Wholly Living

EXTENDED: Love Is Not Blind

"There's nothing more powerful you can do for anyone than to love them unconditionally." – Dr. Gary Chapman

It’s intentional.

Dr. Gary Chapman, the highly regarded marriage counselor and author, helps couples learn to work together intentionally by guiding them through the languages of love and apology to reach the goals of unconditional love and spreading love’s impact in the world. In this interview with Jeff McDonald and Elizabeth Hanley, the author of “The Five Love Languages” (with more than 13 million copies in print) reveals how young people can best prepare for marriage and how couples can find ways for each to grow into the joy and purpose which the love of God makes possible.

You point out in your book “Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married” that we do little to prepare young people for marriage. Do you know of cultures that could serve as a model of preparation?

Gary Chapman: No modern culture really stands out as a model for marriage preparation. I think it’s weak in most cultures. We put far more into preparing for our vocation than we do preparing for marriage. Maybe that’s why we’re more successful in our vocations than we are in our marriage. If you ever think you’re going to get married, you ought to be learning something about the dynamics of marriage. 

I’m speaking from experience because my wife and I had one hour with the pastor who married us. We didn’t read any books, and it showed up in our marriage because in the early years, we had lots and lots of struggles. A lot of that could have been avoided if we have had the proper preparation.

How do you define love particularly as it applies to dating and marriage?

There’s really two kinds of love. There is the experience that we call falling in love, which is very euphoric and doesn’t require a lot of effort. It just grabs you. It’s romantic. The other person seems to be the most wonderful person in the world. The average lifespan of that euphoric experience is about two years. Then we come down off the high and that’s where love has to become much more intentional. You do have to work it. It’s intentional and that’s where the five love languages I talk about in my book become very helpful. It lets you know how to express love in a way that’s meaningful to the other person emotionally. 

I suppose it’s a lot easier to start off with that at the beginning of marriage rather than changing later in a marriage. 

It’s ideal if before you get married, you understand each other’s love language –then when you come down off the high, you hardly miss it because you are communicating love in a meaningful way. But at whatever stage couples get the concept they can look back and say, “Oh, now I see what happen. We had not been speaking each other’s love language. So let’s give it a try,” and emotional love can be reborn. We all desperately need to feel loved then if you’re married the person you would most like to love you is your spouse. 

Is it best for people dating or considering marriage to look for shared interests and traits in common in a marriage partner? 

You know the old saying is, that opposites attract. The fact is all of us are opposites. None of us are the same. What’s important is that we understand each other’s traits so you’re prepared to handle those differences once you get married. I’m a morning person, my wife’s a night person. Before we got married, I had this dream of we’ll have breakfast together. We’ll have devotions together. We’ll pray in the morning and we’ll start our day off together.” I got married and I found out she didn’t wake up fully till 10. The more we can understand what the implications are of personality differences for our lifestyle, the better it’s going to be. You want to make those differences assets rather than liabilities.

The institution of marriage is changing, given the number of children of divorce, the changing roles of men and women, new attitudes towards gender and childbearing. what are the problems that young people are facing in terms of marriage today?

With all of the diverse ideas related to marriage today, we have not come up with a better plan than the biblical plan. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Okay, so you’re married to a sinner. You get the chance to love them like Christ loved us.  One man, one woman in a covenant relationship with each other for a lifetime. That provides the best possible environment in which to raise healthy children. All the research indicates that. In homes where the mom and dad are loving, supportive, caring for each other, it creates an atmosphere where a child can grow up and be emotionally healthy. We know that children whose parents divorce have emotional struggles. This is not to put down people who are divorced. Wherever we are, the more we come back to the biblical concept of marriage, the better it’s going to be not only for us but for our culture and for our children. That’s why I have such a passion for helping couples wherever they are so they can work together and accomplish great things for God and good in the world. 

How can someone deal with hurtful memories and how can couples avoid falling into well-worn habits and patterns of behavior?

