Loving You Best
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moreSmart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a family ministry consultant and conducts marriage and family seminars around the country; he specializes in marriage education and stepfamily enrichment. He is one of the most widely read authors on stepfamily living in the country. Ron is author of the bestselling book The Smart Stepfamily (and DVD series), The Smart Stepda...more
Gary Chapman joins Ron Deal to talk about loving your blended family members through the five love languages: touch, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, and acts of service.
Loving You Best
Bob: As parents, we realize that, when we love our children well, they thrive. Dr. Gary Chapman says we need to recognize that, when we love them poorly, that has an impact on them as well.
Gary: A child’s love language is words of affirmation, and you give them condemning words. It hurts that child more deeply, emotionally, than it would hurt another child. Or if quality time is their primary love language, and you send them to their room as a means of discipline, for example, that’s severe discipline to that child, whereas another child would go in their room—and they don’t even know they’re being disciplined—they’re in there, playing! [Laughter]
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, February 19th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can we do the best possible job, as parents, of expressing love to our children so that they can most fully receive it? We’re going to talk about that with Dr. Gary Chapman and with Ron Deal today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m wondering, “Did you learn Ann’s love language because she just told you, ‘This is what it is,’ or was it trial and error?”
Dave: I learned it by reading a book, Bob. [Laughter] In some ways, that is true. I mean, no—
Bob: You read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages.
Dave: I read it—seventh year; no, we were married a decade—but I did not understand her love language till I saw it written out.
Ann: We not only talked about it, we did an entire series at our church on it.
Dave: I’m sure a lot of people did; yes.
Bob: You were figuring it out while you’re doing the series; is that what you’re saying?
Ann: We actually wrote a drama skit. A husband was talking to his wife, and he was talking to her in an actual different language. Do you remember that, Dave?
Dave: Yes, yes.
Ann: I can remember this lightbulb going off, thinking: “This is what has been going on in our marriage. I am not hearing Dave, and he’s not hearing me.”
Bob: Do you remember looking at the list of: Physical touch, Quality time, Words of affirmation, Gifts: “What am I missing?” [Laughter]
Dave: Gary doesn’t remember! [Laughter]
Ann: Acts of service.
Bob: Acts of service; thank you, Ann.
So, do you remember looking at that list and going, “Oh, I know what Dave’s is”?
Bob: It was like, “Duh!”
Ann: I can remember thinking, “But I don’t want to give it to him.” [Laughter]
Bob: That’s a program right there!
Ann: This is why we need Ron Deal with us, because he needs to counsel us!
Dave: We have two counselors in here.
Ann: I know!
Dave: Can you guys do some work right now? [Laughter]
Bob: Ron Deal and Gary Chapman joining us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Gentlemen, welcome back.
Gary and Ron: Thank you!
Bob: Gary, of course, is the author of The Five Love Languages, the book that has now sold—how many million?
Gary: Over 12 million now in English.
Bob: How many languages?
Gary: Over 50 languages.
Bob: That’s amazing.
Gary: I’m amazed.
Ron is the head of FamilyLife Blended®,and the author of the book, The Smart Stepfamily, that sold how many—[Laughter]
Ron: Don’t do that to me! I’m not saying. [Laughter]
Bob: Over 100,000 copies sold? That’s not—there’s nothing to sneeze at with that; right?
Ron: Over 150,000.
Bob: There you go!
Ann: Ron, that’s amazing!
Bob: Yes, well done!—and many other books.
Together, they’ve written a book that we think is going to outsell both of those put together. [Laughter] It’s their new book, where they’re talking about love languages and blended families and how these two come together.
Gary, do most people figure out love languages by trial and error; or do they sit down and say: “What do you think yours is?” “What do you think mine is?” Do they have a conversation about it?
Gary: Well, I think, when they understand the concept—that there are different love languages, many of them, of course, are going to the website at TheFiveLoveLanguages.com and taking a free quiz, which tells you what your primary, your secondary, and the other three are.
