“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 […].” The Five Love Languages, p. 83

The Sixth Love Language

Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages has sold more than ten-million copies in the last twenty-five years. It represents, perhaps, the best kind of popular psychology because it is simple without being easy or reductive. The book is simple because, according to Mr. Chapman,  there are only five love languages.

The Five Love Languages are:

  1. Words of Affection
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Gifts
  4. Quality Time
  5. Physical Touch

This is an absurdly easy book to read, and the concepts are easy to grasp, but  it is not an easy philosophy follow.  In order to learn to speak your partner’s love language, you must first be able to first practice what I see as the Sixth Love Language: Attentive Self-Restraint.

A Lesson from Siri in Attentiveness

What is Attentive Self-Restraint? We can take a page from Siri on this one.

For Apple users, Siri is always on. She’s there, in the background, waiting to answer your question. Unless you turn your phone off, throw it in the river,  or drive over it with your car, Siri is quietly present, listening for you to need her. As a computer program, she can’t be “attentive” in the same way my dog is, but unlike Steve the Jack Russell Terrier, she doesn’t need nurturing in return.

Siri is just there, regardless of what you say or do.

The fact that Siri is a program without feelings of her own makes it much easier for her to pay attention to us all the time. She doesn’t need to work, sleep, or go to the bathroom, much less feel good or bad about the world around her.

Real people can be hurt by our words or actions and that can make them leave, lash out, or sit passively-aggressively at the family reunion rolling her eyes every time you mention how much you love them.

Attention is a cheap and easy commodity for Siri. For us humans, it can be unbearably difficult at times. Learning the art of Attentive Self-Restraint takes lots of time, practice, and, well, self-restraint. Even for people who are natural listeners!

If you Think they “Owe You” you’re Getting it Wrong

Attentive Self-Restraint does not involve nagging or shutting down; it has nothing to do with demanding that our needs be met or assuming that they never will be. What I’m calling Attentive Self-Restraint is simply a quiet, attentive presence, a readiness to respond with our best efforts to our loved ones.

We must be present enough to hear our partner’s calls for love and affection enough of the time. And we need the same of them.

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick

More than Affection or Acts of Service, Gifts, Quality Time or Physical Touch, the Five Love Languages, like all good couple’s counselling, gives us ideas about how to practice this kind of self-restraint.

Gary Chapman’s a smart guy, he knows that if he tells couples to sit down and shut up, they will tune out and walk away. Rightfully so! Obviously, he didn’t help thousands of couples and make millions of dollars by being a jerk. He’s helpful because he’s able to tell couples to shut up and listen in a hundred different ways, all of which make them actually want to do the hard work. He might not be the best at cloaking an urgent message in a palatable form, but he’s pretty darn good at it.

(By the way, my all time favourite rephrasing of “Sit down, shut up, and pay attention, for Pete’s sake!” comes from the Circle of Security people who tell parents to, “Wait, Watch and Wonder” so they can be “Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, and Kind” – that is the most brilliant way of telling grownups to stop acting like tantruming toddlers that I’ve ever encountered!)

How Many Different Ways Can You Say, “Shut Up and Listen”?

If you own The Five Love Languages, you might want to go back and scan it, looking for all of the ways Mr. Chapman tells us to hold our tongues and listen – until we can speak our partner’s language, at least.

If you don’t own a copy, here are a few of Gary Chapman’s nod’s to the effectiveness of what I’m calling Attentive Self-Restraint:

  1. “Don’t say [the critical thing again and again]” (p. 39)
  2. [S]uspend[…] your complaints about the things you do not like. (p. 49)
  3. [I]n order to keep [real love] alive, most of us will have to put forth the effort to learn a secondary love language. (p. 33, italics mine)
  4. Ignoring our partner’s love languages is like ignoring the needs of a garden: if we don’t weed, water, or fertilize, it will die a slow death. (p. 122, italics mine)
  5. “[I]t will take a lot of hard work, but I believe it’s worth a try” (p. 160)

Attentive Self-Restraint, it seems, is the primary language that we must first learn in order to effectively speak the love language of your partner.

As the Marshmallow Test shows, being able to delay gratification also helps in other areas of our lives too!

Forgive Me for Saying This But…

When we demonstrate Attentive Self-Restraint, we stop treating others as if they are clones of us who crave the same signs of affection we need, and we begin to get curious about what matters to them. It’s a case of ‘Do unto others what they would have you do unto them,’ – and not what we would have done unto us (Sorry Jesus).

Not everyone who tries gains fluency in their partner’s love language, but like holding a golf club in a lightning storm, it greatly increases the chances of finding a spark! And it can shock us to learn just how simple it is to meet our partner’s needs once we stop treating our loved ones like less rational versions of ourselves and try a little mindfulness. Even a moment of Attentive Self-Restraint goes a long, long way.

The Paper the Love Note is Written on

So maybe attentive self-restraint isn’t just another language, perhaps it is the medium that makes communication in any language possible. Perhaps it makes more sense to think of it as the paper that the love letter is written on, or the PVR taping the baseball game.

Or maybe, like me, you choose to think of Attentive Self-Restraint as being just like my beautiful dog lying there, right beside my chair until he hears the gate open and he knows a client has come and he needs to go greet them.

Attentive Self-Restraint is the medium on which the message is shared. It is the ear that hears. It is the tree offering shade. Attentive Self-Restraint is the arms ready to hug as well as the shoulder ready to be cried on.

Attentive Self-Restraint is the muscle able to swing the hammer and the hand ready to scrub the bathtub.

That last one reminds me that it’s Thursday, and I’d better get cleaning.

My wife, after all, is an Acts of Service person, and nothing, absolutely nothing, makes her feel more loved by me, her husband, than when I do my share of chores around the house. And not the chores I like to do, but the ones that matter to her that I do.

And me? What’s my love language? Thanks for asking! As you’ve possibly guessed already, I’m a Quality Time guy – just like my dog.