Do You Speaka My Language?

I’m married to a really great guy. No, I mean it, he’s a  r-e-a-l-l-y   g-r-e-a-t   g-u-y. He’s an involved father, a loving husband, and a thoughtful son. He’s tall, athletic and easy on the eyes. He has strong ethics, a deep-set of values and is one of the most trustworthy people I’ve ever met. But we don’t always see eye to eye.

Take our ways of expressing love, for example. As I’ve recently leaned—thanks to the good doctor, Gary Chapman, and his exceedingly popular book—I express love through giving things to people (and spending time with them) while DH expresses his love through doing things for others and by giving praise.

Chapman suggests that most of us speak one (maybe two) of five Love Languages: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts. DH speaks the first two and I speak the last two but sometimes what comes out when we speak to each other sounds something like Pig Latin.

Here’s a perfect scenario: A few weeks ago, I celebrated my birthday. If there’s one thing DH has learned in the 11 years we’ve been together, it’s that I love birthdays. I love the excuse to get together with people, the chance to get something in the mail other than bills and the possibility that I might (at least from my own family), even get a gift or two. But this year, despite dropping numerous hints, gift ideas and suggestions, DH didn’t get me a gift. Well, at least nothing wrapped in a box or that I could wear. Instead, he expressed love his way, through an act of service.

DH was under a big crunch at work for the two weeks preceding my birthday, it involved late nights at the office and early mornings out the door. Since he had gone to such extreme lengths honoring my birthday last year, I wasn’t expecting anything big this year but I was hopeful that maybe we’d get together with some friends or perhaps he’d use Freecycle his resourceful ways to obtain one of the items I keep asking for. Neither thing happened.

What did happen was that DH got out of work early on the last day of an 80-hour work week and drove to downtown Boston, against traffic and during college visit weekend (Boston has more than 320 colleges so that’s a lot of additional families in town). Because we enjoy watching the TV show Glee together and have long liked a capella singing, he bought tickets to see two of Boston’s best college, male a capella groups having a sing off.

Of course I loved it, we both did, and spending quality time together was awesome…but I didn’t understand why he hadn’t bought me a gift…and why he still won’t, despite explaining that receiving gifts is my language. Alas!

Even before picking up Chapman’s book, I was increasingly aware that DH and I had different ways of showing our love but I didn’t understand why.

You see, I grew up in a culture of gift-givers. Early in my parents’ marriage, my dad lavished gifts upon my mom, clothes, jewelery, nice cars. As kids, my dad often would buy us gifts but then  find himself without an occasion to give them. I remember once getting a gift on Columbus Day because my dad couldn’t wait until my birthday a few weeks later.

My mom’s the same way. She’s always thinking of her loved ones at craft fairs and during off-season, on-line shopping sessions. Sometimes she even gives DH and me anniversary presents. I knew my parents were generous but didn’t realize not all families were; not until I met my husband that is.

For my husband, gifts are less about what they are and more about how much thought and time go into obtaining them because in DH’s family, they express themselves through actions.

His family is Chinese and both DH and his sister were raised to respect their parents and elders. Early in our relationship, we spent a weekend at his parents’ home and rather than being treated like guests (as I assumed adult children would be treated; especially adult children visiting with a new love interest), we were put to work. We spent a whole afternoon gardening and doing yard work, sometimes even while his parents took a break or did something else.

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy doing things for my in-laws and know it endears me further in their hearts. But 10 years ago I wasn’t so sure about it. To this day, if we’re not together for Christmas or birthdays, sometimes they don’t acknowledge the event at all with a gift. I’ve gotten used to this but it’s hard for me to understand when they don’t get the kids anything.

DH and I grew up learning two different languages. Over time, we’re learning how to communicate best in each others’ mother tongue. No one ever told me marriage would be easy but I didn’t realize it was going to be multi-lingual!

What’s your Love Language and do you think your loved ones speak to you in it?

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy Lawrence
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 16:33:52

    I love that book! Someone gave it to my husband and I right when we were married. I had forgotten about it, but I appreciate the reminder. Great book with a very simple but powerful message about talking to other people (and the assumptions we often make that they think the same way we do). 🙂


    • growingmuses
      Dec 09, 2011 @ 20:16:06

      Indeed, it’s a good book and helpful to think of acts of love in the 5 languages he suggests but I worry that it’s made things a little TOO categorical for me…I hope I can get my husband to read it too. Not that it’ll resolve our differences but it might make him appreciate my spending habits a little better :o)


  2. slightlywonky
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 18:11:18

    Ah…communication. Always so important…yet somehow often elusive. In my marriage, communication has always led to good things. Does this mean that I have learned this yet? OF COURSE NOT! I still stew about things I’m upset about…and avoid confrontation and, well, communication.

    Kudos to you for working to improve your communication with your DH. As frustrating as it can be at times, it leads to good things. Sometimes, however, the growth is uncomfortable. But what’s the alternative? Silence? As I am all too familiar with it, I can tell you that THAT doesn’t work.

    Keep trying! I hope that, in time, you will work through the all-too-familiar “language” gap…


    • growingmuses
      Dec 09, 2011 @ 20:17:27

      So you didn’t answer my question, what’s your language? I’m thinking it might be gift giving or quality time too because you make both of those priorities in your life…what do you think?


  3. Pops
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 16:09:25

    Your blog provides great insight to what make you and your DH so special to all of us here in PA. See you all soon.


  4. EG
    Dec 19, 2011 @ 12:02:53

    So funny–you do remind me of G sometimes, and that’s his language. Mine is the same as your hubby’s. No wonder we miss y’all so much. Stuff stresses me out, man, but he loves it–loves it wrapped, loves it in piles, loves to keep it, period.


    • growingmuses
      Dec 20, 2011 @ 06:28:33

      It’s a far better scenario when the one who’s making the majority of the household income is also the one who likes to spend it…not so seamless when it’s the other way round :-S Maybe I should bring a present for G when we see you on the 26th instead of the girls….


    • DH
      Jan 09, 2012 @ 23:02:41

      EG, I hear you – Speaking of G speaking the language of giving things to other people…how’s the DLSR he got you working out (for you, naturally)? 🙂

      “Actions always speak louder than words” is how I grew up. Although I may not be able to recall some of the best gifts my parents have ever given me, I am also unable to count the numerous ways my parents have expressed their love through actions. That said here are a handful that to me, have more worth than anything that could be purchased or gift wrapped:

      –> driving 5+ round-trip to have lunch with me, and bring my all-time favorite cake + a home-packed dinner that’s a family tradition, when I was going through a difficult time in my early career
      –> them coming to stay with us the week leading up to our son’s birth to help stock up our fridge & freezer with home cooked meals, despite both of them trying to get a business launched
      –> My mom clips out articles from magazines and newspapers and sends them to us on (usually) relevant topics like raising children, careers, health, etc.

      For me, I’ll take (or give) acts of love any day. That’s my language, and I’m sticking to it! Oh…and sometimes the acts are pretty cool too:


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