Parlez-vous My Love Language? Non?
Why is gift-giving only a seasonal thing? In an effort to extend the concept of charity by a few weeks, here’s an idea to help couples in stagnating or frustrating marriages. (And though we are all posers and our Facebook walls may say otherwise, every marriage can be frustrating.)
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve probably skimmed The 5 Love Languages or seen a condensed version of it somewhere online. Written by Gary Chapman and first published in 1992, the self-help book works from the theory that there are five primary sociological love “languages” that you speak and respond to. They are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
Chapman argues that an individual usually employs and understands two to three of these languages. The hope is that you and your partner speak the same languages or at least can recognize that you don’t speak the same languages and can find ways to compensate for that essential emotional miscommunication.
Ideally, you meet someone and during the courtship recognize that you speak the same love languages and you marry them on the spot and enjoy a blissful, conflict-free connection until one of you dies. Thankfully, it doesn’t always work that way so we all get to enjoy 20 seasons of The Bachelor.
As it turns out, my wife and I speak different love languages. We weren’t aware of the book or the love languages while we were dating so foolishly marched through the minefield of the relationship without Gary Chapman’s map and stood at an altar and agreed to lifelong vows, promises that failed to mention how the other may feel about Receiving Gifts and what those gifts are and when those gifts will be given. No, you can’t build a marriage around a self-help book, but you can examine where you connect (and where you don’t) with your new love and then take an aerial view of what your relationship will look like years after the initial infatuation phase has withered like the final rose.
My wife and I have thumbed through enough of the book to recognize that we don’t speak the same languages but haven’t gotten to the chapter that tells us what to do about it. At some point we just stopped to reflect on what we’d learned, bookmarked it, and stuck it on a shelf. We have kids to parent and jobs to do, who has time to work on their marriage? So rather than seeing something through and applying sage advice from a certified counselor and relationship visionary, I have my own idea.
I think we should have a system in place where you can bank points earned for behaviors that you exhibit, actions that are not readily acknowledged by your partner, into a collective pot. So even though your efforts may go unnoticed by your own spouse, you get credit for them via a collective that is connected through an app or club membership.
For example, I operate and speak the Acts of Service language. I tend to do things that I (subconsciously) think should be counted as points and validated by my wife through Physical Touch and/or Words of Affirmation, ideally at the same time (like petting a dog’s head while you say, Good boy.) However, my wife does not speak that language so my acts of service go unrecognized and unrewarded, which (almost) nullifies their existence. If the dishes get washed and there’s no one there to offer praise, does it count? Are clean dishes not enough? Not to a man, I guess.
To be fair, she does appreciate the acts but it doesn’t do much to turn her wheels—and it’s basically me pitching in to the upkeep of the household. But the points from those actions do not get redeemed—the same actions that would make another woman’s day, don’t really impact her. So there’s a miscommunication going on. But if there was a collective, those points would be banked and another person in the collective could redeem them.
Here’s how that works.
I perform my Acts of Service, my wife doesn’t acknowledge them, and so they go out into the collective and sit there. Let’s say its 20 points. Now Rodney, my fictional neighbor down the road, is an awesome handyman and he fixes everything around the house. It’s a big turn-on to my wife that guys can fix stuff and build stuff, and the Alpha Male type is attractive to her. And that’s not me. I’m a dishwasher primarily, but can also cook, put the children in the tub, grocery shop, and tidy. Picture Alice from The Brady Bunch with a three-day beard and sweatpants. So let’s say Rodney is not connecting with his wife for some reason. She’s not picking up what he’s laying down. So he’s banked 20 points, I’ve banked 20 points. Hypothetically, we should be able to redeem those for something from our wives even if my wife doesn’t speak my languages and Rodney’s wife doesn’t speak his languages.
So the question begs, why shouldn’t my wife just sleep with Rodney? Well, let’s just say Rodney is dog ugly—hmm, maybe that’s why his wife isn’t sleeping with him—and she doesn’t want any part of him. (See what I did there? My own advanced insecurity made the fictional example of Rodney unlovable since he was a threat and was hypothetically tempting my wife—I need much more than a single self-help book.) So he’s not attractive or something’s wrong with him or my wife’s not ready to start having affairs or sleeping around or having an open marriage or is not ready to divorce yet. My wife and I are just trying better ways to connect and Rodney just needs to cool it and put his stupid points in the collective and back the hell off.
The gist is that we both bank points that are not recognized by our partners. But we can redeem each other’s points. The points are like carbon credits – where big industrial polluters can get credits for emission improvements which can then be traded around a participating network. It’s the same type of situation but these are emotional credits. So Rodney’s wife can redeem points I banked through Acts of Service and, in the app, it’s clear to my wife which acts were rewarded by someone else. It helps her to see that my behavior and my activities and Acts of Service are meaningful to someone else and it might make her look at those contributions in a more positive light.
Now let’s say that Rodney’s plumbing fix went unnoticed by his wife, he banked the points, and now my wife is trying to redeem/translate those points into one of her love languages, Quality Time. How does a wife translate another person’s actions into quality time with her own spouse? Or turn those points into another of her languages, Receiving Gifts? Rodney’s points could conceivably be turned into a gift card from Applebee’s but it’s hard to picture how they could be redeemed into a backrub or running a warm bath with candles after a hard day’s work. Thoughtful and romantic gestures like that, actions that I suck at but things that would be appreciated by my wife, would have to be performed by robots leased by the collective. Yes, I think that’s the solution. Robots to be romantic on my behalf with my wife. We have it figured out and I didn’t even have to finish the book. Back to the dishes!