I should have picked up on Betty Jo’s primary love language from the beginning. What was she saying on that spring night when I visited her and Bill in Little Rock? “Bill is a good provider, but he doesn’t spend any time with me. What good is the house and the recreational vehicle and all the other things if we don’t ever enjoy them together?” What was her desire? Quality time with Bill. She wanted his attention. She wanted him to focus on her, to give her time, to do things with her.
By “quality time,” I mean giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television together. When you spend time that way, ABC or NBC has your attention—not your spouse. What I mean is sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking, giving each other your undivided attention. It means taking a walk, just the two of you, or going out to eat and looking at each other and talking. Have you ever noticed that in a restaurant, you can almost always tell the difference between a dating couple and a married couple? Dating couples look at each other and talk. Married couples sit there and gaze around the restaurant. You’d think they went there to eat!
When I sit on the couch with my wife and give her twenty minutes of my undivided attention and she does the same for me, we are giving each other twenty minutes of life. We will never have those twenty minutes again; we are giving our lives to each other. It is a powerful emotional communicator of love.
One medicine cannot cure all diseases. In my advice to Bill and Betty Jo, I made a serious mistake. I assumed that words of affirmation would mean as much to Betty Jo as they would to Bill. I had hoped that if each of them would give adequate verbal affirmation, the emotional climate would change, and both of them would begin to feel loved. It worked for Bill. He began to feel more positive about Betty Jo. He began to sense genuine appreciation for his hard work, but it had not worked as well for Betty Jo, for words of affirmation were not her primary love language. Her language was quality time.
I got back on the phone and thanked Bill for his efforts in the past two months. I told him that he had done a good job of verbally affirming Betty Jo and that she had heard his affirmations. “But, Dr. Chapman,” he said, “she is still not very happy. I don’t think things are much better for her.”
“You are right,” I said, “and I think I know why. The problem is that I suggested the wrong love language.” Bill hadn’t the foggiest idea what I meant. I explained that what makes one person feel loved emotionally is not always the thing that makes another person feel loved emotionally.
He agreed that his language was words of affirmation. He told me how much that had meant to him as a boy and how good he felt when Betty Jo expressed appreciation for the things he did. I explained that Betty Jo’s language was not words of affirmation but quality time. I explained the concept of giving someone your undivided attention, not talking to her while you read the newspaper or watch television but looking into her eyes, giving her your full attention, doing something with her that she enjoys doing and doing it wholeheartedly. “Like going to the symphony with her,” he said. I could tell the lights were coming on in Little Rock.
“Dr. Chapman, that is what she has always complained about. I didn’t do things with her, I didn’t spend any time with her. ‘We used to go places and do things before we were married,’ she said, ‘but now, you’re too busy.’ That’s her love language all right; no question about it. But, Dr. Chapman, what am I gonna do? My job is so demanding.”
“Tell me about it,” I said.
For the next ten minutes, he gave me the history of his climb up the organizational ladder, of how hard he had worked, and how proud he was of his accomplishments. He told me of his dreams for the future and that he knew that within the next five years, he would be where he wanted to be.
“Do you want to be there alone, or do you want to be there with Betty Jo and the children?” I asked.
“I want her to be with me, Dr. Chapman. I want her to enjoy it with me. That’s why it always hurts so much when she criticizes me for spending time on the job. I am doing it for us. I wanted her to be a part of it, but she is always so negative.”
“Are you beginning to see why she was so negative, Bill?” I asked. “Her love language is quality time. You have given her so little time that her love tank is empty. She doesn’t feel secure in your love. Therefore she has lashed out at what was taking your time in her mind—your job. She doesn’t really hate your job. She hates the fact that she feels so little love coming from you. There’s only one answer, Bill, and it’s costly. You have to make time for Betty Jo. You have to love her in the right love language.”
“I know you are right, Dr. Chapman. Where do I begin?”
“Do you have your legal pad handy? The one on which we made the list of the positive things about Betty Jo?”
“It’s right here.”
