Saturday, May 19, 2018

Love Language #4 -ACTS OF SERVICE

Love Language #4


Before we leave Jim and Janice, let’s reexamine Jim’s answer to my question, “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
with the children. I know she loves me.”

Jim’s primary love language was what I call “acts of service.” By acts of service, I mean doing things you know your spouse would like you to do. You seek to please her by serving her, to express
your love for her by doing things for her.

Such actions as cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning a commode, getting hairs out of the sink, removing the white spots from the mirror, getting bugs off the
windshield, taking out the garbage, changing the baby’s diaper, painting a bedroom, dusting the bookcase, keeping the car in operating condition, washing or vacuuming the car, cleaning the garage, mowing the grass, trimming the shrubs, raking the leaves, dusting the blinds, walking the dog, changing the cat’s litter box, and changing water in the goldfish bowl are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.

Jesus Christ gave a simple but profound illustration of expressing love by an act of service when He washed the feet of His disciples. In a culture where people wore sandals and walked on dirt streets, it was customary for the servant of the household to wash the feet of guests as they arrived. Jesus, who had instructed His disciples to love one another, gave them an example of how to express that love when He took a basin and a towel and proceeded to wash their feet. [1] After that simple expression of love, He encouraged His disciples to follow His example.

Earlier in His life, Jesus had indicated that in His 
kingdom those who would be great would be 
servants. In most societies, those who are great 
lord it over those who are small, but Jesus Christ 
said that those who are great would serve others. 
The apostle Paul summarised that philosophy 
when he said, “Serve one another in love.”[2]

I discovered the impact of “acts of service” in the 
little village of China Grove, North Carolina. China 
Grove sits in central North Carolina, originally 
nestled in chinaberry trees, not far from Andy
Griffith’s legendary Mayberry, and an hour and a 
half from Mount Pilot. At the time of this story, 
China Grove was a textile town with a population 
of 1,500. I had been away for more than ten years, 
studying anthropology, psychology, and theology. 
I was making my semiannual visit to keep in touch 
with my roots.

Almost everyone I knew except Dr. Shin and Dr. Smith worked in the mill. Dr. Shin was the medical doctor, and Dr. Smith was the dentist. And of course, there was Preacher Blackburn, who was pastor of the church. For most couples in China Grove, life centered on work and church. The conversation at the mill focused on the superintendent’s latest decision and how it 
affected their job in particular. The services at church focused mainly on the anticipated joys of heaven. In that pristine American setting, I discovered love language number four.

I was standing under a chinaberry tree after church on Sunday when Mark and Mary approached me. I didn’t recognise either of them. I assumed they had grown up while I was away. 
Introducing himself, Mark said, “I understand you have been studying counselling.”

I smiled and said, “Well, a little bit.”

“I have a question,” he said. “Can a couple make it in marriage if they disagree on everything?”

It was one of those theoretical questions that I knew had a personal root. I brushed aside the theoretical nature of his question and asked him a personal question. “How long have you been  married?”

“Two years,” he responded. “And we don’t agree on anything.”

“Give me some examples,” I continued.

“Well, for one thing, Mary doesn’t like me to go hunting. I work all week in the mill, and I like to go hunting on Saturdays—not every Saturday but when hunting season is in.”

Mary had been silent until this point when she interjected. “When hunting season is out, he goes fishing, and besides that, he doesn’t hunt just on Saturdays. He takes off from work to go hunting.”

“Once or twice a year I take off two or three days from work to go hunting in the mountains with some buddies. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.”

“What else do you disagree on?” I asked.

“Well, she wants me to go to church all the time. I don’t mind going on Sunday morning, but Sunday night I like to rest. It’s all right if she wants to go, but I don’t think I ought to have to go.”

Again, Mary spoke up. “You don’t really want me to go either,” she said. “You fuss every time I walk out the door.”

I knew that things weren’t supposed to be getting this hot under a shady tree in front of a church. As a young, aspiring counsellor, I feared that I was getting in over my head, but having been trained to ask questions and listen, I continued. “What other things do you disagree on?”

This time Mary answered. “He wants me to stay home all day and work in the house,” she said. “He gets mad if I go see my mother or go shopping or something.”

