By: Maralee McKee, The Etiquette School of America
You’ve probably heard the much quoted joke about the couple that’s been married for decades. The wife asks her husband, “Why don’t you ever tell me you love me?” The husband dryly answers, “I told you on our wedding day. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
It’s a classic case of a couple with differing expectations of the need for and the how-to of ways to show their love for one another. In the joke, the example is so obvious that no one can miss it. However, in millions of important close relationships of every type (marriages, dating, best friends, parent and child, adult child and parent, adult siblings…), the same thing happens in ways that aren’t obvious.
In fact, to notice them you have to be looking for them.
And looking for ways to love other people that speak to their heart is exactly what we want to do so that we can be a person who loves others generously and authentically.
Here are five ways to live out your love for those who are closest in a way that will resonate with them. At the same time, it will help you hone your ability to love graciously.
Love is about giving, but in this case, what you give comes back to you in new ways, having been shaped by the person you originally gave it to. Each act of love becomes a one-of-a-kind, beautiful work of art.
Important Grace Note: This post is about showing your love every day. It’s not about celebrating special days like birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, and such. For those days, the two of you need to have a discussion and decide your expectations from one another about how each of you wants to celebrate those days. They can be low key or high voltage. There’s no right or wrong answer. You might think the other person’s way of wanting to celebrate is silly, but if it’s important to them, and you love them unselfishly, you’ll make it a point to make it important to you, too. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and such, if one person cares about celebrating in a certain way and the other one doesn’t really care whether it’s celebrated, then the “I don’t care” should give way to the “I do care” person since it’s something that’s important to that person.
5 Simple, Savvy, Sincere Ways to Show Your Love
1. Give your love in the way the other person receives and best understands it. Dr. Gary Chapman wrote his famous book The Five Love Languages (a great resource for every home), in which he shares that each of us has one of five ways that we best receive love:
~ Words of Affirmation
~ Acts of Service
~ Receiving Gifts
~ Quality Time
~ Physical Touch
Sure, we enjoy all of these things, but we each have a number one way from the list that makes our heart signal to our brain, “I’m understand. I’m loved.”
You might think you can guess the Love Language of you, your spouse, your child, your best friend, or anyone you care deeply for just by reading the list above, but even after several years of marriage, I was wrong about my husband’s. And I’m in about the 99th percentile when it comes to people and perception.
Kent’s Love Language is Words of Affirmation. I thought it was Receiving Gifts because he loves antiques and beautiful things. As it turns out, that’s something he enjoys. Collecting on a small scale is a pastime. But it’s not how he feels loved. I would spend weeks searching for a gift for him. He’d open it, politely say thank you, and that would be it. I would think to myself ,”That ungrateful —” … well, what I thought wasn’t kind, so I probably shouldn’t say it here or anywhere. 🙂
It wasn’t his fault. He liked buying those small things for himself. What he wanted — no, what he needed — from me was Words of Affirmation. Because that’s not my love language, Words of Affirmation never occurred to me.
On his end, since I bought him gifts, he thought my Love Language was Receiving Gifts. Being polite, I would gush over them, making him naturally think he was getting it right. But my Love Language is Quality Time. I don’t need him out buying me gifts. I really love it when he’s with me at home and we’re cozy on the sofa talking, or when I’m with him when he goes shopping or to the post office. It doesn’t matter where he is; I just want to be with him.
Knowing the Love Language of those closest to you is too important to simply guess. So here’s the free test on Dr. Chapman’s site. I went and got it for you! (Those of you whose Love Language is Acts of Service will really appreciate that!) All you need to do is click on this link: The 5 Love Languages Quiz to Discover Your Love Language.
Take the online quiz for yourself first, and then ask others to take it and share their answers with you. When you ask them to take the quiz, let them know that you love them and want to show it in the way that will mean the most to them.
(There’s The 5 Love Languages Book, and there are versions of it to find out your child’s love language, and even that of your coworkers to help teams operate better as a cohesive unit. Who doesn’t want to work where they feel loved?!)
It’s a cornerstone issue because until you can speak the other person’s Love Language, your relationship could be as confusing as when new languages were dispersed at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9).
(Here’s a short, well produced, and enjoyable video from Dr. Chapman that shows the Five Love Languages working, and not working, for a couple during an important weekend.)
2. Spend time making memories. Unless the person’s Love Language is Receiving Gifts, then your time is best spent planning something that will make a memory for the two of you. In this case it doesn’t need to be a whirlwind trip to an exotic location.
A walk in the park, a trip to a local museum or attraction, or anything the two of you will enjoy will be perfect. Make it something where the two of you can talk and where the entertainment is active instead of passive. A movie by itself wouldn’t be a good choice because that’s passive entertainment. Memories are made when activity occurs.
