Saturday, May 19, 2018

Love Language #3: Receiving Gifts

Love Language #3


I was in Chicago when I studied anthropology. By means of detailed ethnographies, I visited fascinating peoples all over the world. I went to Central America and studied the advanced cultures
of the Mayans and the Aztecs. I crossed the Pacific and studied the tribal peoples of Melanesia and Polynesia. I studied the Eskimos of the northern tundra and the aboriginal Ainus of Japan. I examined
the cultural patterns surrounding love and marriage and found that in every culture I studied, gift giving was a part of the love-marriage process.

Anthropologists are enamored by cultural patterns that tend to pervade cultures, and so was I. Could it be that gift giving is a fundamental expression of love that transcends cultural barriers? Is the attitude of love always accompanied by the concept of giving? Those are academic and somewhat philosophical questions, but if the answer is yes, it has profound practical implications for North
American couples.

I took an anthropology field trip to the island of Dominica. Our purpose was to study the culture of the Carib Indians, and on the trip I met Fred. Fred was not a Carib but a young black man of
twenty-eight years. Fred had lost a hand in a fishing-by-dynamite accident. Since the accident, he could not continue his fishing career. He had plenty of available time, and I welcomed his
companionship. We spent hours together talking about his culture.

Upon my first visit to Fred’s house, he said to me, “Mr. Gary, would you like to have some juice?” to which I responded enthusiastically. He turned to his younger brother and said, “Go get Mr. Gary some juice.” His brother turned, walked down the dirt path, climbed a coconut tree, and returned with a green coconut. “Open it,” Fred commanded. With three swift movements of the
machete, his brother uncorked the coconut, leaving a triangular hole at the top. Fred handed me the coconut and said, “Juice for you.” It was green, but I drank it—all of it—because I knew it was a gift of love. I was his friend, and to friends you give juice.

At the end of our weeks together as I prepared to leave that small island, Fred gave me a final token of his love. It was a crooked stick fourteen inches in length which he had taken from the ocean.
It was silky smooth from pounding upon the rocks. Fred said that the stick had lived on the shores of Dominica for a long time, and he wanted me to have it as a reminder of the beautiful island. Even
today when I look at that stick, I can almost hear the sound of the Caribbean waves, but it is not as much a reminder of Dominica as it is a reminder of love.

A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, he was thinking of me,” or, “She remembered me.” You must be thinking of someone to give him a gift. The gift itself is a symbol of
that thought. It doesn’t matter whether it costs money. What is important is that you thought of him. And it is not the thought implanted only in the mind that counts, but the thought expressed in actually securing the gift and giving it as the expression of love.

Mothers remember the days their children bring a flower from the yard as a gift. They feel loved, even if it was a flower they didn’t want picked. From early years, children are inclined to give gifts
to their parents, which may be another indication that gift giving is fundamental to love.

Gifts are visual symbols of love. Most wedding ceremonies include the giving and receiving of rings. The person performing the ceremony says, “These rings are outward and visible signs of an
inward and spiritual bond that unites your two hearts in love that has no end.” That is not meaningless rhetoric. It is verbalizing a significant truth—symbols have emotional value. Perhaps that is even more graphically displayed near the end of a disintegrating marriage when the husband or wife stops wearing the wedding ring. It is a visual sign that the marriage is in serious trouble. One husband said, “When she threw her wedding rings at me and angrily walked out of the house slamming the door behind her, I knew our marriage was in serious trouble. I didn’t pick up her rings for two days. When I finally did, I cried uncontrollably.” The rings were a symbol of what should have been, but lying in his hand and not on her finger, they were visual reminders that the marriage was falling apart. The lonely rings stirred deep emotions within the husband.

Visual symbols of love are more important to some people than to others. That’s why individuals have different attitudes toward wedding rings. Some never take the ring off after the wedding. Others don’t even wear a wedding band. That is another sign that people have different primary love languages. If receiving gifts is my primary love language, I will place great value on the ring you have given me and I will wear it with great pride. I will also be greatly moved emotionally by other gifts that you give through the years. I will see them as expressions of love. Without gifts as visual symbols, I may question your love.