But I think many of them read the book and, as they read the book, they see themselves. They know who they are; and then they have a conversation and say: “Well, what is yours?” “Is this you…?” “I thought this was yours!”/“No, no, no, this is mine.”
That’s healthy when you’re having a conversation about this. Also, of course, you can have a conversation, not only husband and wife, but also parents and children. If they’re six or eight years old or more they can understand the concept. Even teenagers can get into this. In fact, I have a book for teenagers called A Teen’s Guide to the Five Love Languages.
I think the more the family talks about this concept of love—we all know we love each other in the family—but we want to learn how to communicate it in the best possible way, and we identify everybody’s love language. It’s easier because it’s on the front burner now; we know what we’re talking about.
Ron: Bob, you talked about going out of sixth grade and moving up to eighth grade in terms of your relationship skills. Taking that profile on TheFiveLoveLanguages.com increases your relationship IQ tremendously. I mean, it’s just so simple and straightforward; but when you go, “Oh, that’s…—and it’s not just your primary love language—but it’s: “What’s the dialect related to that?” and “What’s the secondary one?”
I have to tell you—for years, I was wrong about my wife’s love language.
Ann: What do you mean about the dialect?
Gary: Well, as in spoken language, we can speak the same language but with different dialects.
Bob: Said the guy with the Southern drawl. [Laughter]
Gary: That’s right. I speak English in a Southern style; okay? [Laughter] We still can basically understand each other most of the time.
Within the love languages, there are different ways to express those love languages. For example, words of affirmation: words of praise that focus on something you’ve done or your efforts in doing something, or words of encouragement to challenge you to continue working. That’s what I mean by dialects. There are different ways of speaking each of these languages; and sometimes, within the language, you have a preference for a particular dialect within the language.
Ron: I worked with a stepfamily couple, where his first wife, her love language was gifts. His second wife; it was gifts. What he did with his first wife is give her money and say, “Go buy what you want.” She was like, “Yes!” That’s her dialect; right?—“Give me the freedom to get what I want, and then it’s really on target.” He’s like, “Yes, it’s a win-win for both of us.”
The first time he said it to his second wife, “Here’s some money; go get a gift,” she was like, “Keep your money,” you know. “I don’t want that.” What she wanted was a surprise; her dialect in gift-giving is surprise.
Bob: Yes; so this has nothing to do with what we’re talking about; but I just need this advice here, personally. Mary Ann and I—at the bottom of both of our lists would be gifts. When our anniversary comes along, we’re just kind of like, “I’m not getting you anything; are you getting me anything?” “No.” [Laughter] We’re fine with that.
Bob: But then we look and we go, “Have we just short-circuited something in our relationship by minimizing the celebration of this event, by not having modeling for kids that we think this is a big deal?” Do we need to, at least, be giving some kind of nod toward each of these love languages in order for them to be valid? [Laughter]
Dave: All I know is I’m not coming to your house for Christmas. [Laughter]
Ann: Your poor children!
Bob: It’s a pretty low-key affair, I know. I have daughters/I have kids who could tell you stories about how Dad went out and bought the cheap one instead of the real one.
Dave: Do you put a Christmas tree up? Do you even have one?
Bob: Depends on who’s coming home for Christmas. [Laughter]
Gary: Yes, I do think that, for anniversaries and birthdays, almost everybody expects something. It doesn’t have to be a gift; it may be going out to a really nice restaurant, which in a sense is a gift; but in some way, celebrating it a little different from the normal day and letting the kids see that.
Bob: Yes; we’ve looked back and said, “I think we minimized some things that we should have made a bigger deal out of,” just as a way to say, “This really is important,” and to say it to our kids, and to our community, and to others around us.
Ann: Especially, possibly, for those kids that had that style of dialect or even their love language.
Bob: “Do Mom and Dad even love each other?—because they don’t love the way I think they should.” Yes, yes; that makes sense. Okay; thank you for that five minutes of personal therapy that I needed right here. [Laughter]
Let me come back to this issue of how the love languages blend together with blended families. My question, I think, is: “If you’re in a blended family—you’re a new stepdad—you want to connect with your step-kids, maybe even with your spouse, but there just seems to be—you seem shut out. You’re trying to go easy and slow, and not come on like a charging herd, but everything you’re trying to do just gets rebuffed.”
