There comes a point in just about every marriage, it seems, when couples stop speaking the same language.
She says, "Can you empty the garbage already!?" He hears, "Nag, nag, nag, nag, nag!"
He says, "We haven't had sex in a month!" She thinks, "When was the last time you bought me something that wasn't an appliance?"
After 30 years as a marriage and family counselor, Gary Chapman, PhD had heard a lot of couples' complaints -- so many complaints, in fact, that he began to see a pattern. "I realized I was hearing the same stories over and over again," he says.
When Chapman sat down and read through more than a decade worth of notes, he realized that what couples really wanted from each other fell into five distinct categories:
Words of affirmation: compliments or words of encouragement
Quality time: their partner's undivided attention
Receiving gifts: symbols of love, like flowers or chocolates
Acts of service: setting the table, walking the dog, or doing other small jobs
Physical touch: having sex, holding hands, kissing
"I really do feel that these five appear to be rather fundamental in terms of ways to express love to people," says Chapman, the director of Marriage & Family Life Consultants, Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Chapman termed these five categories "love languages" and turned the idea into a book, The 5 Love Languages, which has since become a huge bestseller. Chapman says that learning each other's love language can help couples express their emotions in a way that's "deeply meaningful" to one another.
It's an approach that makes sense, says Julie Nise, MA, LPC, LMFT, a marriage coach at the Aim Counseling Center in Houston and author of 4 Weeks to a Happier Relationship. "In my experience, an understanding of your partner's perspective (whether or not you agree with it) is what's most lacking in troubled marriages," she says. "I would say your No. 1 job as a spouse is to, on a daily basis, do your utmost best to really know how your partner feels and what they truly think about the issue. If you devote yourself to understanding their perspective ... things will go a lot smoother and solutions often become obvious."
In the book, Chapman claims his technique has the potential to save "thousands of marriages." He says his 5 Love Languages can also help generally good marriages that just need a little tweaking. Like mine.
My husband and I have been married for 13 years, and I think overall we have a pretty good relationship. It's not perfect, though. I get annoyed when he lets the trash cans overflow, and he gets irritated with the sloppy way I load the dishwasher. Often we get so preoccupied with work and parenting that intimacy and romance are thrown on the back burner.