Saturday, May 19, 2018



It was a beautiful September Saturday. My wife and I were strolling through Reynolda Gardens, enjoying the flora, some of which had been imported from around the world. The gardens had originally been developed by R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco magnate, as a part of his country estate.

They are now a part of the Wake Forest University campus. We had just passed the rose garden when I noticed Ann, a woman who had begun counseling two weeks earlier, approaching us. She was
looking down at the cobblestone walkway and appeared to be in deep thought. When I greeted her, she was startled but looked up and smiled. I introduced her to Karolyn, and we exchanged
pleasantries. Then, without any lead-in, she asked me one of the most profound questions I have ever heard: “Dr. Chapman, is it possible to love someone whom you hate?”

I knew the question was born of deep hurt and deserved a thoughtful answer. I knew that I would be seeing her the following week for another counseling appointment, so I said, “Ann, that is one of the most thought-provoking questions I have ever heard. Why don’t we discuss that next week?” She agreed, and Karolyn and I continued our stroll. But Ann’s question did not go away. Later, as we drove home, Karolyn and I discussed it. We reflected on the early days of our own marriage and remembered that we had often experienced feelings of hate. Our condemning words to each other had stimulated hurt and, on the heels of hurt, anger. Anger held inside becomes hate. What made the difference for us? We both knew it was the choice to love. We had realised that if we continued our pattern of demanding and condemning, we would destroy our marriage. Fortunately over a period of about a year, we had learned how to discuss our differences without condemning each other, how to make decisions without destroying our unity, how to give constructive suggestions without being demanding, and eventually how to speak each other’s primary love language. (Many of those insights are recorded in an earlier book, Toward a Growing Marriage, Moody Publishers.) Our choice to love was made in the midst of negative feelings toward each other. When we started speaking each other’s primary love language, the negative feelings of anger and hate abated.

Our situation, however, was different fromAnn’s. Karolyn and I had both been open to learning and growing. I knew that Ann’s husband was not. She had told me the previous week that she had
begged him to go for counseling. She had pleaded for him to read a book or listen to a tape on marriage, but he had refused all her efforts toward growth. According to her, his attitude was: “I
don’t have any problems. You are the one with the problems.” In his mind he was right, she was wrong—it was as simple as that. Her feelings of love for him had been killed through the years by his constant criticism and condemnation. After ten years of marriage, her emotional energy was depleted and her self-esteem almost destroyed. Was there hope for Ann’s marriage? Could she love an unlovely husband? Would he ever respond in love to her?

I knew that Ann was a deeply religious person and that she attended church regularly. I surmised that perhaps her only hope for marital survival was in her faith. The next day, with Ann in mind, I
began to read Luke’s account of the life of Christ. I have always admired Luke’s writing because he was a physician who gave attention to details and in the first century wrote an orderly account of the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth. In what many have called Jesus’ greatest sermon, I read the following words, which I call love’s greatest challenge.

I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If
you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love
them. [1]

It seemed to me that that profound challenge, written almost two thousand years ago, might be the direction that Ann was looking for, but could she do it? Could anyone do it? Is it possible to love a
spouse who has become your enemy? Is it possible to love one who has cursed you, mistreated you, and expressed feelings of contempt and hate for you? And if she could, would there be any payback?
Would her husband ever change and begin to express love and care for her? I was astounded by this further word from Jesus’ ancient sermon: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”[2]

Could that ancient principle of loving an unlovely person possibly work in a marriage as far gone as Ann’s? I decided to do an experiment. I would take as my hypothesis that if Ann could learn
her husband’s primary love language and speak it for a period of time so that his emotional need for love was met, eventually he would reciprocate and begin to express love to her. I wondered, Would it work?

I met with Ann the next week and listened again as she reviewed the horrors of her marriage. At the end of her synopsis, she repeated the question she had asked in Reynolda Gardens. This time she put it in the form of a statement: “Dr. Chapman, I just don’t know if I can ever love him again after all he has done to me.”

“Have you talked about your situation with any of your friends?” I asked.

“With two of my closest friends,” she said, “and a little bit with some other people.”

“And what was their response?”

“Get out,” she said. “They all tell me to get out, that he will never change, and that I am simply prolonging the agony. But, Dr. Chapman, I just can’t bring myself to do that. Maybe I should, but I just can’t believe that’s the right thing to do.”

“It seems to me that you are torn between your religious and moral beliefs that tell you it is wrong to get out of the marriage, and your emotional pain, which tells you that getting out is the only
way to survive,” I said.

