Things I Wish I’d Known

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Romantic Love Has Two Stages
I was in the airport in Chicago when I met Jan, who was on her way to visit her fiancé for the weekend. When she inquired about where I was going, I said, “I’m going to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to lead a marriage seminar tomorrow.” “What do you do at marriage seminars?” she asked. “I try to give people practical ideas on how to work on their marriage,” I replied. With a question in her eyes she asked, “Why do you have to work on a marriage? If you love each other, isn’t that all that matters?” I knew she was sincere because that was also my perception before I got married.

Since neither of us was rushed for our next flight, I took time to explain to her that there are two stages of romantic love. The first stage requires little effort. We are pushed along by euphoric feelings. We commonly call this stage “being in love.” When we are in love, we freely do things for each other without thought of cost or sacrifice. We will drive 500 miles or fly halfway across the country in order to spend a weekend together. Jan nodded approval.

The person we love seems to be perfect — at least perfect for us. I quickly added, “Now, your mother may have a different opinion. She may say, ‘Honey, have you considered . . .'” Jan smiled and said, “Yes, I’ve heard that lecture.”

In this stage of romantic love, the couple does not have to work on the relationship. They may expend great energy in doing things for each other, but they would not consider it work. They would tend to use the word delight. They feel elated with the opportunity to do something meaningful for the other person. They want to make each other happy and they often do. However, as I indicated in Chapter One, the average life span of this initial stage of romantic love is two years. We do not stay in the euphoric stage of love forever. Actually, this is good because it is difficult to concentrate on anything else when you are in love. If you are in college when you fall in love, your grades will likely decline. tomorrow you have a test on the War of 1812. Who cares about the War of 1812 when you are in love? Education seems trivial; what matters is being with the person you love. All of us have known individuals who drop out of college and choose to get married because the one they love is moving to a different state and they want to go with them.

If the obsessive nature of the in love euphoria extended for the next twenty years, few of us would accomplish our educational and vocational potential. Involvement in social issues and philanthropic endeavors would be nil. When we are in love, the rest of the world doesn’t matter. We are totally focused on being with each other and making each other happy.

Before I got married, no one informed me that there were two stages of romantic love. I knew that I was in love with Karolyn and I anticipated having these feelings toward her for the rest of my life. I knew that she made me happy, and I wanted to do the same for her. When in fact I came down off of the emotional high, I was disillusioned. I remembered the warnings my mother had given me, and I was plagued with the recurring thought, “I have married the wrong person.” I reasoned that if I had married the right person, surely my feelings would not have subsided so quickly after marriage. These were painful thoughts that were hard to shake. Our differences seem so obvious now. Why did I not see them earlier?

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The Second Stage of Love
I wish someone had been there to tell me that what I was thinking and feeling was normal; that in fact, there are two stages to romantic love and I had to make the transition. Unfortunately, no one was there to give me this information. Had I received the information I am about to give to you, it would have saved me from years of marital struggle. What I have discovered is that the second stage of romantic love is much more intentional than the first stage. And, yes, it requires work in order to keep emotional love alive. However, for those who make the effort to transition from Stage One to Stage Two, the rewards are astounding. As a young marriage counselor, I began to discover that what makes one person feel loved does not necessarily make another person feel loved; and that when couples come down off the in love emotional high, they often miss each other in their efforts to express love. She says, “I feel like he doesn’t love me,” and he says, “I don’t understand that. I work hard. I keep the car clean. I mow the grass every weekend. I help her around the house. I don’t know what else she would want.” She responds, “He does all those things. He is a hardworking man.” Then with tears in her eyes she says, “But we don’t ever talk.”

Week after week, I kept hearing similar stories. So I decided to look at the notes I had made when I was counseling couples and ask myself, “When someone said, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what were they looking for? What did they want? What were they complaining about?” Their complaints fell into five categories. I later called them the five love languages.

The dynamics are very similar to spoken languages. Each of us grows up speaking a language with a dialect. I grew up speaking English Southern-style. But everyone has a language and a dialect and that is the one we understand best. The same is true with love. Everyone has a primary love language. One of the five speaks more deeply to us emotionally than the other four. I also discovered that seldom do a husband and wife have the same love language. By nature we tend to speak our own language. Whatever makes us feel loved is what we do for the other person. But if it is not his/her language, it will not mean to them what it means to us. In the illustration above, the husband was speaking the language of acts of service. He was washing the car, mowing the grass, helping her around the house. to him, this is the way you express love. But her love language was quality time. She said, “We don’t ever talk.” What made her feel loved was him giving her his undivided attention talking, sharing life, listening, and communicating. He was sincerely expressing love but it was not in her primary love language.

The book that grew out of this research is entitled The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. It has sold over six million copies in English and has been translated into thirty-eight languages around the world. It has helped literally millions of couples learn how to connect with each other and keep emotional love alive. They have made the transition from Stage One to Stage Two. They have learned how to express love effectively.

Adapted from Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married, by Gary Chapman

Copyright © 2010 by Gary Chapman, Published by Moody Publishers, used with permission.

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