“I don’t mind her going to see her mother,” he said, “but when I come home, I like to see the house cleaned up. Some weeks, she doesn’t make the bed up for three or four days, and half 
the time, she hasn’t even started supper. I work hard, and I like to eat when I get home. Besides that, the house is a wreck,” he continued. “The baby’s things are all over the floor, the baby is dirty, and I don’t like filth. She seems to be happy to live in a pigpen. We don’t have very much, and we live in a small mill house, but at least it could be clean.”

“What’s wrong with his helping me around the house?” Mary asked. “He acts like a husband shouldn’t do anything around the house. All he wants to do is work and hunt. He expects 
me to do everything. He even expects me to wash the car.”

Thinking that I had better start looking for solutions rather than prying for more disagreements, I looked at Mark and asked, “Mark, when you were dating, before you got married, 
did you go hunting every Saturday?”

“Most Saturdays,” he said, “but I always got home in time to go see her on Saturday night. Most of the time, I’d get home in time to wash my truck before I went to see her. I didn’t like to go see her
with a dirty truck.”

“Mary, how old were you when you got married?” I asked.

“I was eighteen,” she said. “We got married right after I finished high school. Mark graduated a year before me, and he was working.”

“During your senior year in high school, how often did Mark come to see you?” I inquired. 

“He came almost every night,” she said. “In fact, he came in the afternoon and would often stay and have supper with my family. He would help me do my chores around the house and then 
we’d sit and talk until supper time.”

“Mark, what did the two of you do after supper?” I asked.

Mark looked up with a sheepish smile and said, “Well, the regular dating stuff, you know.”

“But if I had a school project,” Mary said, “he’d help me with it. Sometimes we worked hours on school projects. I was in charge of the Christmas float for the senior class. He helped me for three
weeks every afternoon. He was great.”

I switched gears and focused on the third area of their disagreement. “Mark, when you were dating, did you go to church with Mary on Sunday nights?”

“Yes, I did,” he said. “If I didn’t go to church with her, I couldn’t see her that night. Her father was strict that way.”

“He never complained about it,” Mary said. “In fact, he seemed to enjoy it. He even helped us with the Christmas program. After we finished the Christmas float project, we started working on the set for the Christmas program at the church. We spent about two weeks working together on that. He is really talented when it comes to painting and building sets.”

I thought I was beginning to see some light, but I wasn’t sure Mark and Mary were seeing it. I turned to Mary and asked, “When you were dating Mark, what convinced you that he really loved
you? What made him different from other guys you had dated?”

“It was the way he helped me with everything,” she said. “He was so eager to help me. None of the other guys ever expressed any interest in those things, but it seemed natural for Mark. He 
even helped me wash dishes when he had supper at our house. He was the most wonderful person I had ever met, but after we got married that changed. He didn’t help me at all.”

Turning to Mark I asked, “Why do you think you did all those things for and with her before you were married?”

“It just seemed natural for me,” he said. “It’s what I would want someone to do for me if she cared about me.”

“And why do you think you stopped helping her after you got married?” I asked.

“Well, I guess I expected it to be like my family. Dad worked, and Mom took care of things at the house. I never saw my dad vacuum the floor or wash the dishes or do anything around the house.
Since Mom didn’t work outside the house, she kept everything spotless, did all the cooking, washing, and ironing. And I guess I just thought that was the way it was supposed to be.”

Hoping that Mark was seeing what I was seeing, I asked, “Mark, a moment ago what did you hear Mary say when I asked her what really made her feel loved by you when you were dating?”

He responded, “Helping her with things and doing things with her.”

Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.

“So, can you understand,” I continued, “how she could feel unloved when you stopped helping her with things?” His head was bobbing up and down. I continued. “It was a normal thing for you to follow the model of your mother and father in marriage. Almost all of us tend to do that, but your behaviour toward Mary was a radical change from your courtship. The one thing that had 
assured her of your love disappeared.”

Then I turned to Mary and asked, “What did you hear Mark say when I asked, ‘Why did you do all of those things to help Mary when you were dating?’”

“He said that it came naturally to him,” she replied.

“That’s right,” I said, “and he also said that is what he would want someone to do for him if she loved him. He was doing those things for you and with you because in his mind that’s the way anyone shows love. Once you were married and living in your own house, he had expectations of what you would do if you loved him. You would keep the house clean, you would cook, and so on. In brief, you would do things for him to express your love. When he did not see you doing those things, do you understand why he would feel unloved?” Mary’s head was also bobbing now. I continued, “My guess is that the reason you are both so unhappy in your marriage is that neither of you is showing your love by doing things for each other.”