Gifts come in all sizes, colors, and shapes. Some are expensive, and others are free. To the individual whose primary love language is receiving gifts, the cost of the gift will matter little, unless
it is greatly out of line with what you can afford. If a millionaire gives only one-dollar gifts regularly, the spouse may question whether that is an expression of love, but when family finances are limited, a one-dollar gift may speak a million dollars worth of love.

If your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, you can become a proficient gift giver. 

In fact, it is one of the easiest love languages to learn.

Gifts may be purchased, found, or made. The husband who stops along the roadside and picks his wife a wildflower has found himself an expression of love, unless, of course, his wife is allergic to wildflowers. For the man who can afford it, you can purchase a beautiful card for less than five dollars. For the man who cannot, you can make one for free. Get the paper out of the trash can where you work, fold it in the middle, take scissors and cut out a heart, write “I love you,” and sign your name. Gifts need not be expensive.

But what of the person who says, “I’m not a gift giver. I didn’t receive many gifts growing up. I never learned how to select gifts. It doesn’t come naturally for me.” Congratulations, you have just
made the first discovery in becoming a great lover. You and your spouse speak different love languages. Now that you have made that discovery, get on with the business of learning your second
language. If your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, you can become a proficient gift giver. In fact, it is one of the easiest love languages to learn.

Where do you begin? Make a list of all the gifts your spouse has expressed excitement about receiving through the years. They may be gifts you have given or gifts given by other family members
or friends. The list will give you an idea of the kind of gifts your spouse would enjoy receiving. If you ave little or no knowledge about selecting the kinds of gifts on your list, recruit the help of family members who know your spouse. In the meantime, select gifts that you feel comfortable purchasing, making, or finding, and give them to your spouse. Don’t wait for a special occasion. If receiving gifts is his/her primary love language, almost anything you give will be received as an expression of love. (If she has been critical of your gifts in the past and almost nothing you have given has been acceptable, then receiving gifts is almost certainly not her primary love language.)


If you are to become an effective gift giver, you may have to change your attitude about money. Each of us has an individualized perception of the purposes of money, and we have various emotions
associated with spending it. Some of us have a spending orientation. We feel good about ourselves when we are spending money. Others have a saving and investing perspective. We feel good about ourselves when we are saving money and investing it wisely.

If you are a spender, you will have little difficulty purchasing gifts for your spouse; but if you are a saver, you will experience emotional resistance to the idea of spending money as an expression of love. You don’t purchase things for yourself. Why should you purchase things for your spouse? But that attitude fails to recognize that you are purchasing things for yourself. By saving and investing money you are purchasing self-worth and emotional security. You are caring for your own emotional needs in the way you handle money. What you are not doing is meeting the emotional needs of your spouse. If you discover that your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, then perhaps you
will understand that purchasing gifts for him or her is the best investment you can make. You are investing in your relationship and filling your spouse’s emotional love tank, and with a full love tank, he or she will likely reciprocate emotional love to you in a language you will understand. When both persons’ emotional needs are met, your marriage will take on a whole new dimension. Don’t worry about your savings. You will always be a saver, but to invest in loving your spouse is to invest in blue-chip stocks.


There is an intangible gift that sometimes speaks more loudly than a gift that can be held in one’s hand. I call it the gift of self or the gift of presence. Being there when your spouse needs you speaks
loudly to the one whose primary love language is receiving gifts. Jan once said to me, “My husband, Don, loves softball more than he loves me.”

“Why do you say that?” I inquired.

“On the day our baby was born, he played softball. I was lying in the hospital all afternoon while he played softball,” she said.

“Was he there when the baby was born?”

“Oh, yes. He stayed long enough for the baby to be born, but ten minutes afterward, he left to play softball. I was devastated. It was such an important moment in our lives. I wanted us to share it
together. I wanted him to be there with me. Don deserted me to play.”

That husband may have sent her a dozen roses, but they would not have spoken as loudly as his presence in the hospital room beside her. I could tell that Jan was deeply hurt by that experience. The
“baby” was now fifteen years old, and she was talking about the event with all the emotion as though it had happened yesterday. I probed further. “Have you based your conclusion that Don loves softball more than he loves you on this one experience?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “On the day of my mother’s funeral, he also played softball.”

“Did he go to the funeral?”