I’m not talking about, for a couple of days; I’m talking about for months. At some point, you’re going, “The definition of insanity is just trying to do this over and over again. I’ll just back off, and we’ll just coexist.” What do you do?
Ron: Yes; well, first of all, let’s get inside there. There’s pain; I mean, that’s hard on a step-parent. They’re putting forth their best foot—they are giving all/they are trying—and it’s just falling flat.
That speaks to another reason for this book. Adults and children sometimes have different definitions of what love will look like, and my motivation toward love will vary according to things going on in my life. When I say different definitions of love, sometimes step-children go, “Yes, I’m respectful to my step-parent,” but if you ask the step-parent that, they go, “No, they disrespect me,” because they have different definitions of what respect looks like in that relationship.
Motivations toward love are going to be affected by loyalties to other people/how much hurt I feel in my heart. It’s hard to really love anything, especially something new, when you’re really sad over something that you’ve lost in the past that meant a great deal to you. If a parent dies, for example, that’s just devastating to a child. To reposition your heart to again move toward love and outward affections, that’s just challenging; right? The step-parent’s ready to receive and give and the child just isn’t.
One of the things we’re saying here is: “What, sometimes, feels like rejection for step-parents is really just a confused child. It’s really just a child who’s preoccupied in their sadness.” It’s not so much, “I reject you”; but it’s, “I don’t have space for you.”
Ann: Gary, is there a way that the bio parent can encourage their spouse in this endeavor as they become discouraged?
Gary: I think so. Again, speaking their love language is a key issue; so that the new spouse now knows that they really do feel loved by me/by your spouse. Expressing appreciation for their efforts—to say: “I really appreciate what you tried. I noticed the way Bob pushed you back; but I really appreciate the fact that you tried; you don’t give up.”
I think, again, this is where this book is going to help that step-parent know more effectively what to do, how to do it, what level they need to be reaching out in the love language of the child.
Bob: Should the bio parent go to the child and say: “Hey, your stepmom” or “…your stepdad is just trying to connect with you. Can you just open up a little bit and help us out here?”
Ron: You know, I have mixed feelings about that. I think the first thing to do is turn it back to the child. Let them be the center for a second: “What’s going on?” “What does this feel like to you?” “What’s happening when this, and this, and this happens?” Try to draw out what is underneath the surface in that child. That will give you a sense of where you need to go next. Sometimes, you can just commiserate with a child, and hug him if it’s sadness, and talk about that sadness, “Yes, I get it.”
Then put words on it: “It’s really hard to make room for your stepmom in your heart when you just miss your mother; is that it?” See, children don’t have the ability to really put words on that experience very well, especially younger children. Actually, as I think about it, I don’t think teenagers do, either. When you help put words on that experience, then, all of a sudden, they’re like, “Yes, I guess that is it.”
The next step there is to say, “Yes, of course, you’re never going to stop missing your mother; period; end of story. I’m wondering if you can just add on some space to your heart to make room for your stepmom? It wouldn’t be replacing your biological mother; it wouldn’t be getting rid of her—just maybe an extra room on the side of the house.”
Dave: All your literature about stepfamilies—the pace of integration—I’ve heard seven years, and I’ve also heard you say it’s really based on the children. Either one of you guys, talk about that with love languages in a blended family—how do you pace that? Because if you push too hard, you’re really violating something; but if it’s really slow, how does a parent stay patient to say, “Okay, I’m going to let this be along their pace, not mine”?
Gary: I really think that the key issue is what Ron was speaking about; and that is, listening to that child and finding out where that child really is and what’s going on inside of them: “What are you feeling?” “Why do you respond this way to your stepmom?” or “…your stepdad?”