Mary said, “I think you are right, and the reason I stopped doing things for him is because I resented his demanding spirit. It was as if he were trying to make me be like his mother.”

“You are right,” I said, “and no one likes to be forced to do anything. In fact, love is always freely given. Love cannot be demanded. We can request things of each other, but we must never
demand anything. Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.”

Mark broke in and said, “She’s right, Dr. Chapman. I was demanding and critical of her because I was disappointed in her as a wife. I know I said some cruel things, and I understand how she could be upset with me.”

“I think things can be turned around rather easily at this juncture,” I said. I pulled two note cards out of my pocket. “Let’s try something . I want each of you to sit on the steps of the church and make a   request list. Mark, I want you to list three or four things that if Mary chose to do them would make you feel loved when you walk into the house in the afternoon. If making the bed is important to you, then put it down. Mary, I want you to make a list of three or four things that you would really like to have Mark’s help in doing, things which, if he chose to do them, would help you know that he loved you.” (I’m big on lists; they force us to think concretely.)

After five to six minutes, they handed me their lists. Mark’s list read:

• Make up the beds every day.

• Have the baby’s face washed when I get home.

• Put her shoes in the closet before I get home.

• Try to have supper at least started before I get home so that we could eat within 30–45 minutes after I get home.

I read the list out loud and said to Mark, “I’m understanding you to say that if Mary chooses to do these four things, you will view them as acts of love toward you.”

“That’s right,” he said, “if she did those four things, it would go a long way in changing my attitude toward her.” Then I read Mary’s list:

• I wish he would wash the car every week instead of expecting me to do it.

• I wish he would change the baby’s diaper after he gets home in the afternoon, especially if I am working on supper.

• I wish he would vacuum the house for me once a week.

• I wish he would mow the grass every week in the summer and not let it get so tall that I am ashamed of our yard.

I said, “Mary, I am understanding you to say that if Mark chooses to do those four things, you would take his actions as genuine expressions of love toward you.”

“That’s right,” she said. “It would be wonderful if he would do those things for me.”

“Does this list seem reasonable to you, Mark? Is it feasible for you to do these things?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Mary, do the things on Mark’s list seem reasonable and feasible to you? Could you do them if you chose to?”

“Yes,” she said, “I can do those things. In the past, I have felt overwhelmed because no matter what I did, it was never enough.”

“Mark,” I said, “you understand that what I am suggesting is a change from the model of marriage that your mother and father had.”

“Oh,” he said, “my father mowed the grass and washed the car.”

“But he didn’t change the diapers or vacuum the floor, right?”

“Right,” he said.

“You don’t have to do these, you understand? If you do them, however, it will be an act of love to Mary.”

What we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage.

And to Mary I said, “You understand that you don’t have to do these things, but if you want to express love for Mark, here are four ways that will be meaningful to him. I want to suggest that you
try these for two months and see if they help. At the end of two months, you may want to add additional requests to your lists and share them with each other. I would not add more than 
one request per month, however.”

“This really makes sense,” Mary said. “I think you have helped us,” Mark said. They took each other by the hand and walked toward their car. I said to myself out loud, “I think this is what church is
all about. I think I am going to enjoy being a counsellor.” I have never forgotten the insight I gained under that chinaberry tree.

After years of research, I have realised what a unique situation Mark and Mary presented me. Seldom do I meet a couple who both have the same love language. For both Mark and Mary, 
“acts of service” was their primary love language. Hundreds of individuals can identify with either Mark or Mary and acknowledge that the primary way that they feel loved is by acts of service on the part of their spouse. Putting away shoes, changing a baby’s diaper, washing dishes or a car, vacuuming, or mowing speaks volumes to the individual whose primary love language is acts of service.

You may be wondering, If Mark and Mary had the same primary love language, why were they having so much difficulty? The answer lies in the fact that they were speaking different dialects.
They were doing things for each other but not the most important things. When they were forced to think concretely, they easily identified their specific dialects. For Mary it was washing the car,
changing the baby’s diaper, vacuuming the floor, and mowing the grass, whereas for Mark it was making up the bed, washing the baby’s face, putting the shoes in the closet, and having supper
underway when he got home from work. When they started speaking the right dialects, their love tanks began to fill. Since acts of service was their primary love language, learning each other’s specific dialect was relatively easy for them.

