Connect the Dots with Your Family: Reconciliation by Using the Right Love Languages

Jennifer's Story: Looking for her Birth Mother

Jennifer, thirty-four, is a never-married single who learned to speak the love languages of her adoptive parents, George and Martha, and her birth mother, Christina—but only after experiencing conflict with all three. The result is an extremely positive and close relationship with her adoptive parents and a loving relationship with her birth mother.

For the first thirteen years of Jennifer’s life, George and Martha provided her with a stable and loving environment. However, when Jennifer turned fourteen, she began to express a desire to find and meet her birth mother. Her adoptive parents strongly opposed this idea. They knew that Jennifer’s mother had been on drugs at the time of her birth and had had multiple sexual partners. They had no reason to believe that she was the kind of person who would have a positive impact on Jennifer’s life.

Jennifer’s reasoning at fourteen had been, “I want to meet my mother. If I don’t like her, then fine, we don’t have to have a relationship. But I want to meet her.” George and Martha resisted Jennifer’s pleas, because they genuinely thought it would not be good for her. The next two years were marked by frequent struggles over this and other matters. By age sixteen Jennifer felt deeply unloved by her adoptive parents and began taking the initiative to find her birth mother. With the help of a friend at school, Jennifer was able to locate her mother and give her a call. Her mother was elated to hear from her, and they arranged to get together.

They had lunch on several occasions and were relating to each other positively (all of this unknown to Jennifer’s adoptive parents). Christina eventually invited Jennifer to her apartment to meet her live-in boyfriend. He was nice to Jennifer, and she liked him.

The Argument and the Lecture

After almost a year, George and Martha discovered what was going on and responded harshly.

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A Dialect of Quality Time: Quality Activities

The basic love language of quality time has many dialects including: quality activities. At a recent singles event I asked those present to complete the following sentence: “I feel most loved and appreciated by _________ when __________.” They could insert the name of anyone: parent, roommate, coworker, or friend.

One twenty-seven-year-old male inserted the name of his girlfriend and completed the sentence as follows: “I feel most loved by Megan when she and I do things together—things I like to do and things she likes to do. We talk more when we’re doing things. I had never ridden a horse until I met her, and she had never been sailing. I’ve always enjoyed doing things with other people. It’s so neat to be dating someone who is open to trying new things together.”

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Brother to Brother: Can't We At Least Be Cordial?

“My brother and I fought like cats and dogs growing up. I’m one year older than he. I don’t know if it was a fight for superiority or something else. We’re both grown now, but we still don’t have a very close relationship. If I needed help, I wouldn’t turn to him,” Steve told me.

“Do you want to have a better relationship?” I inquired.

“I do,” he said. “We’re brothers. Shouldn’t brothers at least be cordial to each other? I’m not looking to be ‘best buddies’ or anything, but I do wish we could be closer.

“Mom and Dad are getting older, and we’re going to have to deal with taking care of them a few years down the road. With our relationship like it is, I don’t know that we could ever agree on anything. I feel like he still resents me, and I don’t know why. I never tried to lord it over him.”

I agreed with Steve that it was time for him to make an effort to improve their relationship. I talked with him about the importance of emotional love and that all of us have an emotional love tank: “When the love tank is full and we genuinely feel loved by family members, we tend to have positive, growing relationships. But when the love tank is empty and we do not feel loved by family members, barriers tend to develop between us. We tend to view each other in a negative light and can sometimes even be hostile toward each other.”

Moving in the Right Direction

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That Love Language Just Isn’t My Style

The Situation:

Marti, a twenty-four-year-old never-married single, said to me, “I’m just not a ‘touchy-feely’ person. I don’t necessarily enjoy people hugging me, and I certainly don’t initiate hugs to others. I guess it was the way I was brought up. In my family, we loved each other, but we didn’t do much touching.

“The problem is I’m dating a guy that I really like, but he’s complaining because I don’t seem to be interested in kissing and hugging. I don’t mind kissing if I’m really passionate, but hugging every time I see him or holding hands in public just doesn’t seem natural to me.”

I knew that Marti had a sharp learning curve to face, but I hoped that her desire to continue this relationship might stimulate her to learn to speak the love language of physical touch. After I explained the five love languages and that each person has a primary love language, Marti exclaimed, “Well, my primary love language certainly is not physical touch!”

“What is your primary love language?” I inquired.

“I think it’s words of affirmation,” she said. “I really feel good when John tells me how pretty I am or makes some comment about something I’m wearing. Maybe that’s why I’m hurt so deeply when he complains about my failing to take initiative in hugging and kissing. It seemed to me like he was putting too much emphasis on touching. It was as if that’s all that mattered to him. But maybe physical touch is his primary love language.”

I could tell that Marti was going to be a fast learner, so I said, “If physical touch is John’s primary love language, would you like to learn to speak it?”

“Yes,” she said, “but I’m not sure I can ever be a ‘touchy-feely’ person.”

“You don’t have to change who you are,” I said. “But you can learn to speak any of the five love languages, and you can certainly learn to speak the language of physical touch.”

“How do I do that?”