“Oh, yes. He went to the funeral, but as soon as it was over, he left to play softball. I couldn’t believe it. My brothers and sisters came to the house with me, but my husband was playing softball.”

Later, I asked Don about those two events. He knew exactly what I was talking about. “I knew she would bring that up,” he said. “I was there through all the labor and when the baby was born. I took pictures; I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to tell the guys on the team, but my bubble was burst when I got back to the hospital that evening. She was furious with me. I couldn’t believe what she was saying. I thought she would be proud of me for telling the team.

Physical presence in the time of crisis is the most powerful gift you can give if your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts.

“And when her mother died? She probably did not tell you that I took off work a week before she died and spent the whole week at the hospital and at her mother’s house doing repairs and helping
out. After she died and the funeral was over, I felt I had done all I could do. I needed a breather. I like to play softball, and I knew that would help me relax and relieve some of the stress I’d been under. I
thought she would want me to take a break.

“I had done what I thought was important to her, but it wasn’t enough. She has never let me forget those two days. She says that I love softball more than I love her. That’s ridiculous.”

He was a sincere husband who failed to understand the tremendous power of presence. His being there for his wife was more important than anything else in her mind. Physical presence in the time of crisis is the most powerful gift you can give if your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts. Your body becomes the symbol of your love. Remove the symbol, and the sense of love evaporates. In counseling, Don and Jan worked through the hurts and misunderstandings of the past. Eventually, Jan was able to forgive him, and Don came to understand why his presence was so
important to her.

If the physical presence of your spouse is important to you, I urge you to verbalize that to your spouse. Don’t expect him to read your mind. If, on the other hand, your spouse says to you, “I really want you to be there with me tonight, tomorrow, this afternoon,” take his request seriously. From your perspective, it may not be important; but if you are not responsive to that request, you may be  communicating a message you do not intend. A husband once said, “When my mother died, my wife’s supervisor said that she could be off two hours for the funeral but she needed to be back in the office
for the afternoon. My wife told him that she felt her husband needed her support that day and she would have to be away the entire day.

“The supervisor replied, ‘If you are gone all day, you may well lose your job.’

“My wife said, ‘My husband is more important than my job.’ She spent the day with me. Somehow that day, I felt more loved by her than ever before. I have never forgotten what she did. Incidentally,” he said, “she didn’t lose her job. Her supervisor soon left, and she was asked to take his job.” That wife had spoken the love language of her husband, and he never forgot it.

Almost everything ever written on the subject of love indicates that at the heart of love is the spirit of giving. All five love languages challenge us to give to our spouse, but for some, receiving gifts,
visible symbols of love, speaks the loudest. I heard the most graphic illustration of that truth in Chicago, where I met Jim and Janice.

They attended my marriage seminar and agreed to take me to O’Hare Airport after the seminar on Saturday afternoon. We had two or three hours before my flight, and they asked if I would like to stop at a restaurant. I was famished, so I readily agreed. That afternoon, however, I got much more than a free meal.

Jim and Janice both grew up on farms in central Illinois not more than a hundred miles from each other. They moved to Chicago shortly after their wedding. I was hearing their story fifteen years and three children later. Janice began talking almost immediately after we sat down. She said, “Dr. Chapman, the reason we wanted to take you to the airport is so that we could tell you about our
miracle.” Something about the word miracle always causes me to brace myself, especially if I don’t know the person who is using it. What bizarre story am I going to hear? I wondered, but I kept my
thoughts to myself and gave Janice my undivided attention. I was about to be shocked.

She said, “Dr. Chapman, God used you to perform a miracle in our marriage.” I felt guilty already. A moment ago, I was questioning her use of the term miracle, and now in her mind I was the
vehicle of a miracle. Now I was listening even more intently. Janice continued, “Three years ago, we attended your marriage seminar here in Chicago for the first time. I was desperate,” she said. “I was
thinking seriously of leaving Jim and had told him so. Our marriage had been empty for a long time. I had given up. For years, I had complained to Jim that I needed his love, but he never responded. I
loved the children, and I knew they loved me, but I felt nothing coming from Jim. In fact, by that time, I hated him. He was a methodical person. He did everything by routine. He was as predictable as a clock, and no one could break into his routine.

