Languages of Love: Essential Marriage Skills 101


Vic and Elaine 1981

“Have you heard about The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman?” our dear friend Richard asked as we soaked naked in their hot tub and talked about life with Richard and his wife. The summer night was cool; the stars glowed.

“A book with a name like that should make the author a bundle,” Vic said with a snort and a twinge of writer’s jealousy.

“But it’s an interesting idea,” Richard protested. I imagined his scowl, but it was too dark to see it. “You need to know the language of love essential to your partner. It may not be the same as yours.”

“OK. Tell us,” I said.

“Quality time. Touch. Gifts,” Richard began.

“What else?” I asked.

“Hmmm… Acts of Service and something about affirmation. Oh yeah. Words of Affirmation.”

51ylGqNESML._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Vic and I hooted into the night sky and poked each other in the ribs.

“Affirmation,” Vic said. “That is top of your list.”

“And you are clearly an Acts of Service guy,” I popped back.

I loved affirmation, spoken words of appreciation. I thrived on compliments about the food, the beauty of the flower gardens, or a piece I’d written. I never tired of hearing that I was beautiful. Vic appreciated the small things I did for him and told me so every day. Affirmed, recognized, and loved, I was easily persuaded to pack his suitcase for a trip even if I wasn’t going along, or cook pasta and tomato sauce for dinner when I’d prefer brown rice.

Acts of service made Vic feel loved. He sweetly requested rather than demanded help when he needed it. Packing that suitcase or a vegan lunch for work, sticking a little love note on the wax paper wrapping of his tofu sandwich, helping him choose clothes that were color coordinated. I didn’t complain about reading his book galleys when they came in the middle of an Arizona vacation even though I wanted to go hiking—or I didn’t complain as much as Vic did.

“This is what you always wanted,” I teased after Vic became ill, when there was little to joke about. “I’m devoting my whole life to serving you.” We laughed, but we knew. He needed a motherly nurse and I was willing to do anything to keep him alive. He affirmed me with gratitude until his death.

Moon and Venus (Goddess of Love) 2013

Moon and Venus (Goddess of Love) 2013

We liked being physically close so agreed on the Gift of Touch. We craved small caresses, pats, and hugs. Vic awoke early and was downstairs at his desk drinking coffee by the time I finished meditating in the morning. I came into his office and stood beside his desk chair. He put his arm around my waist or patted me on the butt. I caressed his hair and rubbed his neck.

“Did you have any dreams?” he’d ask. I’d tell him if I did.

“And did you dream?” I asked. Or when he was sick: “How are you feeling, top of head to toe and did you sleep?” We were interested in each other, so all our time together was quality.

Gifts? No problem. Neither of us cared much about gifts. Instead of Christmas gifts, we saved money for a trip in March or something we wanted for the house or a tractor implement.

I would add a sixth language of love: Tolerance. I could be irritable and anxious. He could be testy and rushed. I got tired of his need for mothering and the demands of his career. He became exasperated by my lack of self-confidence and excess of complaints. I was exhausted from the last two years of care-taking. But he rarely forgot how hard it was to care for a dying man. Our intolerances were replaced by love and sorrow.

We usually spoke each other’s language of love. When we forgot, we still had tolerance.


What is your favorite language of love? And do you know what your partner or friend loves? You may be surprised if you ask them. Hope you enjoy my other posts on Essential Marriage Skills: The Art of Argument, Talking Back, and Pause Before Shrieking.

  1. I love this, Elaine. From a writer’s view, this is done so well! The photo’s and examples fit perfectly with the narrative. From a woman who shares similar experiences of widowhood and husband care giving, this article touches me in so many ways. I envy the many years you and Vic had to perfect your love. I also love your honesty and the gentle way you reveal so much about yourself and your Vic.
    Warm Hugs,

    • Thank you, Patti. As you know, your writing moves me, too, and I feel so close to your heart when you write about your love and the briefness and disappointment. Thank you for all your encouraging words. Seems to be my nature to gently reveal the good and hard parts of being in love. Notice I speak in the present tense, because I’m still in love with Vic and the life we shared–and I try not to idealize, but can’t help myself.
      A warm hug back your way. Days must be short in Alaska, but getting obviously longer here already, so you can watch the miracle of returning light.

