Has there ever been a word more written about than love ?  

Everyone seeks it. Most folks think they know what it is. But, ironically, couples often worry about if they are loved or if they are able to love .

Over the centuries, no one has improved on what St. Paul had to say about love in I Corinthians 13.4-7 (rsv) :

”  Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

St. Paul is clear about what love (agape) is in relation to a friend or neighbor. However, when love is understood in the context of marriage, it is a little more complicated.  The intimacy of a committed adult relationship adds the elements of sexual passion and desire. 

Navigating and balancing concerns for one’s beloved and for oneself own can be challenging and confusing. Is It Love or Chemistry? Tips for knowing when real love comes along. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) To make matters even worse for couples , many of the romantic myths, found in popular literature and media, have created unrealistic expectations about relationships which distort many folks’ understanding of love.  Here is an approach that can help us to sort it all out. 

Thirty years ago, Gary Chapman, addressed this confusion with his famous  The Five Love Languages  The Five Love Languages – Wikipedia. In it, he described five different ways that individuals express and recognize love in a marriage (romantic relationship):

— Physical Touch: Actually, although obvious, there are different kinds of touch. There is sexual touch and comforting touch. Both are important but one type may be wanted by one partner while the other partner is in need of the other.  These distinctions can be a source of confusion and frustration unless recognized and respected. 

— Quality Time: Quality time simply refers to being fully present with one’s partner. It means sharing and listening and understanding without being distracted by other concerns or devices.

— Words of Affirmation: Saying and hearing the words “I love you” and other verbal and  romantic gestures are an important love language that men sometimes do not fully appreciate or value. Indeed, the human psyche is fragile and needs ongoing reminders of affirmation.    

— Acts of Service: Acts of service simply means being considerate and doing little things which make life easier for one’s love.  

— Gifts:  While sometimes disparaged, gifts can be a way of expressing gratitude and love when words are hard to find. 

Since Chapman’s original work in 1992, others have suggested that there are more love languages, for example : Respect for the need for privacy and individuation. The 6th Love Language: Distance. Why it matters so much | by Jessica Wildfire | P.S. I Love You (psiloveyou.xyz) and Understanding/ tolerance and acceptance of differences.  7 love languages explained: Discover your love language. (mamamia.com.au)

For me, however, it really doesn’t matter how many love languages there are. What does matter is that each partner gets to know the other and accepts and respects the differences that each has. 

What was groundbreaking about Chapman’s work was the observation that love does not mean the same thing for everyone. People differ in the way they experience and show love and commitment. Thus, rather than assuming that your partner’s understanding of love is the same as yours, taking some time to check things out early on in the relationship can prevent serious misunderstandings and conflicts down the road. 

So, if you find that you and your mate are having difficulties, here is a simple exercise which may help identify the problem:

1) Separately, look at each of the five languages and rate each one 1 to 5, using each number only once. 

2) Sit down together and look at what you each wrote. 

Noting where you agree and where you differ can help to not only explain the difficulty but may also provide clues for resolving it. Like with most other problems in relationships, fixing them all comes down to having good communications.  The same is true for love .  

The Rev, Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC                           8 15 2022