From “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
“Michelle sat in the living room, pecking away at the laptop. She could hear sounds from the utility room, where husband Brad was catching up with the piles of laundry. She smiled to herself. In recent days Brad had cleaned the condo, fixed supper, and run the errands, all because Michelle was in the midst of finals for grad school. It made her feel content . . . loved. Michelle’s primary love language was what I call “acts of service.” By acts of service, I mean doing things you know your spouse would like you to do. You seek to please her by serving her, to express your love for her by doing things for her. Such actions as cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning a commode, changing the baby’s diaper, dusting the bookcase, keeping the car in operating condition, paying the bills, trimming the shrubs, walking the dog, changing the cat’s litter box, and dealing with landlords and insurance companies are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.
Doormat or Lover
“I have served him for twenty years. I have waited on him hand and foot. I have been his doormat while he ignored me, mistreated me, and humiliated me in front of my friends and family. I don’t hate him. I wish him no ill, but I resent him, and I no longer wish to live with him.” That wife has performed acts of service for twenty years, but they have not been expressions of love. They were done out of fear, guilt, and/or resentment.
A doormat is an inanimate object. You can wipe your feet on it, step on it, kick it around, or whatever you like. It has no will of its own. It can be your servant but not your lover. When we treat our spouses as objects, we preclude the possibility of love. Manipulation by guilt (“If you were a good spouse, you would do this for me”) is not the language of love. Coercion by fear (“You will do this or you will be sorry”) is alien to love. No person should ever be a doormat. We may allow ourselves to be used, but we are in fact creatures of emotion, thoughts, and desires. And we have the ability to make decisions and take action. Allowing oneself to be used or manipulated by another is not an act of love. It is, in fact, an act of treason. You are allowing him or her to develop inhumane habits. Love says, “I love you too much to let you treat me this way. It is not good for you or me.”
Learning the love language of acts of service will require some of us to re-examine our stereotypes of the roles of husbands and wives. That is necessary for all of us if our spouse’s primary love language asks something of us that seems inappropriate to our role. Due to the sociological changes of the past forty years, we no longer cling to certain notions of the male and female role. Yet that does not mean that all stereotypes have been eradicated. It means, rather, that the number of stereotypes has multiplied. With the pervasiveness of television, increased mobility, growing cultural diversity, and the proliferation of single-parent families, however, role models are often influenced by forces outside the home rather than our parents. Whatever your perceptions, chances are your spouse perceives marital roles somewhat differently than you do. A willingness to examine and change stereotypes is necessary in order to express love more effectively. Remember, there are no rewards for maintaining stereotypes, but there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your spouse!
Recently a wife said to me, “Before (your) seminar, Bob never helped me with anything. We both started our careers right after college, but it was always my role to do everything at the house. It was as if it never crossed his mind to help me with anything. After the seminar, he started asking me, ‘What can I do to help you this evening?’ It was amazing. At first, I couldn’t believe it was real, but it has persisted for three years now. “I’ll have to admit, there were some trying and humorous times in those early weeks because he didn’t know how to do anything. The first time he did the laundry, he used undiluted bleach instead of regular detergent. Our blue towels came out with white polka dots. Then there was the first time he used the garbage disposal. It sounded strange, and shortly afterward soap bubbles started emerging from the drain of the adjoining sink. He didn’t know what was happening until I turned the garbage disposal off, reached my hand inside, and retrieved the remains of a new bar of soap, now the size of a quarter. But he was loving me in my language, and my tank was filling up. Now he knows how to do everything around the house and is always helping me. We have much more time together because I don’t have to work all the time. Believe me, I have learned his language, and I keep his tank full.”
Speak The Language
1. Make a list of all the requests your spouse has made of you over the past few weeks. Select one of these each week and do it as an expression of love.
2. Ask your spouse to make a list of ten things he or she would like for you to do during the next month. Then ask your spouse to prioritize those by numbering them 1–10, with 1 being the most important and 10 being least important. Use this list to plan your strategy for a month of love.
3. What one act of service has your spouse nagged about consistently? Why not decide to see the nag as a tag? Your spouse is tagging this as really important to him or her. If you choose to do it as an expression of love, it is worth more than a thousand roses.
4. If your requests to your mate come across as nags or put-downs, try writing them in words that would be less offensive to them. Share this revised wording with your spouse. For example, “The yard always looks so nice, and I really appreciate your work. I’d love to thank you in advance for mowing the lawn this week before Julie and Ben come over for dinner.”
5. Perform a major act of service like organizing the home office, and then post a sign that reads, “To (spouse’s name) with love,” and sign your name.
6. If you have more money than time, hire someone to do the acts of service that you know your spouse would like for you to do, such as the yard work or a once-a-month deep cleaning of your home.”