It might be something funny that happens while you’re climbing to the trail head, or even something not so funny at the time, like getting lost on the trail for an hour. In the years to come, that will be the memory — the story you remind each other about — and laugh every time you do.
Almost ten years ago, my best friend and I flew from our homes in Orlando to experience The Mall of America. In the parking lot of the mall, there’s an IKEA. A large IKEA. A massive labyrinth of an IKEA. At the time, Orlando didn’t have one, so neither of us ever had been to one. Ten minutes into the store, and I realized that they didn’t have anything that suited my Southern Living Magazine decorating style. I was ready to find the cafeteria, eat some Swedish meatballs, and leave.
Not Jocelyn — she had found her shopping Nirvana. IKEA spoke her language. Every aisle held wonders. Every accessory. Every kitchen gadget. Every … everything made her happy. SIX hours later (I’m not kidding), we left the store. Then we had to go and ship her MANY purchases back home because there was no way we were going to be able to pack them all for the airplane ride home in two days. My feet hurt. My head hurt. And we had not even gone into the mall yet.
At the time, frustrating. Now, funny and precious.
Make memories with those you love. It’s the gift no one else can give them. They’re truly one of a kind and priceless.
3. Write a letter, or record a video, and title it: If I Weren’t Here, This is What I Would Want You to Know. In it, tell the person everything you love and admire about him (or her). Tell him about how he’s made your life better. Share your favorite memories of him. Share your hopes for his future. Share insight and wisdom you have that you want to pass along to him.
If you’re making one for your child(ren), share what you want them to know on their 10th birthday (double digits!), 16th birthday, their high school graduation day, their 21st birthday, college graduation; speak to their future spouse, send your wishes for their wedding day, share your joy when they’ll find out they’re expecting their first child, give your advice for when their first child is born. Speak to your future grandchild(ren). Share what you wish you had known earlier in life. Share what your hope is for them when they are in their 20s, 30s, and at the age you are on the day you write the letter or record the video.
Give it to someone else to pass along to them after you’re gone. If you’re making it for an adult(s), give it to them now. Why make them wait until you’re gone to know how much they really mean to you? Today is a great day for them to know! And that’s not to mention that they’ll always have it, so it still will be a reminder of you after you’re gone. (You can also make one for a child, tween, or teen that’s for now.)
No matter whom it is for, make it long and rambling, because if you go before them, they will cherish it. Every. Single. Word. And, no matter how long it is, it won’t be long enough.
4. Have a dream that seems too big to reach, and enjoy the journey of planning for it, even if you never make it. There’s a wonderful intimacy (non-sexual) in having a shared dream with someone and planning for it. It’s a way of breathing excitement, hope, and a future into your relationship.
My son Corbett and I want to go to New Zealand. He chose it because that’s where a lot (most/all?) of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies were filmed. Marc and I enjoy watching British TV. We want to tour England and visit the cities and villages where our favorite shows are filmed. Kent and I have a dream home in mind. We have the building plans for it under our bed. We’ve planned every inch of that house! I don’t think we’ll ever build it. It’s big, and unless our children grow up and give us lots of grandchildren, it will be too large for Kent and me once the boys have flown from our nest. But these are our dreams, and we’ll never stop planning them. And one day, if everything aligns just so, some of our dreams will become reality.
When you share a dream with someone, you snuggle in a hope-filled, delightful place with that person. It’s a dwelling place of love.
5. Pray for them every day. If these ways to show love were listed in order, this would be number one. But I decided to save it for the grand finale of the list. Priscilla Shirer, in her book Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer (the book other than the Bible that has had the greatest impact on my spiritual life), quotes an acronym for PRAYER:
When you pray for others, you help create miracles for them. Things in their life that have gotten turned upside down get turned right-side up. Bad endings become great beginnings. Problems become testimonies.
Does it happen overnight? Not usually.
Does it happen eventually? Always. In God’s timing.
“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers…” Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)
Every prayer is an act of love. Perform it daily. It strengthens people. It heals them. It gives them hope. It changes their circumstances. It puts them on the right path or keeps them on it if they’re already there. It’s how we thank God for putting the people we love in our life.
Prayer is in a word: Everything. Without it we cannot love as we were meant to love.
5 Ways or 5 Million Ways to Show Your Love
Love — there are obviously more than five ways to show it. If we took a Twitter poll, and everyone on Twitter magically participated, we’d have more than 5 million answers. Some, actually a lot, of the answers wouldn’t be of much help. That’s because people would tell us how they like to receive love, not how those they’re trying to express their love to best understand and receive it.
The five simple, savvy, sincere ways to show your love we’ve talked about here will work every time. That’s because they all have to do with an other-focused way of giving the best gift we can give to those who love us: a portion of ourselves spoken in their language.
Until next time, do what only you can do: give the world the gift of you…at your authentic best!