Before we leave Mark and Mary, I would like to make three other observations. First, they illustrate clearly that what we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. Before marriage, we are carried along by the force of the in-love obsession. After marriage, we revert to being the people we were before we “fell in love.” Our actions are influenced by the model of our parents, our own personality, our perceptions of love, our emotions, needs, and desires. Only one thing is certain about our behaviour: It will not be the same behaviour we exhibited when we were caught up in being “in love.”

That leads me to the second truth illustrated by Mark and Mary. Love is a choice and cannot be coerced. Mark and Mary were criticising each other’s behaviour and getting nowhere. Once they
decided to make requests of each other rather than demands, their marriage began to turn around.

Criticism and demands tend to drive wedges. With enough criticism, you may get acquiescence from your spouse. He may do what you want, but probably it will not be an expression of love. You can give guidance to love by making requests: “I wish you would wash the car, change the baby’s diaper, mow the grass,” but you cannot create the will to love. Each of us must decide daily to love or not to love our spouses. If we choose to love, then expressing it in the way in which our spouse requests will make our love most effective emotionally.

There is a third truth, which only the mature lover will be able to hear. My spouse’s criticisms about my behaviour provide me with the clearest clue to her primary love language. People tend to
criticise their spouse most loudly in the area where they themselves have the deepest emotional need. Their criticism is an ineffective way of pleading for love. If we understand that, it 
may help us process their criticism in a more productive manner. A wife may say to her husband after he gives her a criticism, “It sounds like that is extremely important to you. Could you explain why it is so crucial?” Criticism often needs clarification. Initiating such a conversation may eventually turn the criticism into a request rather than a demand. Mary’s constant condemnation of Mark’s hunting was not an expression of her hatred for the sport of hunting. She blamed hunting as the thing that kept him from washing the car, vacuuming the house, and mowing the grass. When he learned to meet her need for love by speaking her emotional love language, she became free to support him in his hunting.


“I have served him for twenty years. I have waited on him hand and foot. I have been his doormat while he ignored me, mistreated me, and humiliated me in front of my friends and family. I don’t hate him. I wish him no ill, but I resent him, and I no longer wish to live with him.” That wife has performed acts of service for twenty years, but they have not been expressions of love. They were done out of fear, guilt, and resentment.

Due to the sociological changes of the past thirty years, there is no longer a common stereotype of the male and female role in American society.

A doormat is an inanimate object. You can wipe your feet on it, step on it, kick it around, or whatever you like. It has no will of its own. It can be your servant but not your lover. When we 
treat our spouses as objects, we preclude the possibility of love. Manipulation by guilt (“If you were a good spouse, you would do this for me”) is not the language of love. Coercion by fear (“You will do this or you will be sorry”) is alien to love. No person should ever be a doormat. We may allow ourselves to be used, but we are in fact creatures of emotion, thoughts, and desires. And 
we have the ability to make decisions and take action. Allowing oneself to be used or manipulated by another is not an act of love. It is, in fact, an act of treason. You are allowing him or her to develop inhumane habits. Love says, “I love you too much to let you treat me this way. It is not good for you or me.”


Learning the love language of acts of service will require some of us to reexamine our stereotypes of the roles of husbands and wives. Mark was doing what most of us do naturally. He was following the role model of his father and mother, but he wasn’t even doing that well. His father washed the car and mowed the grass. Mark did not, but that was the mental image he had of what a husband should do. He definitely did not picture himself vacuuming floors and changing the baby’s diapers. To his credit, he was willing to break from his stereotype when he realised how important it was to Mary. That is necessary for all of us if our spouse’s primary love language asks something of us that seems inappropriate to our role.

Due to the sociological changes of the past thirty years, there is no longer a common stereotype of the male and female role in American society. Yet that does not mean that all stereotypes have been removed. It means rather that the number of stereotypes has been multiplied. Before the days of television, a person’s idea of what a husband or wife should do and how he or she should relate was influenced primarily by one’s own parents. With the pervasiveness of television and the proliferation of single-parent families, however, role models are often influenced by forces outside the home. Whatever your perceptions, chances are your spouse perceives marital roles somewhat differently than you do. A willingness to examine and change stereotypes is necessary in order to express love more effectively. Remember, there are no rewards for maintaining stereotypes, but there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your spouse.