We will not have long-term healthy marriages without apologizing and forgiving. None of us are perfect. You don’t have to be perfect to have a good marriage, but you do have to deal with your failures. That means we had to be honest when we do fail, apologize and then we choose to forgive. Forgiveness, essentially, is lifting the penalty. I’m not going to make you pay for what you did to me. It’s removing the emotional barrier between the two of us so that our relationship can go forward. It’s a choice. It’s a decision we make. But offering forgiveness does not destroy the memory. Everything we’ve ever experienced in life is stored in the human brain and from time to time it jumps from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. When the hurt, the anger, the disappointment comes back, what do you do with that? You take it to God and you say, “Lord, you know what I’m remembering today and you know what I’m feeling again but I thank you that I forgave that. Now, help me to do something good today.” You don’t allow the memory and the emotions to control your behavior because if you do, you will lash out your spouse, you’ll move away from the pardon and you’ll try to let them pay for what they did. But if we do something positive then the emotions will subside and the memory will fade. A memory and the emotions that come with it don’t have to control our behavior.

What do you say to people who are beyond the point of wanting to try?

Many times, when people decide to see a counselor, they are looking for confirmation that they should go ahead and divorce. What I ask is, “Will you work on your marriage? I can understand how you get to that place where you don’t want to work on the marriage, but will you work on the marriage?” If they’re willing, things can happen. We are not slaves to our emotions. We can say “I’m going to work on this even though I don’t feel like working on this.” If we begin to change some things, the emotions catch up with the behavior.

What would you say is the biggest pitfall couples are making that cause a relationship to suffer or fail?

If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be selfishness. We are by nature, self-centered. Now, there’s a good part to that. That means we feed ourselves. We get sleep. We get exercise. We take care of ourselves. But when that self-centeredness becomes selfishness, I’m looking at this relationship in terms of what am I getting out of it rather than how am I contributing to the well-being of my spouse, which is love. Love is the opposite of selfishness. It’s the most powerful influencer in the world for good. There’s nothing more powerful you can do for anyone than to love them unconditionally. In marriage, it’s loving them unconditionally no matter how they treat you, but you’re also loving them in their love language so that your love is getting through to them emotionally. We can’t change our spouse but we can influence our spouse and love is the greatest positive influence we can have.

On the flip side of that, what is the best thing that someone can do to help a relationship succeed?

Three things are essential.  One is keeping love alive in the relationship. Keeping the emotional love alive and meeting the emotional need for love. Another essential is dealing with our failures. Being within an open and honest about our failures and apologizing and then choosing to forgive. The third would be learning to manage our anger in a positive way. All humans experience anger. I believe it’s because we’re made in the image of God. The Psalm 7:11 says “God is angry every day with the wicked.” When our sense of right is violated, we feel angry. So the emotion of anger is not a sin. That’s why the Bible says, “When you are angry, don’t sin.” It’s easy to sin when you’re angry. I think mismanaged anger has destroyed thousands of marriages, hurt many children and broken many friendships. 

What would you say is the most common misconception about marriage?

Probably that the euphoric feelings of being in love are going to stay with us forever. We can hardly wait to be together. When we’re apart we’re thinking about each other all the time. When we do get married, we’re both going to be happy forever. That’s the misconception we get from movies and novels. The reality is that happiness is not something that we have always and forever in a relationship. Some days we’re happy and some days we’re not so happy. But the marriage from the biblical perspective is a covenant. It’s not a contract. It’s not, “I’ll do this, if you do that.” It’s “I’m here to enrich your life. How can I help you? How can I make your life easier? How can I be a better husband? How can I be a better wife?” It’s that attitude that makes a marriage not only successful but makes it very, very satisfying to both of us. 

Switching topics to what you talk about in your book, “When Sorry Is Not Enough,” what are the steps for getting a good apology?

People miss each other in their apologies, and they don’t perceive the other person’s sincerity, because we have different ideas on what it means to apologize. So we’re trying to help people learn how to apologize effectively by learning what the other person considers to be a sincere apology, so you can express it in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Most of us learned how to apologize from our parents, or we learned not to apologize from our parents. My research indicates that about 10% of the general population almost never apologizes for anything, and most of them are men. The fact is, real men, do apologize. 

Little Johnny pushes sister down the stairs and his mother says, “Johnny, don’t do that to sister. Go, tell her you’re sorry.” So Johnny says, “I’m sorry,” even if he’s not. He’s 23 now. He’s married. He hurts his wife. He says “I’m sorry.” But his wife had a different set of parents. They showed her another way to apologize. So he’s saying, “I’m sorry,” he thinks he’s apologizing and she doesn’t see that that’s sincere because in her mind, that’s not the way you apologize. 

