I was 21 when I first read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. My mind was blown as I began to see and understand my family members in light of their unique love style.
The inexplicable bond I felt with my Dad? We had the same love language: Words of Affirmation. The distance I felt with that sister? The result of two very different love languages–Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. When I realized the times she sought me out in my room just to spend a quiet evening together were actually an expression of her affection for me, our friendship began to deepen.
I was 24 before I realized that under the stifling blanket of anxiety I had lived with for years, I was truly an extrovert. The joy I began to experience as I stepped more fully into the person God made me to be grew my faith and helped me form relationships that have become some of my most treasured.
And when I went to my first marriage conference that explained the differences between men and women in a hilarious format, I was relieved to find that we were not alone in the struggles I and my husband had encountered in learning to live together. So much of what we’d faced was common, normal, and–it turns out–something we could laugh about when we understood where the other was coming from.
Relational Highs (And Lows)
Have you noticed a theme? Growing in the ability to understand myself and the people around me has led to a depth of satisfaction and joy in relationship that I could have only dreamed of a decade ago.
Intimacy in relationships is something we all crave, yet we are often clueless as to how to get it. We can be blinded by poor patterns learned in childhood, or an under-developed understanding of who God is and made us to be. So we end up dancing around the people we want to be close to, instead of joining into the deep fellowship and community we were made for.
This past year has been full of relational challenges. We moved cross country–leaving life-long friends, and forging new relationships in a new town. My husband worked a job out of state resulting in over two months of separation. Our family is maturing and growing with four children in the home all trying to learn how to communicate and get their needs met. I’ve experienced severe sleep deprivation which has caused my anxiety to resurface again and made me a not-so-nice person to live with.
All of that could be a recipe for disaster, except that this year also brought two books that have helped me to continue to grow in my understanding of myself and the people around me, resulting in more love and connection, despite the challenges.
What’s Really Fueling My Relationships?
Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk is the best book I have read yet on healthy communication and loving the people around you even when it’s difficult. The book focuses on practical ways you can “keep your love turned on” toward the people you interact with, even if they aren’t meeting your needs, communicating well, or loving in return.
Danny reminds us that we can’t love well when we are afraid, and that Christ’s work can set us free to love without fear.
One of my favorite take-aways from the book was learning about three communication styles (Passive, Aggressive, and Passive-Aggressive) and realizing I’m actually a passive communicator. Afraid that I won’t get my true needs met in a relationship, I dance around expressing the truth, and instead try to manipulate people (like my poor husband) into giving me the connection I crave.
With the tools in the book, I’m learning how to be honest and vulnerable, and it’s bearing good fruit both in my marriage and relationships outside my family.
Why I Need Dancing Lessons
The other life-changing book I’m actually in the middle of right now is How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Its theme is attachment styles–learning how and why we love the way we do, based on our childhood blueprinting.
If that sounds a bit deep, I assure you, I don’t have the mental capacity for deep this year! Despite its potential to deeply impact your key relationships, this book is a gentle read, with lots of stories from Milan and Kay’s experience as Christian counselors.
The first part of the book explains the five main attachment styles in a way that makes it very easy to recognize your own, then they dig into what it looks like when the various styles marry each other. They compare it to two people dancing completely different styles of dance--there’s a lot of stepping on toes and not much connection.
Thankfully, the final third of the book is practical explanation of how we can learn to “dance” or communicate and respond in ways that will actually build intimacy, instead of challenging it. There’s also an attached workbook which gets you past reading to actually working through the content, which can feel as effective as a session with a professional counselor–without the hefty bill!
What I’m Gifting This Year
Frankly, I thought I had a pretty good marriage before I read these books. But digging deeper into the why and how of the way we interact with the people we’re closest to has shown me that I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m excited to dig deeper into my understanding of healthy communication and looking forward to giving–and receiving–greater intimacy and satisfaction in relationships in the coming year.
Loving like Christ loves is a living, growing experience, and tape doesn’t stick real well to that. But learning to love well and communicate better with our loved ones is a gift that won’t rust or go out of style in the coming year. And that’s why the best gifts can’t be wrapped.
What resources have helped you better understand and love the people around you? Have you ever received a memorable gift that couldn’t be wrapped?
Photo Credit: JenniMarie Photography