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The Right Language

By nature, we tend to speak our own love language. That is, we express love to others in a language that would make us feel loved. But if it is not the primary love language of your spouse or friend, it will not mean to them what it would mean to us.

This is why thousands of couples are frustrated. Sam, a divorced single, said about the woman he is dating: “I don’t understand her. She says she feels like I don’t love her. How could she feel unloved? Every day I tell her that I love her. I also give her compliments every day. I tell her how pretty she is. I tell her what a good mother she is. How could she feel unloved?”

The problem is that her love language is acts of service, not words of affirmation. She’s thinking: If he loved me he would do something to help me. When he comes over, he watches television while I wash the dishes. He never helps me with anything. I’m sick of his words “I love you. I love you.” Words are cheap. If he really loved me, he would do something. I do everything for him; he does nothing for me. This scenario is repeated in thousands of relationships. Each person speaks his own language and does not understand why the other does not feel loved. If we want the other person to feel loved, we must discover and learn to speak his/her primary love language.
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Good Gifts are Different for Everyone

At age fifty-six, Helen unexpectedly became a single adult again. Only nine months earlier her husband had been killed in a car accident. In an attempt to get her out of the house, a friend invited her to an adult singles meeting where I was speaking.

“I didn’t really want to come to this meeting,” she later told me. “I don’t feel like a single adult. I feel like I’m still married. It’s just that my husband is no longer here. But, I’m glad I came,” she said. “I’ve never heard about love languages. I think I need to apply this in my relationship with my son.”

Helen had one son, Brett, who was now thirty-two. He had married right out of college and divorced two years later. Since then, he lived alone and only sporadically made contact with his parents. However, since the death of his dad, he came around more often, and Helen was hoping they could have a closer relationship. “I think I need to discover his love language,” Helen said. I suggested she give Brett a chance to show his love language by responding to the following statement: “Since your dad has died, we’re the only two left. You have been so helpful to me these last few months, I’d like to do something to show you how much I appreciate what you have done. What can I do?”
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Special Preview: Chapter One


IF YOU’RE READING THIS BOOK, chances are you’re either single or know someone who is. More than four of every ten American adults are single—88.5 million Americans.1 In fact, the United States has more single adults than any other nation in the world except China and India.2

Of course, it wouldn’t be accurate to lump all single adults into the same group. There are at least five very different categories of single adults. The largest numbers of singles are those who have never been down the aisle (those to whom this book is largely directed), but the other four groups also command our attention. Here are the five groups:

1.    Never married. Age eighteen and older, this group is 49 million strong. The median age of a first marriage has risen to twenty-five among women and twenty-seven among men. This means that, in the general population among people eighteen to twenty-four, almost nine out of ten (87 percent) have never been married.3

Express Yourself: Words of Affirmation

One way to express love is by giving words of affirmation; the key to expressing this love language is simply: Choose a strategy for loving or expressing love.

Here’s one strategy I suggest. Start with your parents. The next time you call home, when you end the conversation with your mom or your dad, end it by saying, ‘I love you, Mom’ or ‘I love you, Dad.’ OK? Their response doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you are taking the initiative to express words of affirmation to them, and your strategy is using the telephone to do this.

After you do this the first time, it will be easier to repeat it the second time and the third. For the next three months I want to encourage you to end every phone conversation to your folks with the words ‘I love you.’ At the end of three months I want you to add another statement. After ‘I love you, Dad,’ I want you to add the words ‘I appreciate what you have done for me through the years,’ and use the statement with your mother. Use these statements for the second three months.
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Siblings: Built-in Friends?

Relationships with siblings are often colored by the events of childhood and adolescence. The nature of the relationship in earlier years influences the relationship as adults. This influence may be positive or negative. If the relationship is positive, then it can only be enhanced by discovering the primary love language of your siblings and speaking that language regularly. If the negative influences of childhood linger into adulthood, then nothing has more potential for healing the hurts of the past than expressing love in the sibling’s primary love language.

Brianna’s Freckles
Brianna was a redheaded, freckle-faced, beautiful single gal who said to me, “When I was growing up, my brother, who is two years older than I, always kidded me about my freckles. He nicknamed me Freckles and introduced me to all his friends by this name. I never liked it, but I didn’t make a big deal of it. I would just say, ‘My name is Brianna,’ and let it go at that. He still introduces me that way even now that we are both grown.”

“It’s not a big deal, but...”

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A Daters Guide to Gift Giving: Evaluating the Response

In a dating relationship, you must also be sensitive to the way your partner responds to gifts. Because of their cost or perceived meaning, certain types of gifts may not be readily accepted by the one you love. At a singles conference in the mountains of North Carolina, Josh approached me after a lecture on the five love languages with a perplexing question. “I believe in all five love languages, but what if you try to speak a love language and your dating partner is not willing to accept it?” he asked.

“Could you give me an example?” I requested.

“Well, I’ve been dating this girl for three months. I’m really excited about her. Samantha’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I wanted her to know how much I cared about her, so I bought her a really expensive gift. But when I gave it to her, she said, ‘I cannot accept this. I just don’t feel right about it.’ I was devastated,” he said.

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