Recently a wife said to me, “Dr. Chapman, I am going to send all of my friends to your seminar.”

“And why would you do that?” I inquired.

“Because it has radically changed our marriage,” she said. “Before the seminar, Bob never helped me with anything. We both started our careers right after college, but it was always my role to do everything at the house. It was as if it never crossed his mind to help me with anything. After the seminar, he started asking me, ‘What can I do to help you this evening?’ It was amazing. At first, I
couldn’t believe it was real, but it has persisted for three years now.

“I’ll have to admit, there were some trying and humorous times in those early weeks because he didn’t know how to do anything. The first time he did the laundry, he used undiluted bleach 
instead of regular detergent. Our blue towels came out with white polka dots. Then there was the first time he used the garbage disposal. It sounded strange, and shortly afterward soap bubbles started emerging from the drain of the adjoining sink. He didn’t know what was happening until I turned the garbage disposal off, reached my hand inside, and retrieved the remains of a new bar of soap, now the size of a quarter. But he was loving me in my language, and my tank was filling up. Now he knows how to do everything around the house and is always helping me. We have much more time together because I don’t have to work all the time. Believe me, I have learned his language, and I keep his tank full.”

Is it really that simple?

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Bob had to work hard at tearing down the stereotype with which he had lived for thirty-five years. It didn’t come easily, but he would tell you that learning the 
primary love language of your spouse and choosing to speak it makes a tremendous difference in the emotional climate of a marriage. Now, let’s move on to love language number five.

[1]. John 13:3–17.
[2]. Galatians 5:13.

If your spouse’s love language is Acts of Service:

1. Make a list of all the requests your spouse has made of you over the past few weeks. Select one of these each week and do it as an expression of love.

2. Cut out some heart-shaped note cards and print the following:
“Today I will show my love for you by…” Complete the sentence with one of the following: mowing the lawn, vacuuming the floor, washing dishes, taking the dog for a walk, cleaning the fish
bowl, etc. Give your spouse a love note accompanied by the act of service every three days for a month.

3. Ask your spouse to make a list of ten things he or she would like for you to do during the next month. Then ask your spouse to prioritise those by numbering them 1–10, with 1 being the 
most important and 10 being least important. Use this list to plan your strategy for a month of love. (Get ready to live with a happy spouse.)

4. While your spouse is away, get the children to help you with some act of service for him. When he walks in the door, join the children in shouting “Surprise! We love you!” Then share your
act of service.

5. What one act of service has your spouse nagged about consistently? Why not decide to see the nag as a tag? Your spouse is tagging this as really important to him or her. If you choose to do it as an expression of love, it is worth more than a thousand roses.

6. If your spouse’s requests for acts of service come across as nags or put-downs, try writing them in words that would be less offensive to you. Share this revised wording with your spouse.
For example, “Honey, I love you so much. You are a hardworking man and I really appreciate you. I’d love to thank you in advance for mowing the lawn this week before Thursday when Mary and
Bob come over for dinner.” Your husband might even respond: “Where is the lawn mower, I can’t wait!” Try it and see.

7. Do some major acts of service like washing the car, cooking a meal, painting a bedroom, or washing the deck, and then post a sign that reads, “To (spouse’s name) with love,” and sign your name.

8. If you have more money than time, hire someone to do the acts of service that you know your spouse would like for you to do, such as the lawn, the housecleaning, the car washing, the 
laundry. If you take the responsibility for getting it done, you will be speaking love even when you are away.

9. Ask your spouse to tell you the daily acts of service that would really speak love to him or her. These might include such things as putting your dirty clothes in the hamper, getting the hairs out of the sink, hanging up your clothes at night, closing the door when you go outside, preparing a meal, and washing the dishes. Seek to work these into your daily schedule. “Little things” really do mean a lot.

10. Periodically ask your spouse, “If I could do one special act of service this week, what would you request?” If possible, do it and watch your spouse’s love tank fill up!

chapter eight

Love Language #5

PHYSICAL TOUCH (Click Here to continue)

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