We discovered in our research that there are fundamentally five ways that people apologize. One of them is expressing regret, often with the words “I’m sorry.” We’re trying to communicate “I feel badly about what I did. I regret that. I wish I had not done that.” A second one is accepting responsibility. “I was wrong. I should not have done that. No excuse. I accept responsibility.” For some people, this is what they consider to be a sincere apology. A third way is offering to make restitution. “How can I make this right? How can I make this up to you?”  For some people, if you don’t express that, then in their mind you are not sincere. Then there is what we call genuinely repenting. Which means we’re expressing the desire to change our behavior. “I don’t like what I did, I don’t want to do that again. Can we get a plan so I won’t do that again?” For some people, if you don’t offer this, you’re not sincere. The fifth way is actually requesting forgiveness. “Will you forgive me? I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me because I value our relationship.” Some people are waiting for you to ask forgiveness, And of course, then, the apology doesn’t restore the relationship. (24:00) Apology opens the door to the possibility, that the relationship can be restored. There has to be a response to an apology, and that’s where forgiveness comes in. So when we choose to forgive then we remove the barrier and now the relationship can go forward.

Is it possible to apologize in the recipient’s apology language and then have them not forgive? And if so, what do you do?

Forgiveness is a choice. We cannot make someone forgive us. So I say to people, “Don’t try to force your spouse to forgive you.” Don’t even quote the scripture to them and say, “Well the Bible says if you don’t forgive me, God won’t forgive you.” Give them time to work through their emotions. They’re deeply hurt and if they’re deeply hurt, your apology doesn’t take away that hurt. It may take a day or two before they can honestly say, “Okay honey, I’m choosing to forgive you.”

You are best known for your book the Five Love Languages with over 13 million copies sold, how has the success of that book impacted you and your career?

It’s been very satisfying to see the way God has used that book to touch so many marriages. It’s been translated and published in over fifty languages around the world. Its because it helps us do what we want to do and that is meet that deep emotional need to feel loved.

You write that marriage is the foundation of society. Are you discouraged by what you see today?

We are in a different place in our culture today and marriage is, is fragile in our culture. At the same time, what I am finding that the younger generations are far more open to prepare for marriage, to read books, to go for counseling and after they’re married they’re far more open to attend marriage conferences and to go for marriage counseling than their parents were. Maybe because they’ve seen their parents go through divorce and they don’t want that. We keep sharing the truth about how to have good marriage relationships because deep down when couples marry, they want to have a good marriage. When I share all the practical things about marriage, I also share that, “I’m giving you information, but I can’t give you motivation. I can tell you where I got my motivation, and that is God changed my heart, gave me a desire to love my wife and serve my wife, and help her become the person that she wants to become and God wants her to become. The spiritual aspect is extremely important in a marriage relationship. We’re not lovers by nature, but our nature can be changed. The Holy Spirit can give us power to love the other person, which goes against the human grain. 

I do Saturday marriage seminars under the umbrella of Moody Publishers in all kind of churches all over the country. And I always share the spiritual dimension, I always share the Gospel. I always share what it means to be a true Christian and how this impacts marriage and I give my own testimony on that. And virtually, every Saturday when I do those seminars, I have people who receive Christ because I ask them to come up and give me their name and address if they have invited Christ to come in and take charge of their lives. Marriage enrichment in the church can be the door which people come into that ultimately leads them to a personal faith in Christ.

How did you come to know the Lord?

I came to Christ really when I was about ten years old. I grew up in the church but when I was ten, I was sitting in church and realized I had never personally responded to Christ. A lot of people have the idea that if you go to church, you’re a Christian. No, no, no. But at ten years of age, I had that deep sense that I need to give my life to Christ. And I did, and it’s the most fundamental decision I ever made. 

People who experience the love of Christ and allow Him to control their lives are agents of love. What would happen in our culture, any culture if a significant number of people became lovers. It would revolutionize things. That’s why I feel so strongly about the spiritual nature of things. With the help of God, we can be lovers and we can impact the world for good.

That kind of decision led to the release in January of a book for young men ages eleven to eighteen called “Choose Greatness: 11 Wise Decisions that Brave Young Men Make I wrote it with Clarence Schuler, an African-American. He and I have been friends since he was sixteen years old, we’re hoping to get into the African American community with that, as well as the Anglo and Hispanic communities, because we’re losing far too many young men before they get to be eighteen.


Visit 5lovelanguages.com for all of Dr. Gary Chapman’s books, downloadable study guides, the quiz to find your love language as well as profiles of married couples, singles, teenagers and children.

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