To prepare for this article, I posted this question to Facebook: “What would you do differently in your marriage if you could begin again?”
Some of the answers were practical—spending less on the wedding, divvying up chores, and getting into the habit of date night. But most had to do with communication.
Is there a way we could spend time communicating that could make all the difference in marriage?
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Do I need to speak a different love language?
It’s true that opposites attract, and when spouses have opposite personalities, rarely do we fluently speak each other’s love languages.
Ten years ago, I learned this firsthand when I married my husband at the ripe age of twenty-two. I took his last name the fall after I graduated from college, so I essentially moved from a dorm full of garrulous girls to a warehouse apartment with a taciturn mountain man.
Talk about a switch.
I had neither family nor friends around, and my husband and I worked together in our outlet grocery store. Therefore, not only were we adjusting to being husband and wife, but also to being employer and employee when I knew next to nothing about his business.
Looking back, I can see that having no one else around for that first year of marriage was the hardest and the wisest foundation we could have laid. Our unbroken proximity (our apartment was adjacent to our grocery store) forced us to know each other in a very intimate way.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over this decade of marriage is that sometimes my mostly introverted spouse needs space.
But I didn’t learn that lesson our first year. Oh, no. That first year, I remember standing behind his office chair while he did book work at the computer. I had tears in my eyes because I could feel that need for space and misinterpreted his love language, believing he needed space from me, and so I pulled away to protect my heart.
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Love languages can get misinterpreted.
I can see now what I didn’t see then—that this misinterpretation created a cycle. He needed space to get refilled, which I perceived as rejection, so I pulled back. My husband then believed that I needed space, so he gave it to me, which perpetuated that perceived rejection.
Rejection rejects. It’s as much a rule as opposites attract and gravity makes apple stems snap from trees.
It wasn’t until I became a mother to our three young children that I, an extrovert, began to understand my husband’s need for space. Before my girls, physical touch was my main love language.
In our newlywed days, after lunch in our apartment, I forced my husband to snuggle me on the worn-out brown couch. I felt like we needed to reconnect before switching from husband and wife back to employer and employee (though I didn’t get paid; another thing I would change if I could).
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Love languages aren’t always naturally in sync.
But now, my daughters touch me all the time—or I have to touch them by changing diapers, tying shoes, bathing them, brushing hair. Therefore, by the end of the day, I crave peace and quiet and space. But needing this space doesn’t mean I don’t need or love my children. Needing space simply means I need to refill the well before I begin to pour out again.
Remaining filled with Jesus’ love has become crucial for loving my children well. It has also become crucial for loving my spouse the way he deserves.
The other night, we had a discussion about an imminent medical event that we’ve been facing for over a year. I ended up crying and running out of our apartment into the adjacent warehouse (a different warehouse apartment from the one where we started).
Still crying, I sat down on a large box protecting our new house’s front door, and I expected my husband to come running out after me.
I wondered why, and then I had a flashback to the year we started dating. Our late supper had not digested well. Despite having sipped gas station Sprite, I jumped out of my boyfriend’s Jeep as soon as he parked and threw up in my parents’ bushes.
I expected my boyfriend to hold my hair and rub my back while I wretched. Instead, he darted into the house and closed the door, honoring me by giving me space the way he would have wanted if the roles had been reversed.
But if the roles had been reversed, you’d better believe I would have tried rubbing his back and holding his hand, which would have been utterly comical, knowing him like I do now.
Outside my parents’ house, in front of the bushes, I was a 5’2’’ nineteen-year-old girl flooded with righteous indignation. I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand and marched inside, up the stairs into the den. Hands on my hips, I demanded to know why my boyfriend had left.
He looked absolutely startled. “I thought that’s what you’d like.”
That experience, and his response, foreshadowed our marital journey. It was also the first time I understood we don’t always speak each other’s love languages.
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The one thing to do differently: seek to speak the language of Jesus’ heart.
But there’s one love that cannot be misunderstood. It crosses every language barrier, and that’s the love Jesus speaks to our hearts.
To answer the same question I asked my Facebook peers—“What would you do differently in your marriage if you could begin again?”—I would recognize, early on, that the longings of my heart can never be fulfilled by man.
I wouldn’t silently stand behind my husband’s office chair with tears in my eyes, wanting to connect.
I wouldn’t give up on pricing miscellaneous items in the dim warehouse and escape to the park, crying while staring out at the water because I felt utterly alone, and I was newly wed.
Wasn’t this supposed to be the most intimate season of my life?
Instead, I would recognize that need in my heart as a longing only God can fulfill and go spend that time with him.
Spouses are going to let us down, and we’re going to do the same to them. Our love languages often become confused in the unending babble of children, work, and stress.
But if we’re each pursuing Jesus, then his love—and the Holy Spirit’s guidance—will act as our interpreter, allowing us to love each other with a grace only available through him.
In every relationship, not just our marital ones, let us not seek to speak each other’s love languages so much as we seek to speak the language of Jesus’ heart.
The best communication always takes place after we have first allowed ourselves to commune with him.
How about you? What is one thing you would change in your marriage if you could begin again?
Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Outcast, which Library Journal gave a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA and CBA bestseller. Upon the release of her second book, The Midwife, Romantic Times declared, “Petersheim is an amazing new author.” Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their two young daughters. Her latest book is How the Light Gets In.
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