(With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)
How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day’s Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
I had this conversation with a good friend the other day. We both have spouses whose “love languages” differ from our own. It’s so very easy to get caught up in mentally listing all of the ways that we show love to our significant others. On a regular basis, I show love by saying it (words of affirmation), and by reaching out to rub a back or hold a hand (loving touch). I cook dinner on a regular basis (acts of service), and I buy little remembrances (gifts). Over time, my primary love language has shifted from “gifts” to “words” or “touch.” (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Dr. Gary Chapman’s wonderful book, “The Five Love Languages.” In a nutshell, we each have ways that we tend to express love. We feel most loved when we receive love in our own “language.”
When a couple speaks different “love languages,” it’s easy for one or the other to feel taken for granted. That’s where I think we get into trouble sometimes. Instead of recognizing the things our partner does for us, we keep a list of the things that we do that “go unappreciated.” Or worse, we keep a mental list of what we’ve done for others expecting them to reciprocate in kind, and we miss it when they express love in their own way.
My husband is an “acts of service” guy through and through. He does the laundry and cleans up the kitchen. He mows the lawn, builds things, paints rooms, and makes coffee. There is literally nothing that I have ever asked him to do for me that he has flatly refused to do for me. He does these things because they need to be done, but HE does them because he loves me and because they free up my time to do other things (like help run the family business, or write in my blogs).
My husband is not big on gifts, which caused a big problem early in our marriage. I felt unloved when I didn’t get my birthday, anniversary or valentine’s gift – especially because I invariably would buy one for him. what was even worse was that instead of getting excited about the gift, he acted like he could have not cared less (which truth be told, was often true!) It wasn’t until I read The Five Love Languages that I realized why he didn’t “care enough” to buy me gifts and why it hurt me so when he didn’t. We learned to adapt. I either buy my own gift or give him a list to choose from.
How does he love me? This weekend he hung an antique mirror for me. He installed shelving in the pantry. He helped me clean the house on Friday evening. On Saturday, he went for groceries with me. On Sunday, he worked very hard putting things away for winter and cleaning while I had fun doing some recreational shopping. He also told me that he loves me. He wrapped his arms around me while I slept. He made the coffee. The list goes on and on.
Here in Ohioland it was Sweetest Day on Saturday (for those of you in other parts of the country, that’s like a bonus Valentine’s Day- it’s a flowers and candy and fancy dinner kind of holiday). We talked about the fact that Saturday was Sweetest Day on Wednesday or Thursday. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Saturday is Sweetest Day – I know you think it’s a Hallmark holiday, right?
Him: Yes. I do. I will buy you something if you want me to.
Me: That’s okay – I’ll find something for myself. Is that okay?
Him: That’s perfect.
My sweetest day gift consisted of chocolate and a wonderful bar of sweet smelling french-milled soap – my favorite indulgences.
Once in a while, he surprises me and picks out a gift for me, and when he does, he knocks one out of the park. The gifts are perfect every time. In the meantime, I will count the ways he shows me he loves me, and forget about keeping score.