An interview with The 5 Love Languages author, Dr. Gary Chapman

When couples have their “date nights”, what kinds of questions can they ask each other to connect and know each other better?

Different questions would be applicable to different couples, probably depending on how long they’ve been married and what kind of communication they’ve had in the past.

About a year ago, I put together something called Love Talks for Couples, which is a little flip chart with a different question on each page. These are the kinds of questions that I think would work well on a date night.

  • As you were growing up, what was unique about your family as compared to other families in your neighborhood, or families of your friends?
  • What do you remember about learning to drive? That may reveal something about your personality or the personality of your parents — a lot of things can come out of that one.
  • Can you recall visiting your parents’ workplace and if so, describe it and how you felt when you went there.

You can see these questions can lead to many different directions. None of these are designed to get a couple into an argument. They are questions to reveal themselves to each other.

Dr. Gary Chapman and The 5 Love Langauges

Here’s another one: “Complete this sentence, ‘I’m sure my mom and dad wished I would …'” That question may reveal something of your own sense of disappointment or feeling you’ve disappointed your parents.

What is perhaps the worst movie you’ve ever seen?

Describe your favorite elementary or high school teacher.

And there are lots more questions. I think what you’re looking for on date nights is to talk about things that you wouldn’t necessarily talk about in the day-to-day flow of life. And sometimes a little tool, like these Love Talks for Couples, can be extremely helpful in stimulating conversation between the two of you.

This is not a time to share your grievances. A date night should be a fun night. Intimacy in a marriage has to do with sharing and revealing yourself. I remember one night my wife and I were going through these while we were putting them together, along with a friend Raymon Presson who helped me on this project, and one of the questions was, “Tell me your most serious physical injury as a child.”

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My wife told me about this time when she was five years old when she got into the medicine cabinet and took several sleeping pills and slept for 36 hours. The doctors were trying to understand what was wrong with her; quite a serious situation. Well, we’d been married forty years and she had never told me that. And she said, “I wasn’t trying to hide it, it’s just there was never an occasion to share that.”

These kinds of questions encourage couples to share things about themselves — past present and ideas for the future — that they would never share if they didn’t have something to stimulate the conversation.

How can you love your spouse when you have stopped even liking them and find it difficult to even be in the same room with them?

That’s a bad situation, yet a lot of couples are there. I think we need to face that realistically. This is one of the positive aspects of The Five Love Languages. Because the Love Language concept begins with the concept that you don’t need to feel anything to love. But that if you do love, you’ll begin to feel something.

In the Bible, love is not a feeling. Love is the attitude of thinking that says, “I choose to look out for your interests. How may I help you?” Love is a way of thinking and behaving.

The wonderful thing about this is, when you do express love, particularly when you express it in the primary the Love Language of your spouse, your spouse begins to feel loved. And when they begin to speak your love language, you begin to have warm feelings for them.

It’s not necessary to have warm feelings in order to express love. What’s important is you choose to love your spouse. I think that’s why the bible says to husbands, love your wives — it’s a command. In Titus 2 it says the older ladies are supposed to teach the younger ladies to love their husbands.

If love can be commanded and if love can be taught and learned, then love is not an emotion.

Even if I don’t have love feelings for my spouse, but I understand God wants me to express my love to them and I’m willing to accept that attitude and have appropriate behavior, there’s a good chance that emotional warmth will be reborn in that marriage.

A commitment is that attitude toward life, a promise that I’m going to follow through with my promises. In a marriage, when the feelings are gone, obviously that’s more difficult because now I’m not pushed along by my emotions which I had before I got married. In fact, my emotions might be pushing me in the opposite direction. But because I did make a commitment, I’m not going to just stay in the marriage. The idea is staying in the marriage and doing something that has the potential for making the marriage better.

Choosing to express love to my spouse has the potential of making the marriage relationship better.

What is most crucial for a couple to do when rebuilding a marriage after mistrust?

I like to think of trust as a fragile plant. Whenever a person loses trust in their spouse, it’s because the spouse has been un-trustworthy; they have broken trust. It is like stepping on that plant.

Trust is like that. Trust stands erect in a marriage, we’ve committed ourselves to each other, we enter marriage trusting each other. Trust will remain until one of them becomes untrustworthy. When that happens the little plant bends over.

If the person will repent for what they’ve done and turn from their wrong, and then begin to live trustworthy again — that is doing what they say they’re going to do — the little plant will straighten up. And trust will be re-born in the marriage.

Choosing to express love to my spouse has the potential of making the marriage relationship better.