“Good. We’re going to make another list. What are some things that you know Betty Jo would like you to do with her? Things she has mentioned through the years.” Here is Bill’s list:
Take our RV and spend a weekend in the mountains (sometimes with the children and sometimes just the two of us).
Meet her for lunch (at a nice restaurant or sometimes even at McDonald’s).
Get a baby-sitter and take her out to dinner, just the two of us.
When I come home at night, sit down and talk with her about my day and listen as she tells me about her day. (She doesn’t want me to watch TV while we are trying to talk.)
Spend time talking with the children about their school experiences.
Spend time playing games with the children.
Go on a picnic with her and the children on Saturday and don’t complain about the ants and the flies.
Take a vacation with the family at least once a year.
Go walking with her and talk as we walk. (Don’t walk ahead of her.)
“Those are the things she has talked about through the years,” he said.
“You know what I am going to suggest, don’t you, Bill?”
“Do them,” he said.
“That’s right, one a week for the next two months. Where will you find the time? You will make it. You are a wise man,” I continued. “You would not be where you are if you were not a good decision maker. You have the ability to plan your life and to include Betty Jo in your plans.”
“I know,” he said, “I can do it.”
“And, Bill, this does not have to diminish your vocational goals. It just means that when you get to the top, Betty Jo and the children will be with you.”
A central aspect of quality time is togetherness. I do not mean proximity…. Togetherness has to do with focused attention.
“That’s what I want more than anything. Whether I am at the top or not, I want her to be happy, and I want to enjoy life with her and the children.”
The years have come and gone. Bill and Betty Jo have gone to the top and back, but the important thing is that they have done it together. The children have left the nest, and Bill and Betty Jo agree that these are their best years ever. Bill has become an avid symphony fan, and Betty Jo has made an unending list in her legal pad of things she appreciates about Bill. He never tires of hearing them. He has now started his own company and is near the top again. His job is no longer a threat to Betty Jo. She is excited about it and encourages him. She knows that she is number one in his life. Her love tank is full, and if it begins to get empty, she knows that a simple request on her part will get her Bill’s undivided attention.
A central aspect of quality time is togetherness. I do not mean proximity. Two people sitting in the same room are in close proximity, but they are not necessarily together. Togetherness has to do with focused attention. When a father is sitting on the floor, rolling a ball to his two-year-old, his attention is not focused on the ball but on his child. For that brief moment, however long it lasts, they are together. If, however, the father is talking on the phone while he rolls the ball, his attention is diluted. Some husbands and wives think they are spending time together when, in reality, they are only living in close proximity. They are in the same house at the same time, but they are not together. A husband who is watching sports on television while he talks to his wife is not giving her quality time, because she does not have his full attention.
Quality time does not mean that we have to spend our together moments gazing into each other’s eyes. It means that we are doing something together and that we are giving our full attention to the other person. The activity in which we are both engaged is incidental. The important thing emotionally is that we are spending focused time with each other. The activity is a vehicle that creates the sense of togetherness. The important thing about the father rolling the ball to the two-year-old is not the activity itself, but the emotions that are created between the father and his child.
Similarly, a husband and wife playing tennis together, if it is genuine quality time, will focus not on the game but on the fact that they are spending time together. What happens on the emotional level is what matters. Our spending time together in a common pursuit communicates that we care about each other, that we enjoy being with each other, that we like to do things together.
Like words of affirmation, the language of quality time also has many dialects. One of the most common dialects is that of quality conversation. By quality conversation, I mean sympathetic dialogue where two individuals are sharing their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context. Most individuals who complain that their spouse does not talk do not mean literally that he or she never says a word. They mean that he or she seldom takes part in sympathetic dialogue. If your spouse’s primary love language is quality time, such dialogue is crucial to his or her emotional sense of being loved.
Quality conversation is quite different from the first love language. Words of affirmation focus on what we are saying, whereas quality conversation focuses on what we are hearing. If I am sharing my love for you by means of quality time and we are going to spend that time in conversation, it means I will focus on drawing you out, listening sympathetically to what you have to say. I will ask questions, not in a badgering manner but with a genuine desire to understand your thoughts, feelings, and desires.
