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Dr. Gary Chapman: Why You Need to Learn Your Love Language

Dr. Gary Chapman, bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, recently joined Oprah Winfrey for an episode of “Oprah’s Lifeclass“. In the episode, Winfrey learns her love language and Dr. Chapman reveals how knowing what love language your partner speaks can transform your relationship.

We had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Chapman Friday about communication, finding love, and maintaining a healthy relationship. According to the marriage and family life expert, we all speak a primary love language which falls into one of five categories (including Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch). Understanding each other’s love language is a key to success with your partner.

eH: How common is it that a couple will speak the same love language? And is that ideal?

Dr. Chapman: Typically a husband and wife will have a different primary love language. There are couples who do have the same love language. But if they do — they typically prefer different dialects. If they have the same love language, it really should make it easier for them. It does happen, but it’s not very common.

eH: So if one partner’s love language is “words of affirmation,” and the other’s is the complete opposite, how tough is it to overcome that?

Dr. Chapman: If your spouse’s primary love language is your number five, the one least important to you, there will be a high learning curve. The good news is you can learn to speak any of these languages. It’s a matter of understanding why it’s so important. You want your partner to know that you love them. You want to keep emotional love in the marriage, so you choose to learn to speak their language.

If you grew up in a home where you didn’t get any affirming words, they just weren’t there, and now you’re married and you find out your spouse’s language is words of affirmation, it’s going to take some effort for you to learn how to verbalize those things. I sometimes suggest that you get a notebook, write down statements that you hear other couples say to each other, or that you read in a magazine or a book. Then stand in front of a mirror and say them out loud, just read them out loud, hear yourself saying those things,  then pick out one of them, walk into the room where your spouse is, say it — and then run! You’ve broken the silence  and the next time will be easier. And the third time will be easier. The good news is you can learn to speak these languages.

eH: What is the most common reason for communication breakdown between couples?

Dr. Chapman: I think when it comes to love, it’s just a lack of information. In the early days when we are in love, we are pushed along by all of these emotions, and it’s very easy. We are willing to do whatever if they just mention something. But when you come down off the high (of a new relationship), life gets much more intentional. If you don’t understand the concept that people have different love languages and you just speak your own, they may say to you in due time, “I just feel like you don’t love me.” You will say, “Why? I mean I do this and that…why would you not feel loved?” We assume that what makes us feel loved will make them feel loved. I think one of the big problems is just a lack of information.

eH: Many women complain about getting their men to open up more. Is it just a myth that women are the talkers and men are not?

Dr. Chapman: When it comes to talking, I’d like to think there are two different personality types. There is the Dead Sea, and the Dead Sea receives the Jordan River — but it goes nowhere. There are those that have that kind of personality, they have thoughts, feelings and experiences through the day. They have a large reservoir where they store all of that and they are perfectly happy not to talk about it. On the other side is what I call the Babbling Brook — whatever comes in the eye gate or ear gate comes out of the mouth gate.

Many times these two people marry each other. It’s attractive…when you’re dating it is very attractive. If you are a Dead Sea and you date a Babbling Brook, you can relax. All you have to do is sit there and nod your head and say, “Uh-huh.” They will fill up the whole evening.

So, we attract each other in dating, then we get married and the talker wonders what’s going on and wants their partner to talk more and be more like they are. Understanding personality differences is a big part of learning how to communicate, because Dead Sea’s can learn to speak more than they would normally speak, and Babbling Brook’s can learn to slow the flow. Once you understand the concept, and you stop condemning each other for not being like you are, you start to grow towards the middle.

eH: Is criticism also to blame for communication breakdown?

Dr. Chapman: If words of affirmation is one’s primary love language and what you are giving them is critical words — that will hurt that person far more deeply than another person. When you get criticized, you tend to clam up or get defensive and fight back. But we also just shut down. There’s a place for criticism. We all need criticism from time to time, but if we give it in the context of love and say, “Honey, there’s something really bothering me. Is this a good time to talk about it?” Because they feel your love, they are far more likely to be willing to make changes.

eH: How can we keep communication alive and vibrant after being with someone for many years?

Dr. Chapman: The reality is that as long as we live, we have to keep growing. If couples just settle into whatever stage of communication they have reached, they can be roommates for the next 20 years. We are either going to grow in our intimacy or we are going to regress — marriages never stand still. They get better or they get worse. We make them better or we make them worse. What I say to couples is see yourself as a growing person. In the summer, the flowers are beautiful, but you have to water the flowers or they die. In a good marriage, it’s beautiful, but if you don’t nurture the marriage, it’s going to die. I typically tell couples once a year to share a book on marriage, or go to a marriage enrichment class. Just read it together and talk about it. Keep it on the front burner. If we do that, chances are we continue to grow, grow, grow throughout the years.

Nothing is more satisfying as you get older than to have a close, loving, supportive, caring relationship with your spouse. It’s what everybody aspires to and it is tragic that so many people don’t get there — or they give up before they get there.

eH: This is a perfect segue for my last question, which came from multiple Facebook fans on our site. They want to know if it’s possible to find lasting love even if you are in your 40s, 50s or 60s?

Dr. Chapman: I think we can find a loving relationship at any age. I don’t think you ever give up. Life’s deepest meaning is found in relationships. Let’s face it, we know that not everybody will get married, but most people will. Even if you don’t get married, deep friendships can be extremely valuable.

If you’d like to be married, I don’t think you give up. I think you continue to invest your time and energy in doing something with your life that you believe is important. Particularly in helping other people — it’s typically in the context of helping other people that you discover someone else who has that same mindset. That’s what really makes a good marriage, if both of you want to invest your lives in helping people. When a husband and wife share that attitude — that I’m here to enrich your life and to help you —  you both reach your potential. Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen, expend your energy in something you believe is worthwhile. It’s typically in that context that you discover someone who has the same heartbeat.