If trust is violated a number of times, it’s as if the plant is broken off. The roots of trust are still there, but you can no longer see the plant. That often happens in a marriage where a person violates the trust of their spouse again and again.

Wherever they are, whether it’s the first time or many times, the only way for trust to be re-born is for the one who violated the trust to choose to be trustworthy. And consequently, change their lifestyle so that they are doing what they say they’ll do.

One of the ways this happens is by giving the spouse evidence that you are now trustworthy. For example, if a husband has violated his wife’s trust by being unfaithful to her, maybe he got involved with someone emotionally, maybe even sexually. He later repents of that, he asks forgiveness, he promises he will be faithful to her.

How is she going to believe him? How is her trust going to grow? Her trust will grow as he demonstrates to her that he is going to be true to his word.

Let’s say he says to her, “I’m going over to George’s house tonight to work on his car.” An hour later she calls George’s house and asks if her husband is there. And the husband says, “She’s checking up on me!” My answer is, that’s right, and that’s good. Because every time she calls and finds you are doing what you said you would do; you are where you said you would be — Her trust grows.

But if she happens to call and if you didn’t do what you said you would do, then her trust begins to evaporate again.

The only way for trust to be re-born is for a person to become trustworthy. The only way the trust can grow is for the person to have some evidence they’re trustworthy.

If you really are trustworthy, if you’ve really changed and you’ll be committed to your spouse, you should not object when they call to affirm you are doing what you said you would do. You should be glad because what they’re doing is rebuilding trust in you.

Can Love Languages Change Over Time?

Is it possible for love languages to change in marriage, or do we really just change our expectations?

I don’t think an individuals Love Language changes through the years. I think it’s developed early in life and I think it stays with us through a lifetime. However, in a marriage, we may get the idea our Love Language has changed.

Sometimes it’s because we’ve misdiagnosed our Love Language the first time or we misdiagnosed our spouse’s Love Language. Sometimes we jump to a conclusion and later on we realize we missed it.

For example, very commonly, men who read my book on the Five Love Languages will immediately say, “My Love Language is physical touch.” What they’re thinking about is sex. And their sexual need has not been met very well in the marriage, so immediately they say if my sexual need were met I’d feel loved. But then if their sexual needs are met, they wake up one day and say, “That’s not my Love Language. My Love Language is words of affirmation!”, or some other Love Language.

The physical dimension of the sexual needs of the male, is so powerful, that when that need is not met, it overrides the need for emotional love. So consequently a lot of men misdiagnose their Love Languages.

Another reason a person may think their Love Language has changed is that their primary Love Language and their secondary Love Language are very, very close to each other. If that’s the case, when you get enough of your primary Love Language your secondary Love Language becomes more important.

I say to couples, it’s really an advantage if there are two Love Languages that are about equal for your spouse. Either one of those will give them positive feelings. So you want to focus on both of those.

Expressing a Love Language to Your Husband

How can wives best open the door to allow, support, and encourage their husbands to be the spiritual leaders of the home?

That’s a question I get often when I’m talking to couples. This whole question about a husband taking the initiative to be a leader (or spiritual leader), is one where there’s a lot of fuzzy thinking by both the husband and wife.

Some years ago I wrote a book called, Five Signs of a Loving Family, in which I went back to the five fundamentals of a healthy family. One of those fundamentals in scripture is the husband as a loving leader. This is not a peripheral issue — this is a fundamental issue in healthy families. Incidentally, all five of those I took from Ephesians 5 and 6, the passage on marriage and family.

In that book, I did a chapter on how wives can encourage their husbands to be leaders in the marriage and in the family. And one of the points I made in that chapter was that men respond positively to praise. Because the average wife who wants her husband to become a loving leader
is nagging him. She’s pointing out things he ought to be doing; it comes across as condemning.

What I say to her is, look for something he’s doing right. Something that gives evidence of leadership and give him affirmation of that.

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For example, I sometimes will say to a wife who’s complaining about her husband not being a leader, “Tell me, does your husband have a steady job?” And often she says, yes. I say, “So he regularly brings home monies to help support the family and make the house payment? You know, that’s a pretty big step according to the bible. The bible says if a man doesn’t support his own family he’s worse than an unbeliever. This is pretty big leadership. A man who’s working regularly, bringing home money and paying bills, that’s a major step in leadership. So why don’t you focus on praising him for the way he works and provides?”

There are many other places you can look for areas of affirmation. Let’s take the spiritual area. If he goes to church with her on Sunday, there’s a place for praise. There are a lot of husbands who don’t go to church.

