Marriage and the Three Languages
- Tuesday, March 23, 2004
In his book, Answering God, author and biblical scholar Eugene H. Peterson explains how language develops in us so that we become communicating persons. Although linguists aren't exactly sure how language develops in each of us, they do know that it does appear to develop in three stages. Understanding these stages can be helpful to you in your marriage.
Peterson writes that language is divided into these three broad divisions:
a) Language I is our initial language. It is the language of intimacy and relationship. It is the language shared between a mother and her newborn. And it manages to sneak back into our lives from time to time, like when we fall in love for the first time or when we finally meet the one we are going to marry.
b) Language II is the next language we develop. It is the language of information. When we hit school for the first time, we learn that everything has a name. As we acquire language, we become oriented in a world of objects. We begin to speak in sentences, mentally and verbally connecting persons, objects, and ideas. Then somewhere along the line, Language III kicks in.
c) Language III is the language of motivation. We learn early on that words have the power to make things happen, to persuade people to do things for us, to move us upward and onward. Language III is the predominant language of advertising and politics.
Languages II and III are the predominant languages of our culture. Language that describes (II) and language that motivates (III) have won the day. Don't we all live in the age of information and motivation? And in the process, Language I, the language of intimacy, the language that develops relationships of trust, hope, and understanding, has been squeezed out. That is why it takes a Herculean effort to recapture Language I, the language that connects us with romantic love and the deepening communication that we crave as married couples.
Language I is also the basis for intimate communication with God in prayer. Language I is always the language of the heart. That is why there is such an intimate connection between our personal communication with God and our spouses.
That is not to say that Language II (information) and Language III (motivation) are not necessary in every marriage, for they certainly are. For example, when we plan a vacation or when we discus what bills to pay when, we are immersed in the informational task of Language II. And when we encourage each other to eat well or to see a doctor, we are engrossed in the motivational task of Language III.
But problems begin to surface when Language II and Language III dominate our marriages, as they so often do. For when we neglect the bonding task of Language I, our marriage will disintegrate into a distortion of Language II and Language III, that is, into legislation ("I can't believe my spouse just doesn't get it!") and manipulation ("I can't believe my spouse just did that again!").
Language I (intimacy) is the safety net that not only keeps our marriage safe and growing, but also keeps it from falling into legalism and exploitation. You can always tell when a marriage is beginning to fall into trouble. Languages II and III begin to take precedence over Language I. Languages II and III are the default languages of a marriage in trouble, a marriage in a nosedive heading for lots of pain.
Language I is the language that will keep a marriage from crashing and burning. In other words, Language I reaches out beyond mere information and motivation, and expresses the deepest longings of the heart, longings for trust, hope, and understanding. And ironically, when we begin to nurture Language I (intimacy) in our marriage, Language II (information) and Language III (motivation) will begin to take on new heights. For, in the end, it is always love that informs and inspires our lives and marriages-God's love in us and through us reaching out to others, especially to our mates.
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