I met Patrick when he was forty-three and had been married for seventeen years. I remember him because his first words were so dramatic. He sat in the leather chair in my office and after briefly introducing himself, he leaned forward and said with great emotion, “Dr. Chapman, I have been a fool, a real fool.”
“What has led you to that conclusion?” I asked.
“I’ve been married for seventeen years,” he said, “and my wife has left me. Now I realize what a fool I’ve been.”
I repeated my original question, “In what way have you been a fool?”
“My wife would come home from work and tell me about the problems in her office. I would listen to her and then tell her what I thought she should do. I always gave her advice. I told her she had to confront the problem. ‘Problems don’t go away. You have to talk with the people involved or your supervisor. You have to deal with problems.’ The next day she would come home from work and tell me about the same problems. I would ask her if she did what I had suggested the day before. She would shake her head and say no. So I’d repeat my advice. I told her that was the way to deal with the situation. She would come home the next day and tell me about the same problems. Again I would ask her if she had done what I had suggested. She would shake her head and say no.
“After three or four nights of that, I would get angry. I would tell her not to expect any sympathy from me if she wasn’t willing to take the advice I was giving her. She didn’t have to live under that kind of stress and pressure. She could solve the problem if she would simply do what I told her. It hurt me to see her living under such stress because I knew she didn’t have to. The next time she’d bring up the problem, I would say, ‘I don’t want to hear about it. I’ve told you what you need to do. If you’re not going to listen to my advice, I don’t want to hear it.’
Many of us…are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve.
“I would withdraw and go about my business. What a fool I was,” he said, “what a fool! Now I realize that she didn’t want advice when she told me about her struggles at work. She wanted sympathy. She wanted me to listen, to give her attention, to let her know that I could understand the hurt, the stress, the pressure. She wanted to know that I loved her and that I was with her. She didn’t want advice; she just wanted to know that I understood. But I never tried to understand. I was too busy giving advice. What a fool. And now she is gone. Why can’t you see these things when you are going through them?” he asked. “I was blind to what was going on. Only now do I understand how I failed her.”
Patrick’s wife had been pleading for quality conversation.
Emotionally, she longed for him to focus attention on her by listening to her pain and frustration. Patrick was not focusing on listening but on speaking. He listened only long enough to hear the problem and formulate a solution. He didn’t listen long enough or well enough to hear her cry for support and understanding.
Many of us are like Patrick. We are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve. A relationship calls for sympathetic listening with a view to understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and desires. We must be willing to give advice but only when it is requested and never in a condescending manner. Most of us have little training in listening. We are far more efficient in thinking and speaking. Learning to listen may be as difficult as learning a foreign language, but learn we must, if we want to communicate love. That is especially true if your spouse’s primary love language is quality time and his or her dialect is quality conversation. Fortunately, numerous books and articles have been written on developing the art of listening. I will not seek to repeat what is written elsewhere but suggest the following summary of practical tips.
1. Maintain eye contact when your spouse is talking. That keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that he/she has your full attention.
2. Don’t listen to your spouse and do something else at the same time. Remember, quality time is giving someone your undivided attention. If you are watching, reading, or doing something else in which you are keenly interested and cannot turn from immediately, tell your spouse the truth. A positive approach might be, “I know you are trying to talk to me and I’m interested, but I want to give you my full attention. I can’t do that right now, but if you will give me ten minutes to finish this, I’ll sit down and listen to you.” Most spouses will respect such a request.
3. Listen for feelings. Ask yourself, “What emotion is my spouse experiencing?” When you think you have the answer, confirm it. For example, “It sounds to me like you are feeling disappointed because I forgot __________.” That gives him the chance to clarify his feelings. It also communicates that you are listening intently to what he is saying.
4. Observe body language. Clenched fists, trembling hands, tears, furrowed brows, and eye movement may give you clues as to what the other is feeling. Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what she is really thinking and feeling.
