What are words for when no one listens anymore?

woman telling a man a secret - surprise and fun faces - over a wAs children we were lied to. Does this sound familiar? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I don’t know about you but while I never wound up in the hospital over harsh words I certainly wound up feeling a lot of pain from them.

Gary Chapman author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts says that Words of Affirmation are one of the five love languages. Verbal compliments, words of appreciation and affirmation are powerful communicators of love for some of us (Chapman 38). I did not even know it when I was reading the book but words of affirmation are also my primary love language.

Of course I cannot speak for women but for men, I know that guys will take credit for almost anything our mates enjoy. If we take our mate to a movie, and they love that movie, we puff up our chest and proudly say to ourselves “I took her to that movie.” We may have had nothing else to do with that movie but we did take her to it. If your primary love language are words of affirmation and your mate just told you that she is glad that you took her to the movie or that she enjoyed it, you just ascended into heaven.

Verbal compliments are greater motivators than nagging words (Chapman 39). In fact, the quickest way to make sure your mate does not do something is to continually nag them about it. It may eventually get done but you will, as Dr. Stephen Covey puts it, be taking withdrawals from the emotional bank account.

If your mate does even the littlest thing, appreciate him or her for it (Chapman 39). If their primary love language are words of affirmation, your appreciation serves a motivation for them to do it again. The compliment must be appreciative, warm and sincere, not sarcastic or exasperated. The term: “it’s about f#!@ing time,” are not taken as words of affirmation.

When you demand things from your spouse you become the parent and they become the child (Chapman 45). Parents tell their kids what to do and how to act. When we do this with our spouse we fail to respect the fact that they are also an adult. Successful relationships rely on understanding each other’s love languages and speaking in that language, but they also rely on a few other elements:

  • Respect is a fundamental ingredient in any relationship. You and your mate are equals. No one of you is greater than the other. This does not mean there is no division of labor (there often is) nor that there are things that one spouse does better than the other (there are and you find these out as you go), it just means neither of you is any better than the other, nor are you worse. Respecting your spouse also means understanding that they are not perfect, nor are you, and you will both make mistakes.
  • Love is kind (Chapman 42 . . . and 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – also known as the marriage quote because its read at so many weddings). In the past week both my wife and I had harsh words for each other over two different events. This is not common (fortunately), but when it does happen I try to remind myself that a soft answer turns away anger (Chapman 43). Gratefully, when I snapped at her she responded with a little bit of self-deprecating humor. A few days later when she snapped at me I did not reply immediately – I took a few breaths and reengaged a few minutes later with a soft tone of voice. I wish I could say we’ve always solved all our problems this way but we are human too and sometimes we fight fire with fire instead of with water. If you’re snapped at, before snapping back interrupt yourself for a moment and think about how many times an exchange of harsh words actually made things better.
  • Whenever you are given a public honor for some sort of accomplishment always share credit with your spouse (Chapman 47). We see this all the time at the Hollywood award shows when the actor or actress or singer always thanks their spouse, and when they don’t the press and everyone else takes notice.

Long before I ever read this book or visited with my wife about it she used words of affirmation to encourage me to do something that frankly I really didn’t like doing – barbecuing food. Whenever we would have company over or it was warm enough outside I am asked to barbecue. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating barbecue but frankly I’d rather be inside watching the game and drinking beer than standing outside over an open flame trying to figure out how not to undercook everybody’s dinner and give them food poisoning.

But, Jen would always affirm my worth and abilities (Chapman 46)with our gas grill and never gave me a hard time when I undercooked or overcooked the food. If it was undercooked she would just say “oh well,” and pop it in the microwave for an extra minute; if it was overcooked she would pull off the burnt portions and dig in without criticism, or playfully tease me about it knowing that I’m eating the same food. I know if the food is cooked properly and don’t need to be reminded of it or chastised for it if I screw it up. If everyone gets food poisoning, well that’s what Urgent Care is for right?

Jen must’ve inherently known that I needed words of affirmation to get me to the grill; now, while I’m still not jumping up and down at the thought of grilling food I know that doing so is an Act of Service, which is her primary love language (and besides, I can still see the football game through my family room window).

Whenever you’re speaking someone’s love language you must do it with a purity of intent. There is a fine line between manipulation and appreciation. You stay on the right side of that line by being sincere and speaking your mates love language for them, not for you.

Loyalty to the absent. This is another concept from Dr. Stephen Covey that is affirmed in Gary Chapman’s excellent book. Always give words of affirmation about your mate even when they are not around (Chapman 47). This does two things, first it builds a habit of respecting your mate and your relationship publicly, and second, word will get back to your mate about what you said so you’ll still get the credit (Chapman 47).

When you sow seeds of hate and discontentment you reap heartache and pain. When you are sowing the seeds of love you are either singing a Tears for Fears song, or you’re about to reap a harvest of love and respect. What crops do you want to plant?

Words are for appreciating – and your mate may be listening: as Solomon said (and is quoted in Chapman’s book) “an anxious heart ways a man down, but a kind word cheers him up,” (Chapman 38).

Chapman, Gary D. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Chicago: Northfield Pub., 2010. Print.

*What are words for. . . is a shameless 80s reference to the Missing Persons song, Words.

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