“For years,” she continued, “I tried to be a good wife. I cooked, I washed, I ironed, I cooked, I washed, I ironed. I did all the things I thought a good wife should do. I had sex with him because I
knew that was important to him, but I felt no love coming from him. I felt like he stopped dating me after we got married and simply took me for granted. I felt used and unappreciated.

“When I talked to Jim about my feelings, he’d laugh at me and say we had as good a marriage as anybody else in the community. He didn’t understand why I was so unhappy. He would remind me
that the bills were paid, that we had a nice house and a new car, that I was free to work or not work outside the home, and that I should be happy instead of complaining all the time. He didn’t even try to
understand my feelings. I felt totally rejected.

“Well, anyway,” she said as she moved her tea and leaned forward, “we came to your seminar three years ago. We had never been to a marriage seminar before. I did not know what to expect, and  frankly I didn’t expect much. I didn’t think anybody could change Jim. During and after the seminar, Jim didn’t say too much. He seemed to like it. He said that you were funny, but he didn’t talk with me about any of the ideas in the seminar. I didn’t expect him to, and I didn’t ask him to. As I said, I had already given up by then.

“As you know,” she said, “the seminar ended on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night and Sunday were pretty much as usual, but Monday afternoon, he came home from work and gave me a rose. ‘Where did you get that?’ I asked. ‘I bought it from a street vendor,’ he said. ‘I thought you deserved a rose.’ I started crying. ‘Oh, Jim, that is so sweet of you.’

“In my mind,” she said, “I knew he bought the rose from a Moonie. I had seen the young man selling roses that afternoon, but it didn’t matter. The fact was, he had brought me a rose. On Tuesday he
called me from the office at about one-thirty and asked me what I thought about his buying a pizza and bringing it home for dinner. He said he thought I might enjoy a break from cooking dinner. I told him I thought the idea was wonderful, and so he brought home a pizza and we had a fun time together. The children loved the pizza and thanked their father for bringing it. I actually gave him a hug and told him how much I enjoyed it.

“When he came home on Wednesday, he brought each of the children a box of Cracker Jacks, and he had a small potted plant for me. He said he knew the rose would die, and he thought I might
like something that would be around for a while. I was beginning to think I was hallucinating! I couldn’t believe what Jim was doing or why he was doing it. Thursday night after dinner, he handed
me a card with a message about his not always being able to express his love to me but hoping that the card would communicate how much he cared. Again I cried, looked up at him, and could not resist hugging and kissing him. ‘Why don’t we get a baby-sitter on Saturday night and the two of us go out for dinner?’ he suggested. ‘That would be wonderful,’ I said. On Friday afternoon, he stopped by the cookie shop and bought each of us one of our favourite cookies. Again, he kept it as a surprise, telling us only that he had a treat for dessert.

“By Saturday night,” she said, “I was in orbit. I had no idea what had come over Jim, or if it would last, but I was enjoying every minute of it. After our dinner at the restaurant, I said to him,
‘Jim, you have to tell me what’s happening. I don’t understand.’”

She looked at me intently and said, “Dr. Chapman, you have to understand. This man had never given me a flower since the day we got married. He never gave me a card for any occasion. He always
said, ‘It’s a waste of money; you look at the card and throw it away.’ We’d been out to dinner one time in five years. He never bought the children anything and expected me to buy only the
essentials. He had never brought a pizza home for dinner. He expected me to have dinner ready every night. I mean, this was a radical change in his behavior.”

I turned to Jim and asked, “What did you say to her in the restaurant when she asked you what was going on?”

“I told her that I had listened to your lecture on love languages at the seminar and that I realized that her love language was gifts. I also realized that I had not given her a gift in years, maybe not since we had been married. I remembered that when we were dating I used to bring her flowers and other small gifts, but after marriage I figured we couldn’t afford that. I told her that I had decided that I was going to try to get her a gift every day for one week and see if it made any difference in her. I had to admit that I had seen a pretty big difference in her attitude during the week.

“I told her that I realized that what you said was really true and that learning the right love language was the key to helping another person feel loved. I said I was sorry that I had been so dense
for all those years and had failed to meet her need for love. I told her that I really loved her and that I appreciated all the things she did for me and the children. I told her that with God’s help, I was going to be a gift giver for the rest of my life.