5. Refuse to interrupt. Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas. If I give you my undivided attention while you are talking, I will refrain from defending myself or hurling accusations at you or dogmatically stating my position. My goal is to discover your thoughts and feelings. My objective is not to defend myself or to set you straight. It is to understand you.
LEARNING TO TALK
Quality conversation requires not only sympathetic listening but also self-revelation. When a wife says, “I wish my husband would talk. I never know what he’s thinking or feeling,” she is pleading for intimacy. She wants to feel close to her husband, but how can she feel close to someone whom she doesn’t know? In order for her to feel loved, he must learn to reveal himself. If her primary love language is quality time and her dialect is quality conversation, her emotional love tank will never be filled until he tells her his thoughts and feelings.
If you need to learn the language of quality conversation, begin by noting the emotions you feel away from home.
Self-revelation does not come easy for some of us. Many adults grew up in homes where the expression of thoughts and feelings was not encouraged but condemned. To request a toy was to receive a lecture on the sad state of family finances. The child went away feeling guilty for having the desire, and he quickly learned not to express his desires. When he expressed anger, the parents responded with harsh and condemning words. Thus, the child learned that expressing angry feelings is not appropriate. If the child was made to feel guilty for expressing disappointment at not being able to go to the store with his father, he learned to hold his disappointment inside. By the time we reach adulthood, many of us have learned to deny our feelings. We are no longer in touch with our emotional selves.
A wife says to her husband, “How did you feel about what Don did?” And the husband responds, “I think he was wrong. He should have—” but he is not telling her his feelings. He is voicing his thoughts. Perhaps he has reason to feel angry, hurt, or disappointed, but he has lived so long in the world of thought that he does not acknowledge his feelings. When he decides to learn the language of quality conversation, it will be like learning a foreign language. The place to begin is by getting in touch with his feelings, becoming aware that he is an emotional creature in spite of the fact that he has denied that part of his life.
If you need to learn the language of quality conversation, begin by noting the emotions you feel away from home. Carry a small notepad and keep it with you daily. Three times each day, ask yourself, “What emotions have I felt in the last three hours? What did I feel on the way to work when the driver behind me was riding my bumper? What did I feel when I stopped at the gas station and the automatic pump did not shut off and the side of the car was covered with gas? What did I feel when I got to the office and found that my secretary had been assigned to a special work project for the morning? What did I feel when my supervisor told me that the project I was working on had to be completed in three days when I thought I had another two weeks?”
Write down your feelings in the notepad and a word or two to help you remember the event corresponding to the feeling. Your list may look like this:
• gas station
• very upset
• no secretary
• work project due in three days
• frustrated and anxious
Do that exercise three times a day, and you will develop an awareness of your emotional nature. Using your notepad, communicate your emotions and the events briefly with your spouse as many days as possible. In a few weeks, you will become comfortable expressing your emotions with him or her. And eventually you will feel comfortable discussing your emotions toward your spouse, the children, and events that occur within the home. Remember, emotions themselves are neither good nor bad. They are simply our psychological responses to the events of life.
Based on our thoughts and emotions, we eventually make decisions. When the tailgater was following you on the highway and you felt angry, perhaps you had these thoughts: I wish he would lay off; I wish he would pass me; if I thought I wouldn’t get caught, I’d press the accelerator and leave him in the twilight; I should slam on my brakes and let his insurance company buy me a new car; maybe I’ll pull off the road and let him pass.
Eventually, you made some decision or the other driver backed off, turned, or passed you, and you arrived safely at work. In each of life’s events, we have emotions, thoughts, desires, and eventually actions. It is the expression of that process that we call self-revelation. If you choose to learn the love dialect of quality conversation, that is the learning road you must follow.
Not all of us are out of touch with our emotions, but when it comes to talking, all of us are affected by our personality. I have observed two basic personality types. The first I call the “Dead Sea.” In the little nation of Israel, the Sea of Galilee flows south by way of the Jordan River into the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea goes nowhere. It receives but it does not give. This personality type receives many experiences, emotions, and thoughts throughout the day. They have a large reservoir where they store that information, and they are perfectly happy not to talk. If you say to a Dead Sea personality, “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking tonight?” he will probably answer, “Nothing’s wrong. What makes you think something’s wrong?” And that response is perfectly honest. He is content not to talk. He could drive from Chicago to Detroit and never say a word and be perfectly happy.
