This is a true incident, so some points were changed to protect identities.
I was talking with a friend lately about the language of love. He’s seeing someone who is kind, witty, and always telling him how much she enjoys his company, how attractive he is, how much fun he is. My friend–we’ll call him Walter–very much enjoys Muriel’s (I’m calling her Muriel 😉 ) company. She’s generous with her time, cooks fabulous meals for him and wants him to meet her family.
He’s holding back. I asked why. You know we often talk about battered women in broken relationships, but men can be verbally abused–even physically abused–by their wives. It’s happened. Walter, a widower, is afraid to test the waters again. Who could blame him? But he doesn’t want to live the rest of his life alone, so he started dating again, but he’s hesitant to get too close because Muriel might turn out to be like his late wife. He doesn’t believe in divorce.
Walter is uncomfortable when Muriel says sweet things to him–“You’re a wonderful man…I love your eyes…you’re so much fun…I love you…” Yeah, scary to get that close, and because the tendency for verbally abusive people is to say sweet things to their victim, then undercut them with a slice of venom–“Of course, you’re a pathetic loser”–Walter keeps waiting for the follow-up he got for nearly thirty years.
“But you don’t get the follow-up, do you?” I asked.
“No. It’s never come, I just expect it to,” he said.
“And you like Muriel, right?”
“Oh, yes. She’s a wonderful woman, and I enjoy her company so much, but it makes me uncomfortable because she’s always saying such sweet things to me, and she’s getting too serious.”
“If she truly loves you,” I said, “she’ll wait until you’re ready. Don’t let her push you. On the other hand, it sounds to me as if words of affirmation, from the Five Love Languages, are her way of showing her affection. If that’s the case, then you can encourage her friendship by speaking words of affirmation to her, even while you’re asking her to move more slowly.”
“But wouldn’t that just lead her on?” he asked.
“Not if you’re honest with her about how you feel. You can tell her the truth about how you feel about her–which is friendship and affection. From the time Mel and I met until he told me he loved me, it was almost a year and a half. I had to wait to hear those words. If I can wait, so can Muriel, but we eventually did get married, and now I hear those words every day.”
“Okay, gotcha. Say nice things to her.”
“Not just nice things,” I said. “Tell her how you feel about her beauty, her cooking, anything complimentary that is true, but also tell her the truth, that you need to move more slowly.”
I’m a firm believer in trying to speak the language of love as often as possible to my husband. I also believe that words of affirmation are helpful for any relationship–as long as they’re honest, and not being used to manipulate. If I like a friend’s novel, I’ll tell her. If I like a hairstyle, blouse, someone’s laughter or smile, if the situation calls for it, I’ll speak up about it. Everyone can use more words of affirmation. I think in a relationship, even if the other person’s love language is something else. words of affirmation can give anyone a lift and a new view of themselves, fresh encouragement, and joy.
Try it on someone today. Tell them how much you appreciate them, how you love their honesty, their kindness, or whatever else you admire about them. Done appropriately, it can make their day better.