For a wife to say, “Honey, I haven’t told you this lately, but I just want you to know how much it means to me and how much I appreciate and how proud I am of you to know that every Sunday morning you go to church with me. You know my friend Mary, her husband goes about half the time; my friend June, her husband never goes. It feels so good when we go to church together.”

That husband will walk away feeling good about himself and he will be open to growth. That’s the first step: Begin praising your husband for whatever evidence you see of leadership.

A second idea is that requests are more productive than demands. This is true of course whether you’re male or female. If you want your husband to become a spiritual leader, don’t make demands of him.

Statements such as, “You ought to be reading bible stories to the children.” or, “You ought to be praying with these kids at night.”, come across as if you are God and you’re telling your husband what he ought to be doing.

If a wife begins with the praise and then makes a request, is she says to him for example, “You know honey, would it be possible for you to read the bible story to Johnny tonight? I have to finish the dishes.” Specifically, she’s requesting him to do something. Which if he does, is evidence of spiritual leadership.

A wife will encourage her husband to be a spiritual leader far more by making requests, and the more specific the request the better.

I know some wives say, “Well if I have to ask him to do it, it won’t mean as much.” Let’s face it, we’re all in process. Your husband may have a long way to go. If you sit there waiting for him to think of all the things he ought to do to be a spiritual leader, you may be waiting a long time.

What we’re talking about is a wife helping her husband to be a spiritual leader. Maybe you’d get 100 points of emotional encouragement if he thought of it himself. At least give him 50 points and feel encouraged 50% that he did what you requested him to do. And over a period of time, a husband will learn how to do those things.

Healthy Boundaries

What guidelines do you suggest for healthy boundaries when putting the needs of your spouse before your own needs?

Fundamentally, we have to recognize that all of us have emotional needs, social needs, physical needs, and spiritual needs. The scriptures call me, as the husband, to serve my wife, to give my life to her like Christ gave His life to the church. And the same spirit is on the part of the wife when she submits to the husband. Both of those words are preceded by the concept, submitting yourselves one to another. And wives are told to submit to husbands, husbands are told to love their wives and give themselves to her.

So the biblical pattern of serving your spouse is there, for the husband and wife. I think the husband is to take the initiative, as Christ took the initiative to love the church. The scriptures say we love Him because He first loved us.

In the process of giving my life away for my wife, I have to recognize that if my own needs aren’t met – physically, emotionally and spiritually – eventually I won’t be there to meet her needs.

About a year ago, I put together something called Love Talks for Couples, which is a little flip chart with a different question on each page. These are the kinds of questions that I think would work well on a date night.

For example, if I don’t meet my physical needs of food, rest, and exercise, I’m going to die early, and I won’t be there to give my life to her. She will be alone. It’s fundamental to recognize the necessity of meeting our own basic needs so that we can be a healthy person in order to continue the process of serving our spouses over a period of time.

In the spiritual area, you need to make time for your daily time alone with God. Nothing substitutes for that personal, daily time when you and God sit down and you listen to God and have this personal time every day. If you’re not meeting with God on a regular basis and developing your own spiritual life, you will draw back from servanthood, you will not be the husband or wife God intended you to be.

You need to make time for your emotional needs too. We can get so uptight in all the things we’re doing that emotionally, we’re no longer effective in loving our spouses. Learning your own emotional makeup and what you need to keep yourself emotionally balanced, is critical.

Some people find great help in taking five-minute vacations throughout the course of a day. Taking a five-minute walk around the house is exactly what they need to keep themselves on an even keel emotionally. It’s different for different people. You need to learn your own limits, you need to understand your stress limitations, and you need to learn when to back off and divert your heart, mind, and body.

Taking care of ourselves is fundamental in order to do what the bible tells us to do, namely, give our lives away to each other.

Making your Spouse a Priority

How do you make your spouse more important than your children?

In a theoretical sense, we know that our relationship with our spouse and our relationship with our children are extremely important. And in a sense, we don’t want to pit those against the other. The well being of our children and the well being of our spouse and marriage are both very important.

However, what happens sometimes, is when the children come we begin to focus on their needs and almost without knowing it we begin to ignore each other and the needs of the marriage. And then we wake up a year or two down the road and realize our marriage has suffered. We don’t feel close to each other. We have negative feelings toward each other. And sometimes, one of us is getting attracted to someone else outside the marriage. We focus so much on the children, that we didn’t give proper attention to the marriage.