“That’s exactly right, Dr. Chapman. That’s exactly the way I feel. I don’t know what to do.”

When the tank is low…we have no love feelings toward our spouse but simply experience emptiness and pain.

“I am deeply sympathetic with your struggle,” I continued. “You are in a very difficult situation. I wish I could offer you an easy answer. Unfortunately, I can’t. Both of the alternatives you mentioned, getting out or staying in, will likely bring you a great deal of pain. Before you make that decision, I do have one idea. I am not sure it will work, but I’d like you to try it. I know from what you have told me that your religious faith is important to you and that you have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus.”

She nodded affirmingly. I continued, “I want to read something that Jesus once said that I think has some application to your marriage.” I read slowly and deliberately.

“‘I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love them.’

“Does that sound like your husband? Has he treated you as an enemy rather than as a friend?” I inquired.

She nodded her head affirmingly.

“Has he ever cursed you?” I asked.

“Many times.”

“Has he ever mistreated you?”


“And has he told you that he hates you?”


“Ann, if you are willing, I would like to do an experiment. I would like to see what would happen if we apply this principle to your marriage. Let me explain what I mean.” I went on to explain
to Ann the concept of the emotional tank and the fact that when the tank is low, as hers was, we have no love feelings toward our spouse but simply experience emptiness and pain. Since love is such a deep emotional need, the lack of it is perhaps our deepest emotional pain. I told her that if we could learn to speak each other’s primary love language, that emotional need could be met and positive feelings could be engendered again.

“Does that make sense to you?” I inquired.

“Dr. Chapman, you have just described my life. I have never seen it so clearly before. We were in love before we got married, but not long after our marriage we came down off the high and we
never learned to speak each other’s love language. My tank has been empty for years, and I am sure  his has also. Dr. Chapman, if I had understood this concept earlier, maybe none of this would have

“We can’t go back, Ann,” I said. “All we can do is try to make the future different. I would like to propose a six-month experiment.”

“I’ll try anything,” Ann said.

I liked her positive spirit, but I wasn’t sure whether she understood how difficult the experiment would be.

“Let’s begin by stating our objective,” I said. “If in six months you could have your fondest wish, what would it be?”

Ann sat in silence for some time. Then thoughtfully she said, “I would like to see Glenn loving me again and expressing it by spending time with me. I would like to see us doing things together,
going places together. I would like to feel that he is interested in my world. I would like to see us talking when we go out to eat. I’d like him to listen to me. I’d like to feel that he values my ideas. I
would like to see us taking trips together and having fun again. I would like to know that he values our marriage more than anything.”

Ann paused and then continued. “On my part, I would like to have warm, positive feelings toward him again. I would like to gain respect for him again. I would like to be proud of him. Right
now, I don’t have those feelings.” I was writing as Ann was speaking. When she finished, I read aloud what she had said. “That
sounds like a pretty lofty objective,” I said, “but is that really what you want, Ann?”

“Right now, that sounds like an impossible objective, Dr. Chapman,” Ann replied, “but more than anything, that’s what I would like to see.”

“Then let’s agree,” I said, “that this will be our objective. In six months, we want to see you and Glenn having this kind of love relationship.

“Now, let me suggest a hypothesis. The purpose of our experiment will be to prove whether or not the hypothesis is true. Let’s hypothesize that if you could speak Glenn’s primary love language
consistently for a six-month period, that somewhere along the line his emotional need for love would begin to be met; and as his emotional tank filled, he would begin to reciprocate love to you. That hypothesis is built upon the idea that the emotional need for love is our deepest emotional need; and when that need is being met, we tend to respond positively to the person who is meeting it.”

I continued, “You understand that that hypothesis places all the initiative in your hands. Glenn is not trying to work on this marriage. You are. This hypothesis says that if you can channel your energies in the right direction, there is a good possibility that Glenn will eventually reciprocate.” I read the other portion of Jesus’ sermon recorded by Luke, the physician. “‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

“As I understand that, Jesus is stating a principle, not a way to manipulate people. Generally speaking, if we are kind and loving toward people, they will tend to be kind and loving toward us.
That does not mean that we can make a person kind by being kind to him. We are independent agents. Thus, we can spurn love and walk away from love or even spit into the face of love. There is no guarantee that Glenn will respond to your acts of love. We can only say that there is a good possibility he will do so.” (A counselor can never predict with absolute certainty individual human  behavior. Based on research and personality studies, a counselor can only predict how a person is likely to respond in a given situation.)

