This kind of person deeply craves praise, and uplifting positive feedback. They find it hard to receive the opposite because they associate negative words with lack of love. You must tailor your speech to suit the tender needs of a word person. If you use harsh language with a word person, it will crush their emotions and they will not receive anything else you have to offer.
As a child, they need lots of positive reinforcement and praise with any effort or progress made. They can be very hurt by words that are critical or discouraging, and not have a desire to even try. However, you can easily motivate and inspire this kind of person with affirmation by saying things like “you really did a great job!” , or “I like the way you did that”. It really doesn’t take much to please a word person.
For the touch person, it is important to be intentional with affection. Children who are touch oriented, need hugs, a hand on the shoulder, and they like to sit close. I have five children that have this as either their #1 or #2 and my husband is as well, so I have lots of hug needs everyday in our house. For any love language it is a battery charge to fill up the power of the battery when you speak their language.
And it seems to be most noticeable with the touch people. Give them a hug and watch them glow. They even look like they are soaking up your love when you hug them. They seem to feel it far more than others do. Children need several hugs a day even if they are not to touch people, so imagine how much they need if they are! Two of my kids would literally sit on me and lay on me all day if I were sitting down on the couch because they love touch so much. I have to make sure I give them extra hugs during the day.
The Roots of Conflict
If you have a child that seems to make conflict, try seeking out their love language. I find that when I speak the language of my child, day in and day out, they are much more receptive to other things I have to say, like schoolwork, and life in general. This is not to say that undisciplined children will listen if you are loving them in their language. There has to be both to co-exist peacefully in a home. We must discipline our children in the early years to listen to us and teach them correctively how to be respectful to authority, so that they can later have the self control to learn . The two are interconnected. A child who cannot listen to an adult will never learn much except how to get their way.
If you have done the foundational work of teaching a child to listen, and how to respect you, then the work of school will not be a difficult task. Speaking their love language will be an added tool which is like icing on the cake when it comes to families getting along and learning to exist together peacefully.
In our home, we sat down together and went over each other’s love languages so that each of the kids would understand how their siblings and parents receive love.
We explained to them, if your love language is words and you go to your sister who is an act of service and say “I love you” 100 times a day, they are not going to feel loved. But if you help her clean her room, or feed her dog, she will feel loved.
If your love language is quality time but your sister’s is touch, and all you want to do is sit and talk with her for 30 minutes and then leave, she will not feel loved. But if you go and hug her she will. It’s a give and take, where we understand what a person needs and we fill their tank by meeting the need.
I have one child who used to seem constantly irritated with me for no apparent reason. I would say “good morning”, and she would scowl at me. In fact, anything I would say, no matter what it was about, she would generally react with general displeasure. After some time and reflection about her love language, I realized that what I saw as normal conversation was offensive to her love language of words.
So I had to be even more cautious with words which was not easy for me. Editing everything you say can be very tiring and exhausting. But it was what seemed to be needed, so I tried it. It had a noticeable effect, and when I used tones that seemed to me to feel artificial and sugary, she liked it. She responded better to me.
So I have learned that with this particular child, tones that make me uncomfortable (because they are extremely soft and sugary) are what she responds to. I have learned to say less, smile more, and try to be complementary and give praise with this child. The result is a better connection and she feels more loved. If I can learn the skill that is hard for me, then I know you can do it too.
Take that first step
Oftentimes, we have to take the first step. Others may not do what we need, and we can communicate our needs, and then allow them the chance to remember and meet our needs. It takes practice and reminders, so be patient with those you love. They (especially children) need practice to learn the skill.
When your love language is the last on the list for your spouse, and they don’t know how to speak it, it is even harder and takes lots of time and effort. My husband does not need quality time, but I do. It is last on his list. It is very hard for him to understand it, or to do it. He is easily distracted and doesn’t naturally hold conversations which has made us work through challenges. But after much communication and understanding, he has given lots of effort to become skilled at the art of conversation. It is an ongoing process. And we are in it for the LONG game, not the immediate outcome. It makes a big difference when he gives effort.
And so it will be with your children. Any effort on your part will make a change in the way they relate to you. And it can make a world of difference in your home environment and the long term state of your relationships.
Every effort I have made to speak the love language of my children, has returned to me more than I gave. The harder that it seems to reach a child, the more we need to speak their love language diligently day to day. They will notice, and they will feel seen, heard, and understood. This is the key to connection.
We can reconnect relationships. We can reach the unreachable, with the key that turns the lock. When we love them the way they sense love, we connect in a meaningful way, and possibilities become the reality.
“Dear children, let us not merely say that we love each other, but let us show the truth by our actions. ” 1 John 3:18