On the other extreme is the “Babbling Brook.” For this personality, whatever enters into the eye gate or the ear gate comes out the mouth gate and there are seldom sixty seconds between the two. Whatever they see, whatever they hear, they tell. In fact if no one is at home to talk to, they will call someone else. “Do you know what I saw? Do you know what I heard?” If they can’t get someone on the telephone, they may talk to themselves because they have no reservoir. Many times a Dead Sea marries a Babbling Brook. That happens because when they are dating, it is a very attractive match.
One way to learn new patterns is to establish a daily sharing time in which each of you will talk about three things that happened to you that day and how you feel about them.
If you are a Dead Sea and you date a Babbling Brook, you will have a wonderful evening. You don’t have to think, “How will I get the conversation started tonight? How will I keep the conversation flowing?” In fact, you don’t have to think at all. All you have to do is nod your head and say, “Uh-huh,” and she will fill up the whole evening and you will go home saying, “What a wonderful person.” On the other hand, if you are a Babbling Brook and you date a Dead Sea, you will have an equally wonderful evening because Dead Seas are the world’s best listeners. You will babble for three hours. He will listen intently to you, and you will go home saying, “What a wonderful person.” You attract each other. But five years after marriage, the Babbling Brook wakes up one morning and says, “We’ve been married five years, and I don’t know him.” The Dead Sea is saying, “I know her too well. I wish she would stop the flow and give me a break.” The good news is that Dead Seas can learn to talk and Babbling Brooks can learn to listen. We are influenced by our personality but not controlled by it.
One way to learn new patterns is to establish a daily sharing time in which each of you will talk about three things that happened to you that day and how you feel about them. I call that the “Minimum Daily Requirement” for a healthy marriage. If you will start with the daily minimum, in a few weeks or months you may find quality conversation flowing more freely between you.
In addition to the basic love language of quality time, or giving your spouse your undivided attention, is another dialect called quality activities. At a recent marriage seminar, I asked couples to complete the following sentence: “I feel most loved by my husband/ wife when _______.” Here is the response of a twenty-nine-year-old husband who has been married for eight years: “I feel most loved by my wife when we do things together, things I like to do and things she likes to do. We talk more. It sorta feels like we are dating again.” That is a typical response of individuals whose primary love language is quality time. The emphasis is on being together, doing things together, giving each other undivided attention.
Quality activities may include anything in which one or both of you have an interest. The emphasis is not on what you are doing but on why you are doing it. The purpose is to experience something together, to walk away from it feeling “He cares about me. He was willing to do something with me that I enjoy, and he did it with a positive attitude.” That is love, and for some people it is love’s loudest voice.
Tracie grew up with the symphony. Throughout her childhood, the house was filled with classical music. At least once a year, she accompanied her parents to the symphony. Larry, on the other hand, grew up on country and western music. He never actually attended a concert, but the radio was always on, tuned to the country station. The symphony he called elevator music. Had he not married Tracie, he could have lived his life without ever attending the symphony. Before they were married, while he was still in the obsessed state of being in love, he went to the symphony. But even in his euphoric emotional state, his attitude was, “You call this stuff music?” After marriage, that was one experience he never expected to repeat. When, however, he discovered several years later that quality time was Tracie’s primary love language and that she especially liked the dialect of quality activities and that attending the symphony was one of those activities, he chose to go with an enthusiastic spirit. His purpose was clear. It was not to attend the symphony but to love Tracie and to speak her language loudly. In time, he did come to appreciate the symphony and even occasionally to enjoy a movement or two. He may never become a symphony lover, but he has become proficient at loving Tracie.
Quality activities may include such activities as putting in a garden, visiting flea markets, shopping for antiques, listening to music, picnicking together, taking long walks, or washing the car together on a hot summer day. The activities are limited only by your interest and willingness to try new experiences. The essential ingredients in a quality activity are: (1) at least one of you wants to do it, (2) the other is willing to do it, (3) both of you know why you are doing it—to express love by being together.
