The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 27, 2000 Issue
Summoned to Serve

Speak the multiple languages of love

There are many ways that we can and should say 'I love you' to those we love

By Tom Rinkoski

Summoned to Serve

In the Gospel for Sunday (Mk 12:30), Jesus repeats the Hebrew Scriptures command to "love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, with all your mind and with all your strength." God is looking, says Jesus, for people who want to give 150%.

There is a wisdom saying that for marriage to be successful it cannot be a 50-50 proposition, each partner has to give 110%. My college daughter is taking a college course entitled, "Discreet Mathematics." The mathematics of love are neither logical nor discreet.

Giving your whole self in love is reduced to fractions in some because of lack of intent, in others because of fear, and in still more because of boredom. One basic place to change your ways is to improve and expand our vocabulary of love.

The ability to speak and share love does not come automatically. We need to learn how to express affection and tenderness in multiple ways that work honestly for the giver, and effectively for the receiver. Love is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger it gets. I remember the athletes I saw in the summer Olympics who put in long and difficult hours to arrive in Sydney, Australia. Or, I recall the hours my son put in practicing the cello, which are behind every movement of the Bach Cello Sonatas.

Watching romance movies is not training for learning the languages of love. To that end, I offer you six basic categories, or different languages of saying, "I Love You" These languages can help us expand our understanding of love and develop our capacity to love within our relationship. We can then be more patient with others and ourselves and conscientiously choose to meet each other's needs.

The first language of love is one that explores the power and potential of spoken and written words. Consider all the time, energy and effort Hallmark puts into picking just the right words for their cards. Listen carefully to some of the great romantic love poetry. My personal favorite is Sonnet XVII from Pablo Neruda. Saying the words, "I love you" is but a place to start. We need to learn to speak words that come from our hearts and minds and soul. The words must not only effectively communicate our feelings, but affectively be meaningful to the receiver.

The second language of love is giving and receiving gifts. Valentine's Day stirs a flurry of choosing just the right gift for the right person. Why do people worry about this so? Because the gift does say something about the giver. Christmas is a time of giving gifts, too. My wife Theresa is a chocolate lover. I like receiving flowers. My son Brian has a wonderful creative sense of gift-giving to his girlfriend. He diversifies.

The third language of love consists of taking action. We are a people who believe actions speak louder than words. Pope John Paul, in his letter on Family Life, said, "Married couples have a critical role in witnessing Jesus Christ to each other and to the surrounding culture." In the musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Dolittle sings, "Don't just talk of love. Show me" We often state that talk is cheap. In any case, there is a time for words, and a time for action.

The fourth language of love is giving quality presence. Giving time continually and regularly is an honored way of showing someone you care. That time together can simply be playing a board game, cooking a dinner or taking a walk. Or, it can be more elaborate and planned such as a vacation, volunteer time together, or regular monthly dates. Do not think this is only about quality of time spent. Quantity is significant.

The fifth language of love is physical affection. There are some people who are born huggers. Words are tasty, gifts are sweet, but it is physical touch that tells the story. This too can be simple as walking hand in hand, a pat on the back or kissing for ten seconds every morning and night. Repeating the same type of physicality will not always work. Creativity is called for. Check out for a web site that gives a different kissing technique for each day of the week.

The sixth language of love is listening. Considerate, thoughtful attention is usually rewarded with attention because it seems like there is so little of it in our world.

Invest 10 minutes in your love life right now. Pick a person you love with whom you want to improve your love life. It might be your wife, your husband, a son or daughter, perhaps your parents. Take pen and paper and write a description of how you would like to be on the receiving end of each of the six languages of love. Are their special words that speak love to you clearer than all others? Follow that by creating a portrait of the words, gifts, actions, time, affection, and listening that you could do to announce love to the person you care about. What do you think says love to her/him in their eyes? After doing that, show what you wrote to the person you love to check out whether you are on target. You might be amazed at what you'll learn.

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)

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