His passion for healthy marriages began with roots in college ministry. When he would offer marriage preparation classes, they were always well attended. Becoming one of the nation’s leading experts on marriage and relationships was not part of Chapman’s plan, but God had other ideas.
“It began with single college students making preparation for marriage, because most college students have marriage in the back of their minds,” Chapman said, “and they are wanting to make sure they are making a wise decision.”
And it has been a growth process. Gary Chapman, Ph.D., is the author of the bestselling Five Love Languages series, which includes “The Five Love Languages,” “The Five Love Languages of Children,” and “Five Love Languages of Teenagers.” In addition to directing marriage seminars throughout the country, he hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast, A Growing Marriage, and is senior associate pastor for Adult Discipleship, Marriage Counseling, and Pastoral Care at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC. Gary and his wife Karolyn have been married more than 35 years. It is a continuing journey.
“Marriages either get better or get worse, they never stand still,” Chapman said. “The goal is simply to make sure yours is going in the right direction. After all, when a man and a woman become ‘one flesh’ (Mark 10:7–9), their marriage takes on a life of its own. ”
Whether you’re newly engaged or have celebrated a silver anniversary, Chapman’s “Toward A Growing Marriage” conference is an event that can literally change the course of your marriage! The conference stems primarily from his best-selling book, “The Five Love Languages,” which has experienced phenomenal success since its publication in 1992. Every year, it has sold more than the year before– completely opposite of the normal sales cycle. Chapman discovered the Love Languages as he was counseling couples struggling in their marriage. He said he would hear the same stories over and over. One spouse would complain that they didn’t feel loved. Their mate would say they didn’t know what they were talking about, and list all the things they do for them. Then the complaining spouse would agree, but list the things they didn’t do. When someone says “I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,” Chapman said you have to ask what they want. How can they feel loved? The answers fell into five categories based on the notes from over 12 years of counseling married couples, and the five love languages were created. He began giving lectures on the five love languages before writing the book.
“Everywhere I gave that seminar, it was like the lights came on for people,” Chapman said. “They would go home and they would try it and come back and tell me how helpful it was. It has touched a lot of people. It has been very encouraging.”
A few tips for a strong, long-lasting marriage from Dr. Chapman:
• Keeping emotional love alive in the relationship is a huge issue. When you feel loved then you can process the other aspects of marriage much easier, such as the conflicts. All couples have conflicts, it is just that some couples learn how to resolve conflicts and others do not. If you feel loved, it creates a climate that makes it easier to resolve conflict. You are more likely to hear one another, understand one another and look for a solution. If you don’t feel loved, you are more likely to argue, find no resolution and resent each other. Meeting your spouse’s emotional needs for love is a huge area.
• Learning how to listen. Most of us have never been trained in listening. We know how to share our thoughts and our ideas but we don’t know how to listen empathetically to the other person and understand what it looks like through their eyes. With conflicts, if you cannot understand what is going on inside of your spouse, you are not going to resolve the conflict and you will end up arguing. But if you listen, you can learn not only what they are thinking and how they perceive things, but you can learn how they feel about it. If you express empathy with that by saying to the person, “I think I hear what you are saying, it makes a whole lot of sense, but let me share my perspective,” “Here’s how I’ve been looking at it,” it will allow each of you to have different perspectives. If each of you allow differing perspectives and can acknowledge the differing opinions, you can begin working toward solving the problem by looking for solutions.
• By nature, we all think our perception is right. We are right, but our spouse has another perception. We try to argue with them to get them to agree with us. Our attitude is that “anyone in their right mind would agree with me.” We preach to each other. No one likes to be put down and no one likes their ideas put down consistently. When you have a whole string of conflicts that the two of you will not agree on, then you get the feeling you are not compatible. You begin thinking “we made a mistake, we shouldn’t have gotten married.” Chapman said he truly believes that many marriages could be saved if they receive the proper help. People give up too easily. They are not speaking each other’s love language. Talking your way through things does not always work, and usually ends in more arguments. Go see a marriage counselor. Reach out and find help, because help is available.
• A lot of people make poor decisions about who they marry and pre-marital counseling can sometimes help with that, but the problem is that when you are “in love” you are so obsessed with the other person that you can’t see their weaknesses. All you see are the positive things about them. Understanding that phase of the relationship is important, otherwise you get caught up in the euphoria of the “in love” experience and you fail to look at any other area of life. You don’t look at the foundation for intellectual intimacy, social issues or spiritual issues.
• You need to have a heart that chooses to look out for the other person, which is the essence of love. By nature, we are self-centered. Two selfish people will never create a satisfactory marriage. But when two people choose to commit themselves to look out for each others interests, they will create a satisfactory marriage. It is a matter of attitude. It is a matter of the heart. I think that’s what marriage is all about. It’s two people who are committed to helping each other become what God intended them to become. Chapman said he thinks that is why God instituted marriage, because we can accomplish more for the Kingdom of God together than we could separately. And if we can get marriage going in the right way, where both parties are reaching out to each other, that will be true. When we revert to our self-centeredness, marriage is not a help, it becomes a deficit. And a lot of Christians are caught up in the struggle against each other, demanding things of each other, and when you do that, you are miserable. The attitude has to be that “I’m in this thing to help you succeed. We have to work as a team. We have strengths, we have weaknesses and we can help each other…accomplish the things we are designed to accomplish.” That is what God intended marriage to be.
Making Marriage Work: It doesn’t have to feel like a chore…
Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in “English,” if your spouse understands only “Chinese,” you will never understand how to love each other.
Being sincere is not enough. We must be willing to learn our spouse’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.
Chapman’s conclusion after 30 years of marriage counseling is that there are basically five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. However, there may be numerous dialects. The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.
Communicating love isn’t as easy as feeling “in love,” because it’s quite a different thing. Falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice. It’s effortless. One who is “in love” is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person. If the euphoric pleasure of being “in love” never ended, we might never experience true love and meaningful communication.
Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself. Most of us do many things each day that do not come “naturally” for us. For some of us, that is getting out of bed in the morning. We go against our feelings and get out of bed because we believe there is something worthwhile to do that day. And normally, before the day is over, we feel good about having gotten up. Our actions preceded our emotions.
The same is true with love. We discover the primary love language of our spouse, and we choose to speak it whether or not it is natural for us. You might not love the language itself, but speaking it will clearly communicate love to your spouse.
Love is a choice, and either partner can start the process today.
This story was originally published in the March 2008 edition of North Mississippi Christian Family at NMSCF March 2008 pages 16-17