After we agreed on the hypothesis, I said to Ann, “Now let’s discuss your and Glenn’s primary love languages. I’m assuming from what you have told me already that quality time may be your
primary love language. What do you think?”

“I think so, Dr. Chapman. In the early days when we spent time together and Glenn listened to me, we spent long hours talking together, doing things together. I really felt loved. More than anything, I wish that part of our marriage could return. When we spend time together, I feel like he really cares, but when he’s always doing other things, never has time to talk, never has time to do anything with me, I feel like business and other pursuits are more important than our relationship.”

“And what do you think Glenn’s primary love language is?” I inquired.

“I think it is physical touch and especially the sexual part of the marriage. I know that when I felt more loved by him and we were more sexually active, he had a different attitude. I think that’s his
primary love language, Dr. Chapman.”

“Does he ever complain about the way you talk to him?”

“Well, he says I nag him all the time. He also says that I don’t support him, that I’m always against his ideas.”

“Then, let’s assume,” I said, “that ‘Physical Touch’ is his primary love language and ‘Words of Affirmation’ is his secondary love language. The reason I suggest the second is that if he complains
about negative words, apparently positive words would be meaningful to him.

“Now, let me suggest a plan to test our hypothesis. What if you go home and say to Glenn, ‘I’ve been thinking about us and I’ve decided that I would like to be a better wife to you. So if you have any suggestions as to how I could be a better wife, I want you to know that I am open to them. You can tell me now or you can think about it and let me know what you think, but I would really like to work on being a better wife.’ Whatever his response, negative or positive, simply accept it as information. That initial statement lets him know that something different is about to happen in your relationship.

If you claim to have feelings that you do not have, that is hypocritical…. But if you express an act of love that is designed for the other person’s benefit or pleasure, it is simply a choice.

“Then based upon your guess that his primary love language is ‘Physical Touch’ and my suggestion that his secondary love language may be ‘Words of Affirmation,’ focus your attention on
those two areas for one month.

“If Glenn comes back with a suggestion as to how you might be a better wife, accept that information and work it into your plan. Look for positive things in Glenn’s life and give him verbal
affirmation about those things. In the meantime, stop all verbal complaints. If you want to complain about something, write it down in your personal notebook rather than saying anything about it to Glenn this month.

“Begin taking more initiative in physical touch and sexual involvement. Surprise him by being aggressive, not simply responding to his advances. Set a goal to have sexual intercourse at least once a week the first two weeks and twice a week the following two weeks.” Ann had told me that she and Glenn had had sexual intercourse only once or twice in the past six months. I figured this plan would get things off dead center rather quickly.

“Oh, Dr. Chapman, this is going to be difficult,” Ann said. “I have found it hard to be sexually responsive to him when he ignores me all the time. I have felt used rather than loved in our sexual
encounters. He acts as though I am totally unimportant all the rest of the time and then wants to jump in bed and use my body. I have resented that, and I guess that’s why we have not had sex very often in the last few years.”

“Your response has been natural and normal,” I assured Ann. “For most wives, the desire to be sexually intimate with their husbands grows out of a sense of being loved by their husbands. If they feel loved, then they desire sexual intimacy. If they do not feel loved, they likely feel used in the sexual context. That is why loving someone who is not loving you is extremely difficult. It goes against our natural tendencies. You will probably have to rely heavily upon your faith in God in order to do this. Perhaps it will help if you read again Jesus’ sermon on loving your enemies, loving those who hate you, loving those who use you. And then ask God to help you practice the teachings of Jesus.”

I could tell that Ann was following what I was saying. Her head was nodding ever so slightly.

Her eyes told me she had lots of questions.

“But, Dr. Chapman, isn’t it being hypocritical to express love sexually when you have such negative feelings toward the person?”

“Perhaps it would be helpful for us to distinguish between love as a feeling and love as an action,” I said. “If you claim to have feelings that you do not have, that is hypocritical and such false  communication is not the way to build intimate relationships. But if you express an act of love that is designed for the other person’s benefit or pleasure, it is simply a choice. You are not claiming that the action grows out of a deep emotional bonding. You are simply choosing to do something for his benefit. I think that must be what Jesus meant.

“Certainly we do not have warm feelings for people who hate us. That would be abnormal, but we can do loving acts for them. That is simply a choice. We hope that such loving acts will have a
positive effect upon their attitudes and behaviour and treatment, but at least we have chosen to do something positive for them.”
My answer seemed to satisfy Ann, at least for the moment. I had the feeling that we would discuss that again. I also had the feeling that if the experiment was going to get off the ground, it
would be because of Ann’s deep faith in God.