“She said, ‘But, Jim, you can’t go on buying me gifts every day for the rest of your life. You can’t afford that.’ ‘Well, maybe not every day,’ I said, ‘but at least once a week. That would be fifty two
more gifts per year than what you have received in the past five years.’ I continued, ‘And who said I was going to buy all of them? I might even make some of them, or I’ll take Dr. Chapman’s idea
and pick a free flower from the front yard in the spring.’”

Janice interrupted, “Dr. Chapman, I don’t think he has missed a single week in three years. He is like a new man. You wouldn’t believe how happy we have been. Our children call us lovebirds now. My tank is full and overflowing.”

I turned to Jim and asked, “But what about you, Jim? Do you feel loved by Janice?”

“Oh, I’ve always felt loved by her, Dr. Chapman. She is the best housekeeper in the world. She is an excellent cook. She keeps my clothes washed and ironed. She is wonderful about doing things
for the children. I know she loves me.” He smiled and said, “Now, you know what my love language is, don’t you?”

I did, and I also knew why Janice had used the word miracle.

Gifts need not be expensive, nor must they be given weekly.

But for some individuals, their worth has nothing to do with monetary value and everything to do with love.

In chapter 7, we will clarify Jim’s love language.

If your spouse’s love language is Receiving Gifts:

1. Try a parade of gifts: Leave a box of candy for your spouse in the morning (yogurt candy if health is an issue); have flowers delivered in the afternoon (unless your spouse is allergic to
flowers); give him a shirt in the evening. When your spouse asks, “What is going on?” you respond: “Just trying to fill your love tank!”

2. Let nature be your guide: The next time you take a walk through the neighbourhood, keep your eyes open for a gift for your spouse. It may be a stone, a stick, or a flower (be sure to ask your  neighbour, if the flower is not in your own yard). You may even attach special meaning to your natural gift. For example, a smooth stone may symbolise your marriage with many of the rough
places now polished. A rose may remind you of the beauty you see in your spouse.

3. Discover the value of “handmade originals.” Make a gift for your spouse. This may require you to enroll in an art or crafts class: ceramics, silversmithing, painting, wood carving, etc. Your 
main purpose for enrolling is to make your spouse a gift. A handmade gift often becomes a family heirloom.

4. Give your spouse a gift every day for one week. It need not be a special week, just any week. I promise you it will become “The Week That Was!” If you are really energetic, you can make it
“The Month That Was!” No—your spouse will not expect you to keep this up for a lifetime.

5. Keep a “Gift Idea Notebook.” Every time you hear your spouse say: “I really like that,” or “Oh, I would really like to have one of those!” write it down in your notebook. Listen carefully and you will get quite a list. This will serve as a guide when you get ready to select a gift. To prime the pump, you may look through a shopping catalog together.

6. “Help! I’m confused!” If you really don’t have a clue as to how to select a gift for your spouse, ask a friend or family member who knows your wife or husband well to help you. Most people enjoy making a friend happy by getting them a gift, especially if it is with your money.

7. Offer the gift of presence. Say to your spouse: “I want to offer the gift of my presence at any event or on any occasion you would like this month. You tell me when, and I will make every effort to be there.” Get ready! Be positive! Who knows, you may enjoy the symphony or the hockey game.

8. Give your spouse a book and agree to read it yourself. Then offer to discuss together a chapter each week. Don’t choose a book that you want him or her to read. Choose a book on a topic in which you know your spouse has an interest: sex, football, needlework, money management, child rearing, religion, or backpacking.

9. Give a lasting tribute. Give a substantial gift to your spouse’s church or favourite charity in honour of her birthday, your anniversary, or another occasion. Ask the charity to send a card
informing your spouse of what you have done. The church or charity will be excited and so will your spouse.

10. Give a living gift. Purchase and plant a tree or flowering shrub in honour of your spouse. You may plant it in your own yard, where you can water and nurture it, or in a public park or forest where others can also enjoy it. You will get credit for this one year after year. If it is an apple tree, you may live long enough to get an apple.

chapter seven

Love Language #4

ACTS OF SERVICE (Click here to continue) 

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