I threw myself into my studies in high school and strove for academic success. I pursued that NROTC Marine-option scholarship in order to join the Marine Corps – the toughest organization I knew of – largely to prove to my father that I was a man. I pushed myself for success academically and militarily at The Citadel. I married Jenny, started a family, and targeted a long career in the Marine Corps. With the chaplain’s help, I realized that during my entire adult life, I had defined myself by what I did (i.e., as a U.S. Marine).
The chaplain also helped me with a corollary for the “Who are you?” and “What are you doing here?” questions. He proposed this corollary (a question that naturally follows those two other questions): “Why do you act and react the way you do?”
I slowly realized I was a product of my upbringing – just as my brother indicated when he challenged me with his question: “Do you think everything you saw growing up was what right was supposed to look like?” I was insecure and always had to win the discussion – otherwise the house of cards would fall if I were proven wrong. To compound this flaw, I was hypersensitive about any constructive criticism. Talk about the perfect storm of a husband for Jenny and then Nora!
After another session with Nora and me, the chaplain recommended that she and I attend a Family Life “Weekend to Remember” conference. He said we would get more done there for our relationship than in six months of counseling. (I told him later that he was wrong – the conference was like twelve months worth of counseling.)
We arranged for babysitting for a long weekend and attended the conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in February. For the first time in eighteen combined years of marriage (to Jenny, then to Nora), I attended my first marriage conference – a fact I deeply regret; I wish I could get a re-do with those marbles.
As the weekend progressed, I let down my shields and allowed Nora to see my heart, and I shared with her my insecurities. Even more important, I listened to her heart rather than looked for inaccuracies in her statements (in order to point them out to her and defend myself). I learned at the conference that if I try to win the argument, then I’m trying to make Nora lose – not quite the loving attitude that Jesus demonstrated toward his Bride, the Church. Perusing the resources at the conference, we discovered Gary Chapman’s audio book entitled The Five Love Languages.
In his book, Dr. Chapman compiled years of notes he made while counseling dozens of couples. After thirty years as a counselor, he realized there were five distinct languages we all use to receive love:
1) Words of Affirmation
2) Quality Time
4) Acts of Service
5) Physical Touch
After listening to that audio book, I asked Nora, “What’s your primary love language? I don’t know.”
She replied, “Quality time.”
I was dumbfounded to realize that Nora had not been putting me down because I wasn’t measuring up to her standard. She had been trying to tell me that she appreciated my cleaning the dishes or folding laundry or helping with our children, but that what she really wanted was for me to spend time with her. If it came down to washing the dishes in the evening or spending time to talk with her, she wanted me to talk with her – and she would deal with the kitchen the next morning. In other words, I had been giving her Acts of Service and expecting her to receive – and even demanding that she receive – that as love, when her primary love language was Quality Time. Learning that was a game changer! If I had been listening to her heart, through her words (versus looking for inaccuracies to zing her), I would have understood Nora’s need much sooner and not have allowed her love tank to get dangerously empty. Demanding that Nora receive love on my terms was not love – it revealed the insecurity in me.
What else did I learn with these two life-changing questions?
To be continued