I think the more you understand the child and identify with that—and say: “Honey, I can see how you would feel that way. I can see how that’s been very, very painful for you; and I’m with you. You know, we’re going to walk this road together,”—it’s not preaching to them and telling them what they ought to do, but it’s just identifying with their pain. When a child feels understood, they’re more likely to begin to open their hearts.
Ann: I like the way you worded that, Ron, as the bio parent is talking to their child: “I’m wondering if…” instead of, “Why aren’t you…?” If you’re going after them, it’s so shaming. They already feel bad about it, probably, but by asking, “I’m wondering if you could…” you’re kind of asking them and getting permission.
Ron: Exactly; you’re entering into a dialogue with them. You’re guiding them in the process, but you’re tuning into what’s going on with them. I mean, Gary really just said it well: “When you focus on that child, you earn the right to then, perhaps, lead them in a new direction.” It’s easier at that point to say: “Yes, you don’t have to love. By the way, you were a little snippy; and you may not treat your stepmom that way”; right? We’ve just added a little boundary around being courteous, and being kind, and being decent. That’s not to demand love from the child, but here’s the irony—if you get a child to act courteous, and kind, and decent, you’ve actually helped them move one step closer to the step-parent.
Back to your original question: “How do you help a step-parent pace?” It’s easy to say, “It’s hard to do.” I really think the answer: “I think a lot of rejection can be overcome by a slow, persistent, stubborn love. If you just don’t push too hard, but you just meet them where they are, and you continue to remain loving, even in the midst of their confusion—their hesitation, them remaining distant; it might even be flat-out rejection—I think you can wear people down. I think you can wear children down to the point, where they go, “You know, it’s undeniable; you have been there for me over, and over, and over.”
The trick in order to sustain that is that the step-parent really has to find a way to be okay not getting anything in return for a long time. That, of course, is a huge sacrifice and very challenging. As Gary said, if their spouse is coming along beside them, going, “Look, you are amazing,” that really helps.
Bob: Yes; talk about the idea of stepping on each other’s—stepping on our languages; is that what you’re talking about in the book? What is that idea all about?
Gary: It’s using the love language in a negative way. For example, if a child’s love language is words of affirmation, and you give them condemning words, it hurts that child more deeply, emotionally, than it would hurt another child. Or if quality time is their primary love language, and you send them to their room as a means of discipline, for example, that’s severe discipline to that child; whereas another child would go in their room—and they don’t even know they’re being disciplined—they’re in there, playing! [Laughter]
We have to think in terms of how the opposite of their love language affects them; it’s always very deeply felt. For example, if gifts is their love language, and you gave them a gift for a birthday; and your discipline is you’re going to take the gift and put it in the trunk of the car for two days because they disobeyed—severe discipline to that child. So yes, I think it’s important to understand that.
Ron: When you add the layer of step-parenting onto that, it makes it triple severe. A biological parent, who uses harsh words against their own child, it’s stepping on their love language.
Ron: But because of the bond that the parent and the child have, you’re going to survive that. The child’s going to cut you a break, if you apologize in particular, and they’re going to forgive you.
Bob: Because there’s some level of trust that exists.
Ron: It’s already established. But with a step-parent, when you have this fragile relationship, and you are harsh and step on their love language, you have really potentially put yourself in a deep hole that is really hard to climb out of. It is a much different journey for the step-parent who does that than the biological parent.
Bob: I’m hearing you talk about this; and I’m thinking: “So if I do want to have discipline with a child that they’re really going to feel, and I know that sending them to their room is something that is going to be harsh, that’s what I’m going to pick; because I don’t want to send them to their room if that doesn’t sting. Don’t we want a little sting in what we do?”
Gary: We do; but I think, in discipline, it’s very helpful if you decide the consequences when you make the rule: “If you do this, here’s what happens,” “If you do this, here’s what happens.” I would tend to leave that severe discipline if they’re not responding to what is more—
Bob: —to the gentler kinds?
Gary: —yes, to the gentler kind; then that might be a possibility. But especially, in a blended family, I would say that should be the last resort; maybe never the resort. But if the child knows what the consequences are before they break the rule, then they know what’s coming and you know what’s coming; and they’re far more likely to accept it.
