Can Love Languages Be Harmful For Your Marriage?

love languages

I like giving and receiving gifts.

My wife Lisa doesn’t.

In my young stupid pride, I used to double down on gift giving opportunities, find something really creative to give to Lisa, perhaps a bit too expensive for our current budget and Lisa would be touched and moved but feel guilty that I was (in her words) “better” at giving gifts than she was.

Some things don’t change. Just prior to our 34th wedding anniversary I found something I thought Lisa would appreciate. When she saw the wrapped box on our table the morning of our anniversary, I noticed that insecure look on her face.

“We’re getting each other gifts this year?” she asked.

“Well, it’s our anniversary.”

“But I thought that furniture we bought was supposed to be our gift to each other.”

We had made such an agreement many years ago, when money was tight. I didn’t realize it had a future clause—that every time we bought furniture in the future, we were writing off Valentine’s Day and Anniversary presents for that calendar year.

For some years, I resented this a bit. Why couldn’t she try a little harder, particularly if that was one of my love languages? But it wasn’t just Lisa. Made in her image, my kids follow suit. Father’s Day isn’t something I usually look forward to; I try to steel myself in anticipation of an obligatory phone call.

Here’s how I’ve resolved this: I don’t want it to be a burden for my wife or kids to love me. I want it to be a joy. If I resent that they don’t recognize a “love language” (or whatever description you want to use), I’m souring our relationship with what will feel to them like a burdensome obligation. And when they do something for me out of an obligation, I’m not going to feel loved anyway.

Love languages are great as tools to demonstrate love, but they can sour the relationship if they become expectations that demand love.

Ask yourself, do you want loving you to be a burden or a blessing?

Fast forward to Christmas. Lisa and I were thrilled that all our children would be in town. We squeezed in a vacation just days before they arrived, so the preparation was going to be especially tight with most of the burden falling on my wife. We also had to finish shopping for our kids.

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The best gift I could give my wife this past Christmas was to say, “let’s not do gifts for each other this year” so that’s what we did. Seeing the relief on her face was proof of the burden this is on her.

I love The Five Love Languages (which I didn’t write, though I get thanked for doing so all the time since Gary Chapman and I share the same first name) because it is one of the most practical books on the market for the “nuts and bolts” of demonstrating love. Just don’t let the five love languages become about demanding love. When people do that (and I’ve worked with several couples who have) a great tool for intimacy becomes a weapon of accusation. That’s not Chapman’s intent and it’s an abuse of an otherwise very good book.

This week, let’s do an attitude check:

  • Do we want to be remembered as the type of spouse who was always sitting back and waiting for their husband or wife to fail them yet again?
  • Do you take more satisfaction in being proved right that you’re being taken for granted again than you do in finding creative ways to express love yourself?
  • Do you want it to be a joy for a person to love you, or do you want marriage to you to feel like a continual contest, with your spouse always on the verge of falling short?

Since I’ve already mentioned one book I like, let me mention another: Linda Dillow’s What’s It Like to Be Married to Me? Linda wrote the book for women, but the question embedded in the title is worth the price of the book itself. It’s a healthy exercise: take a step back over the coming week and ask yourself, “What is it like to be married to me? Is it a joy, or is it a burden?”