One of the by-products of quality activities is that they provide a memory bank from which to draw in the years ahead. Fortunate is the couple who remembers an early morning stroll along the coast, the spring they planted the flower garden, the time they got poison ivy chasing the rabbit through the woods, the night they attended their first major league baseball game together, the one and only time they went skiing together and he broke his leg, the amusement parks, the concerts, the cathedrals, and oh, yes, the awe of standing beneath the waterfall after the two-mile hike. They can almost feel the mist as they remember. Those are memories of love, especially for the person whose primary love language is quality time.
And where do we find time for such activities, especially if both of us have vocations outside the home? We make time just as we make time for lunch and dinner. Why? Because it is just as essential to our marriage as meals are to our health. Is it difficult? Does it take careful planning? Yes. Does it mean we have to give up some individual activities? Perhaps. Does it mean we do some things we don’t particularly enjoy? Certainly. Is it worth it? Without a doubt. What’s in it for me? The pleasure of living with a spouse who feels loved and knowing that I have learned to speak his or her love language fluently.
A personal word of thanks to Bill and Betty Jo in Little Rock, who taught me the value of love language number one, Words of Affirmation, and love language number two, Quality Time. Now, it’s on to Chicago and love language number three.
If your spouse’s love language is Quality Time:
1. Take a walk together through the old neighborhood where one of you grew up. Ask questions about your spouse’s childhood. Ask, “What are the fun memories of your childhood?” Then, “What was most painful about your childhood?”
2. Go to the city park and rent bicycles. Ride until you are tired, then sit and watch the ducks. When you get tired of the quacks, roll on to the rose garden. Learn each other’s favorite color of rose and why. (If the bikes are too much, take turns pulling each other in a little red wagon.)
3. In the spring or summer make a luncheon appointment with your spouse. Meet him and drive to the local cemetery. Spread your tablecloth and eat your sandwiches and thank God that you are still alive. Share with each other one thing you would like to do before you die.
4. Ask your spouse for a list of five activities that he would enjoy doing with you. Make plans to do one of them each month for the next five months. If money is a problem, space the freebies between the “we can’t afford this” events.
5. Ask your spouse where she most enjoys sitting when talking with you. The next week, call her one afternoon and say, “I want to make a date with you one evening this week to sit on the yellow sofa and talk. Which night and what time would be best for you?” (Don’t say “yellow sofa” if her favorite place is in the Jacuzzi!)
6. Think of an activity your spouse enjoys, but which brings little pleasure to you: football, symphony, jazz concert, or TV sleeping. Tell your spouse that you are trying to broaden your horizons and would like to join her in this activity sometime this month. Set a date and give it your best effort. Ask questions about the activity at break times.
7. Plan a weekend getaway just for the two of you sometime within the next six months. Be sure it is a weekend when you won’t have to call the office or turn on the TV for a report every thirty minutes. Focus on relaxing together doing what one or both of you enjoy.
8. Make time every day to share with each other some of the events of the day. When you spend more time watching the news than you do listening to each other, you end up more concerned about Bosnia than about your spouse.
9. Have a “Let’s review our history” evening once every three months. Set aside an hour to focus on your history. Select five questions each of you will answer, such as:
(1) Who was your best and worst teacher in school and why?(2) When did you feel your parents were proud of you?(3) What is the worst mistake your mother ever made?(4) What is the worst mistake your father ever made?(5) What do you remember about the religious aspect of your childhood? Each evening, agree on your five questions before you begin your sharing. At the end of the five questions, stop and decide upon the five questions you will ask next time. 10. Camp out by the fireplace (or an orange lamp). Spread your blankets and pillows on the floor. Get your Pepsi and popcorn. Pretend the TV is broken and talk like you used to when you were dating. Talk till the sun comes up or something else happens. If the floor gets too hard, go back upstairs and go to bed. You won’t forget this evening!