Let’s sit down before the children come and say to each other, “We’re excited, we’re looking forward to this child, but there’s a danger that one or both of us will so focus on the child we will forget each other. Let’s make a covenant that when this child comes, we will remember that the most important thing we can do for this child is keeping our marriage strong.

At this time you discuss how you might give time to each other. This might be the time to initiate a date night if you haven’t already done so. This is the time to say, “Maybe for three months after the baby comes, we won’t have a date night where we go out, but we’ll sit down two nights a week after the baby’s in bed and we’ll give an hour to each other.” You establish some things to safeguard your time with each other, realizing it’s all tied together: Your good marriage and the well being of your child are a package, and you really can’t separate them. When you do, you get into trouble,

If the marriage is neglected and the marriage falls apart, all your good efforts to invest time in the life of that child are going to be lost because that child will grow up with one parent instead of two parents. That is not a healthy situation.

How do I get my spouse to welcome outside help, whether it is from a counselor or a resource, such as a book or marriage conference?

There’s alot of help available today in books, videos, marriage seminars, and counseling. Sometimes the people who need it most are not aware they need it. They’re happy with things the way they are. They’re getting their fulfillment maybe not in the marriage but from their work, the church or some social involvement. It’s okay with them that the marriage isn’t going the way they earlier dreamed it would.

The other partner really wants things to be different. It is often the case that one spouse will desire help more than the other.

We’ve said for a long time, we cannot change our spouses. But the fact is, we can influence our spouses, and we do every day. The question is are we having a good influence or are we having a poor influence? Let’s try to learn how to have a positive influence on your spouse.

Typically, when one a spouse realizes the marriage needs help, we tend to get negative. We tend to get critical of our partner, it shows up in our behavior, we withdrawal.

If you want to have a positive influence, first you have to have a positive attitude and use positive words. Back off from the hurt, pain and frustration and ask yourself, “How can I have a positive influence on my spouse?”

You start giving them positive affirmation for the good things they are doing. After you’ve done that a while, you make a request of them. Not overnight – not until you give them lots of affirmation.

Before you make that request, you might even ask, “How can I be a better husband to you? What could I do to help you this week?” You begin to reach out and ask them for information on how you can serve them. What you’re doing is practicing biblical principles that you wish they would practice.

After you’ve done that a while and they see there’s been some change in the way you’re responding to them, you make your request of them. Because they have seen these changes in you and they feel more warmly toward you, they are now more likely to respond to your request to participate in outside help.

Love Languages for Newly Marrieds

Is there a particular activity or practice a couple could do consistently during their first year of marriage that might get them off on the right foot for a healthy relationship?

First, they could share a book on marriage. They would agree that each of them would read a chapter and at the end of the week they would sit down and share with each other one thing they learned about themselves. It’s a vehicle for self-revelation. In that context, chances are they will be growing through the process.

Secondly, once a year, the rest of your lives, attend a marriage enrichment event. It might be a weekend retreat sponsored by your church, it might be a weekend seminar that comes to your city, it might be a class in your church. Every year commit to attending some marriage enrichment event. If couples will start that habit the first year of marriage, they will get on the right track.

A third suggestion, particularly during the first six months of the marriage, once a week, have a sharing time in which we share with each other one thing that’s troubling me. One thing, you wish your partner would change.

Sometimes couples are reluctant to do this in the early stages because they’re still in the “in love” experience. The fact is when two people get married, they discover things they never knew about each other. It can be little things, things you never noticed before, things that bug you. There needs to be a way of processing those things in a positive way and make changes.

My suggestion is this. Once a week you agree that we will sit down and open ourselves up and say, “Okay, tell me one thing you wish I would change that would make things better for you.” Before responding. the spouse first tells their partner three things they like about them. If there’s nothing that bothers you, you pass that week.

What you’re doing is recognizing that we’re going to make some changes in the first year of marriage, and here’s the way we’re going to do it. We’re not going to save up all these things that bug us and then one night, shoot each other with five things we need to be changed. We have a plan.

If couples would do that, most couples could work through those little troubling things in that first year of marriage and they wouldn’t become “unresolved conflicts” five years after they’re married.

Gary Chapman is the author of the best selling Five Love Languages series, which includes The Five Love Languages, The Five Love Languages of Children, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers and Your Gift of Love. In addition to his church educational responsibilities, Dr. Chapman hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast, A Growing Marriage. He directs marriage seminars throughout the country and regularly counsels married couples. To learn more about Gary’s conference, Toward a Growing Marriage, visitMoody Conferences.

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