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The Other

20th century philosopher and theologian Martin Buber wrote I and Thou, which I read and loved in college, presenting insightful thoughts on how we encounter other people (and God). He discusses empathy, seeing from the other's point of view, trying to think from the inside of another person and to get outside yourself. It made a powerful impact on me and I think about it often.

I and Thou Now, I've found another book that takes this concept into the context of romantic relationships: Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. While Mr. Chapman's book is intended for practical application (call it self help if you want) and Buber's is considered a great scholarly work, I see interesting crossover.

Five Love Languages

 

 

 

 

 

 
The Five Love Languages asserts that there are five primary ways people “speak” love and that knowing the primary way of your loved one is the key to a successful long-term relationship. Conversely, not knowing the primary love language of your mate is as frustrating and relationship killing as if you didn't speak their verbal language. The author believes that this is why so many marriages fail. It's a good metaphor.

The five primary love languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation (affirming the other person's worth to you in regular simple statements)
  2. Quality Time (doing things to be together and create shared experiences)
  3. Gifts (tokens of thoughtfulness; can be free)
  4. Acts of Kindness (favors that mean much more to some people than the time they take)
  5. Physical Touch (the interaction of human touch and physical closeness)

Within each of these primary “languages” are countless “dialects,” so, for instance, if Quality Time is a person's primary mode, their preferred method of conversation could be needing to be listened to — i.e., as opposed to more active discussions. The nuances are complex but the idea is simple and powerful and explains — and could solve — a lot of relationship problems. Mr. Chapman, who is a long-time marriage counselor, says that rarely if ever do two people in a couple share the same primary love language; that is not what matters; what matters is finding out what language your loved one speaks and learning how to speak it, which will not come naturally if it isn't your primary one.

An example he gives is Bob and Tracy. Tracy likes symphonies and Bob grew up listening to country music on the radio and would be very happy never to go to a symphony in his life; he think symphonic music is elevator music. However, Tracy's primary love language is Quality Time and she loves to go to the symphony. So Bob willingly goes to the symphony throughout their marriage. Bob never learns to love the symphony, although he comes to like it more but he sure learns how to love Tracy.

I think this approach could work with friends as well as mates. Grasping how your friends are focused and learning to “speak their language” can only lead to more harmonious relationships. Only thing is it's relatively easy to figure out your mate's primary language once you think about how they've acted over the time you've known them. People you don't know as well may be harder to figure out. You can ask, though. No reason it needs to be kept a secret.

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