Learning How to Speak Love

Photo credit: Springs & Co 

Photo credit: Springs & Co 

“What time is it?” I asked the cute, introverted guy next to me.

It had taken me about 10 minutes to come up with that ice-breaking, earth-shattering conversation starter. I was attending a high-school-to-college transition program called EOP Summer Bridge at Chico State and noticed this cute guy during several of the events but never had a reason to talk to him. Through the grapevine, I learned that his name was Choua and he was VERY smart and VERY shy. I found the combination VERY endearing.

When we were placed in the same learning group, I squealed with glee. Here was my chance to talk to him! Images of us riding into the summer sunset danced through my head.

“10:27,” Choua responded after glancing at his watch. Then he picked up his pen and turned his attention back to his work. Apparently, his job was done.

My daydream shattered. That’s it? I thought. I’m trying to talk to you. You’re supposed to ask me another question…get to know me. Go on...continue the conversation!

But he never did.

That was how I met my husband, Choua.


It Got Better

Following that first failed first conversation, Choua and I reconnected months later and our fairy tale began.

He was the perfect man for me. Kind, attractive, smart, caring, funny, and hard working. In the midst of midterms, APA formatted essays, and class presentations, he sprinkled happiness into my life.  We went leaf gathering in the fall to dry and glitter for holiday décor. In winter, we stayed inside and played Monopoly and Clues as we listened to the rain drum rhythmically on the rooftop. Spring was a time of quiet strolls, hand-in-hand through the almond blossom orchards. And summers included bike rides through Bidwell Park and picnics at Horse Shoe Lake.

Life was perfect. I had found my prince charming.


11 years later (Monotone voice-over from Spongebob Squarepants)

What started as a fairy tale love story between my husband and me ended up like many relationships…in need of magic pixie dust.

We married two years after we started dating and life has given us many blessings. I finished my bachelor’s degree and went on to complete a master’s degree. My husband is currently in a master’s degree program and will be graduating in less than a year. I have a stable, rewarding career that I love and he is very passionate about the field he is pursuing. We have two beautiful children, and all should be right with the world…yet, it’s not. Something seems to be missing from our life. I couldn't pinpoint my dissatisfaction, I just knew I was not completely happy.

One day, while confiding to my colleague about my conundrum, she recommended the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman. Two weeks later, the book was in my hands and by Chapter 2, I was convinced that Chapman had written the book for me.


The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts

In his book, Chapman spoke of love as a choice. He spoke of love, REAL love as the phase that happens AFTER people “fall in love.” According to Chapman, it is very easy for human beings to “fall in love” and we have limited control in this phase. The “in-love” phase is what we all go through when we first meet that someone special. We yearn to be with them all the time. They are all we can think about. We don’t want to fall asleep because reality is better than our dreams. That person seems to have ZERO imperfections.

You get the picture.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately according to Chapman but you’ll have to read the book for his argument) this “in-love” stage only lasts about two years. After that initial high, reality comes crashing down on us and we start to notice that the other person chews too loudly, laughs funny, or is a complete slob! The traits that we used to find adorable in the “in-love” phase may become annoying and sometimes unbearable. This is when real love can happen.

Chapman argues that real love can only occur AFTER the "in-love" stage because it requires two people to make a choice. When two people have real love, they are conscientiously committed to caring about and meeting the need of the other person via intentional acts of love. You can perform these intentional acts of love by speaking the person’s primary love language. According to Chapman, there are 5 love languages in the world: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Services, and Physical Touch.

Words of Affirmation: The individual feels the most loved when they hear verbal compliments or words of appreciation and encouragement.

Quality Time: The individual feels most loved when they receive undivided attention.

Receiving Gifts: The individual feels most loved when they receive a gift, no matter how big or how small.

Acts of Services: The individual feels most loved when their significant other performs a service for them.

Physical Touch: The individual feels most loved when they are being hugged, kissed, and physically intimate with their significant other.


Identifying Our Primary Love Languages

After finishing this easy read, it hit me--Choua has not been speaking to me in my primary love language: Quality Time. With the chaos of grad school, a full-time job, children, and basically adulting, we’ve stopped spending quality time together. In fact, with our crazy schedules, he is usually gone before my alarm goes off in the morning, and most nights, I eat dinner with just the children. When Choua is home, he is often engulfed in his studies, in the garage experimenting on his next scientific project (he's a science teacher), or catching up on sleep. That leaves little time for us to fully connect and it has left me feeling distant from him.

Along with discovering my love language, I was able to identify Choua’s primary love language: Physical Touch. I now understand why he cannot grasp the power of quality time. It's not his primary love language. I also admit that I'm guilty of not speaking his love language enough. For example, I don’t particularly fancy the art of cuddling. This inattention has caused unintentional pain and misunderstanding in our relationship.


Cultivate and refine

Finding That Magic Pixie Dust Again

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts has truly taken me on a journey of discovery. For years, we have been speaking to each other in the WRONG languages. It’s as though I've been screaming at him in French and, in return, he has been yelling back in Japanese. We can keep trying to scream and yell louder in hopes that the other person will eventually understand, but this communication style is ineffective. Instead, we must stop, listen, learn, and become fluent in each other’s primary love language.

Along with finding the HOW’s to growing as a couple, the most beautiful thing I’ve received on this quest is my faith that real love is a possibility. After I read the book, I asked my husband to read it as well. His first reaction was one of reluctance (it’s a book about love after all). However, when I told him it was important to me, he accepted my offer. In that moment that I was reminded I’ve got the perfect man. When all is said and done, if your significant other is willing to do something for you because they know it’s important to you, there’s still magic pixie dust in the relationship. You just have find it and sprinkle it yourselves.

May this book be your map to finding that magic pixie dust.

Yer Thao is a proud Hmong American. She was born in Laos but grew up in California where she straddled the boundaries of mainstream America and Hmong traditions. Now the mother of 2 and the wife of a wonderful partner, she enjoys every blessing and challenge that comes her way. Her motto in life is: “Dance like nobody’s watching, Love like you’ve never been hurt, Sing like nobody’s listening, and Live like it’s heaven on earth.” – William W. Purkey.