Dave: Yet, I’d also think, if I’m a stepdad, coming in, I’m never going to pick the harsh one; because I’m trying to win their favor. I now know what their love language is; yet, I should at some times; but I’m so afraid because I want to win, win, win.” What do they do?
Ron: Ephesians 6: “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children.” Stepfathers can exasperate their children real fast.
Ron: You really have to calculate: “Do you want to take a fragile relationship and make it more fragile?” I don’t think you do.
Bob: Who do you think is going to pick up this book, and read it, and go, “That’s a game-changer for us”?
Ron: You know, there’s a chapter on grandparenting and step-grandparenting. There’s a chapter on marriage; there’s a chapter on parenting and step-parenting: “What’s a step-parent’s role in this?” “How does the love language get played out in all of those domains?”
I think a single parent, who is perhaps dating—perhaps even not dating—but any couple that is engaged/definitely planning to get married; a couple in a blended family; and people who provide support and guidance to blended family couples: pastors, teachers, counselors—this is a book that’s really practical. It will help you get below the surface and understand, “Why in the world does this brilliant stuff that Gary Chapman wrote work for everybody else but us?” Then it’s going to show you how to make the principles work for you; it’s just a matter of application.
Bob: This would be foundational to this new step-family relationship; because for all of us, understanding love languages has been one of those things we can point to in our marriage and say: “This has made our marriage better,” “This has made our parenting better,”—the fact that we’ve known. To apply it in a blended family, this is going to make your blended family better.
Ann: I’m imagining seeing a family sit around and even have this discussion. It’s fun to discover what other people—what makes them feel loved—so I like the idea of a family having this discussion.
Ron: We’re raising the awareness.
Bob, I just remembered we did a survey before doing this book. I surveyed people, who were familiar with the five love languages principles, and asked them how they applied them in their family and what their experience had been. Seventy percent of them said that they had experienced some measure of confusion when it came time to implement the strategies in their blended family. It’s because of the differing dynamics that are at play in blended families. The principles hold true, period; but how you apply them takes some wisdom.
Bob: Well, we have the wisdom now in book form in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; and our listeners can go online to get a copy of it.
Gentlemen, thank you, not only for the time here this week to talk about this, but thanks for the labor in this book that I think is going to help a lot of couples. Glad to have you guys here.
Gary: Thank you.
Ron: Thank you.
Bob: Yes; you know, we think this subject is so helpful/so important, we’ve decided, this week, we’re going to just make your book available to listeners, who will support the ministry with a donation. We want to get this in the hands of as many people as possible, either for their own family; or I’ve been talking to a lot of people, who are handing this book out as gift to folks they know in blended families, as a way to open the door for possible gospel conversations.
If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation online, or you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate, you can request a copy of Gary Chapman and Ron Deal’s book, Building Love Together in Blended Families. We’re happy to send it out to you. We appreciate your support of this ministry. Your donations make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people, every day, to receive practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families. More people are listening more often these days because they have access to this program as a podcast, or through their Alexa device, or streaming from our website, or listening on their local radio station. So, thanks for your support; and we hope you enjoy your copy of Ron and Gary’s book.
By the way, Ron and Gary are going to be speaking together at the Blended & Blessed one-day live event. This is on April 25th in Houston, Texas. If you live in or around the Houston area, you’re invited to come out and hear them together, along with Laura Petherbridge, Bill Butterworth, and others. There’s information about this live event on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you don’t live in Texas, but you’d still like to be a part of the event, it’s available as a livestream event for your church, or for your small group, or just in your home. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link there that will get you the information on how you can be part of this livestream event. Again, the date is April 25th; that’s a Saturday—the 2020 Blended & Blessed livestream event; find out more when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Tomorrow, we want to talk about how your son or your daughter/your college-age son or daughter can have a very different kind of college experience than what the average college student is experiencing these days. Because, let’s be honest, most of us don’t want our kids to experience all that the average college kid is experiencing. We’re going to talk tomorrow with Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills about that. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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