“After the first month,” I said, “I want you to ask Glenn for feedback on how you are doing.

Using your own words, ask him, ‘Glenn, you remember a few weeks ago when I told you I was going to try to be a better wife? I want to ask how you think I am doing.’

“Whatever Glenn says, accept it as information. He may be sarcastic, he may be flippant or hostile, or he may be positive. Whatever his response, do not argue but accept it and assure him that you are serious and that you really want to be a better wife, and if he has additional suggestions, you are open to them. 

“Follow this pattern of asking for feedback once a month for the entire six months. Whenever
Glenn gives you the first positive feedback, whenever he says, ‘You know, I have to admit that when
you first told me that you were going to try to be better, I pretty much laughed it off, but I’ll have to
acknowledge that things are different around here,’ you will know that your efforts are getting through to him emotionally. He may give you positive feedback after the first month, or it may be after the second or third. One week after you receive the first positive feedback, I want you to make a request of Glenn—something that you would like him to do, something in keeping with your primary love language. For example, you may say to him one evening, ‘Glenn, do you know something I would like to do? Do you remember how we used to play Scrabble together? I’d like to play Scrabble with you on Thursday night. The kids are going to be staying at Mary’s. Do you think that would be possible?’

“Make the request something specific, not general. Don’t say, ‘You know, I wish we would spend more time together.’ That’s too vague. How will you know when he’s done it? But if you make
your request specific, he will know exactly what you want and you will know that, when he does it, he is choosing to do something for your benefit.

“Make a specific request of him each month. If he does it, fine; if he doesn’t do it, fine. But when he does it, you will know that he is responding to your needs. In the process, you are teaching him
your primary love language because the requests you make are in keeping with your love language. If he chooses to begin loving you in your primary language, your positive emotions toward him will
begin to resurface. Your emotional tank will begin to fill up and in time the marriage will, in fact, be reborn.”

Perhaps you need a miracle in your own marriage. Why not try Ann’s experiment?
“Dr. Chapman, I would do anything if that could happen,” Ann said.
“Well,” I responded, “it will take a lot of hard work, but I believe it’s worth a try. I’m personally interested to see if this experiment works and if our hypothesis is true. I would like to meet with you regularly throughout this process—perhaps every two weeks—and I would like you to keep records on the positive words of affirmation that you give Glenn each week. Also, I would like you to bring me your list of complaints that you have written in your notebook without stating them to Glenn.

Perhaps from the felt complaints, I can help you build specific requests for Glenn that will help meet some of those frustrations. Eventually, I want you to learn how to share your frustrations and irritations in a constructive way, and I want you and Glenn to learn how to work through those irritations and conflicts. But during this six-month experiment, I want you to write them down without telling Glenn.”

Ann left, and I believed that she had the answer to her question: “Is it possible to love someone whom you hate?”

In the next six months, Ann saw a tremendous change in Glenn’s attitude and treatment of her.

The first month, he was flippant and treated the whole thing lightly. But after the second month, he gave her positive feedback about her efforts. In the last four months, he responded positively to
almost all of her requests, and her feelings for him began to change drastically. Glenn never came for counseling, but he did listen to some of my tapes and discuss them with Ann. He encouraged Ann to continue her counseling, which she did for another three months after our experiment. To this day, Glenn swears to his friends that I am a miracle worker. I know in fact that love is a miracle worker.
Perhaps you need a miracle in your own marriage. Why not try Ann’s experiment? Tell your spouse that you have been thinking about your marriage and have decided that you would like to do a better job of meeting his/her needs. Ask for suggestions on how you could improve. His suggestions will be a clue to his primary love language. If he makes no suggestions, guess his love language based on the things he has complained about over the years. Then, for six months, focus your attention on that love language. At the end of each month, ask your spouse for feedback on how you are doing and for further suggestions.

Whenever your spouse indicates that he is seeing improvement, wait one week and then make a specific request. The request should be something you really want him to do for you. If he chooses to
do it, you will know that he is responding to your needs. If he does not honour your request, continue to love him. Maybe next month he will respond positively. If your spouse starts speaking your love
language by responding to your requests, your positive emotions toward him will return, and in time your marriage will be reborn. I cannot guarantee the results, but scores of people whom I have
counseled have experienced the miracle of love.

1. Luke 6:27–28, 31–32.
2. Luke 6:38.

chapter thirteen


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