  2. How beautiful that you were able to live this throughout your marriage , not for just the newly wed years. A lesson to learn that this is important for those married 40+ years too

    • Patt, I love hearing from you, knowing you share our harsh family news. I talked to the stoic big brother this morning. Hard times ahead, but he’s a trooper.
      Marriage is something we have to keep working on, don’t you think? Mine was recreated when we had kids, after the kids left home, when there were bumps in the road as we grew and changed, and especially in the last two years of illness when all the small stuff didn’t matter any more. Thank you for taking time to comment. I love feeling connected to you,

      • I learn so much from you and from the many wonderful sharing that happens as a result of your writing….I have Been married “only” 23 1/2 years and still feel I have so much to learn and understand about being in a healthy loving marriage.One thing that I have learned that I am grateful to be able to put into practice is to be ate teen my husband is not. Instead of “reacting”, I back off outwardly and keep my calm inside myself the best I can. I know I am successful when he returns to me in a quieter place and is more available to really “talk”…..The challenge for me is to be patient and wait. Sometimes I don’t need to wait long at all and other times I need to wait till the next day or longer. And of course the biggest challenge is to see my part in the situation because my ego is much more able to see HIS flaws and not mine…..surprise, right?

        • Hey, we don’t have flaws, do we, Lisa? Only those guys. I don’t think we ever “master” relationship. Like everything else, it keeps changing. But we practice and develop our skills. Reactivity was a big one for me. Vic needed space to cool off and think things through. I wanted immediate resolution, but there is no resolution when everyone is steamed up. I’m sure you have a great marriage because you work with it and keep facing those challenges. What more can we ask of our flimsy egos.
          Sending love to you and your sweet partner, Elaine

  3. The voice of experience speaks volumes. And your voice is true and loving.

    I like Patti’s comment about the design of this post. As you know, I enjoy blending the visual with the verbal. This one is exceptional. Thank you, Elaine.

    • Thank you, Marian. Patti is good at visuals, too, so that makes three of us. I learned early on that readers read on if there are photos.
      I hope things are smoothing out in your world. I’m so behind with everything as I get the manuscript to the publisher–read by a new editor with fresh eyes, an epilogue, and dedication page finished. Working on acknowledgements now and then hope to get back to my usual world of having a little time to read blogs.
      Grateful you stopped by and let me know.

  4. Dear Elaine, I just love the way you tell a story. You take us right into your world and emotion. This is just such a beautiful post and your details about the human spirit of love are deeply touching. You are a born writer my friend and cannot wait for your book! I’m going to go with ‘touch’.

    • Thanks, Debby. It’s interesting to think about our primary or secondary languages of love. I’m still an Affirmation woman, so thanks for accommodating me–and for your kind words and encouragement. Pedaling hard to get the manuscript finished. Dedication page finished yesterday and acknowledgements today. Next week cover. Everything else has to wait. You know what I mean. “It’s just a little book. How could it take so much effort?” Quite a process. Thanks again.

      • You are asking the right person, how it can take so long, it is a grueling process and you are lucky to have the help. But it will be rewarding! 🙂

        • I got myself help along the way, Debby, and it’s been essential in my case. The complete manuscript, including epilogue, acknowledgements, dedication page, and every last detail handed to publisher today. Rewarding already. Next week the cover. One step at a time.

  5. Elaine, what impressed me most was the great communication between you and Vic–that’s where it starts–being able to tell each other what you need.

    I, too, am looking forward to your book.


    • Thank you, Lynne. I imagine, because of experience with my mom, how hard it was with Adrian–that you could not communicate your need to him and he couldn’t communicate his. I am lucky that Vic and I could love and support each other right to the last few days of his life. Sending love and thanks for encouragement about the book. The baby is in the birth canal for a long labor and I hope not too much hard pushing.
      Warmly, Elaine

  6. Leave it to you, Elaine, to find a way to apply the principles in this wonderful book to your marriage and to your last two years of caregiving as well. I found this to be one of the best books ever written for married couples (or for anyone wanting to better understand the needs of another, for that matter), and it certainly helped me to better understand and articulate my own needs. Your writing is so beautiful, and I know your book will be very well received, no matter how long the process takes. ♥

    • Thank you, Marty. Baby delivered to the publisher today–from title page to end notes. So now a short rest and then new jobs that seem overwhelming, but I will learn and then learn more. Today feels like a milestone. It makes me happy to share this with you.
      You’ve been a constant, supportive teacher and friend since I began hospice bereavement work.
      Gratitude and love, Elaine

  7. So sweet, Elaine. Yes, tolerance is the thing that rescues the situation when all else is out of reach. Cheers!

    • Tolerance when all else fails. That will be my motto for the day–with myself above all. We need cheer at these temperatures. Best to you, E

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