I’ve always had my own theories about the five love languages. I think this is because I’ve never felt consistent with which type of love I speak or receive best; rather, I’ve observed my preferred love language to change with the different people I’ve dated. I always feel my strongest love language to be the one that lacks most in my relationship, or the one that comes least naturally to my partner. It makes sense to me--the idea that a person would feel most loved by receiving that which they lack most; and this theory has remained to be true in my life as I am now married to a man in the military and my love language remains to be quality time.
As Gary Chapman writes in his book The Five Love Languages: Military Edition, it will be common for a military spouse who’s love language is quality time to often feel like his or her “love tank” is depleted during deployments and other military separations. This probably does not come as a shocker to most, since quality time will naturally be a hard dialect of love to speak for two spouses who are apart for months at a time.
My husband and I have been married for almost four years now and we’ve been through one deployment and several separations so far. I thought I’d share some of the things we’ve done and conversations we’ve had to help meet my need for quality time, even when it hasn’t always been easy or convenient. Just as I’d imagine most couples with differing love languages can attest to, this will always be a work in progress for us that I do hope will only get easier and more natural with time.
From experience, I believe the two most important things for a couple to practice in a marriage determined to love each other in the right languages are 1) intentionality and 2) recurrent communication. All of the strategies I list below fall into one or both of these categories:
1. Celebrate the occasion, rather than the day.
I have truly lost count of the birthdays, anniversaries, and special holidays I’ve been apart from my husband. Every military spouse knows the empty feeling of waking up alone on Valentines day, Mothers’ day, your birthday...the days he’s supposed to bring you breakfast in bed or wake you up with donuts and flowers. But instead you have only your own company, or, perhaps the company of young children who don’t know any better than to treat it like any other day. If your love language is quality time, it will hurt a little bit extra to miss days meant to spend together with your spouse in special ways.
Spending holidays apart from one another is a reality no military spouse can avoid, but one every military spouse can make up for. My husband missed both our first and second wedding anniversaries, but sometimes I do forget that -- because they never went uncelebrated. Even though quality time isn’t always high up on his list of love languages, he’s always been good to make up lost celebrations...a surprise trip to San Antonio, an overnight trip to our favorite nearby small town to sit in the creek and go out for a special dinner, a makeshift snowed in Valentines day with hibachi takeout and candlelight dinner, a surprise kayaking trip, an outdoor movie in our backyard.
These efforts of his to make up lost celebrations with me have always been at the top of the list of ways he’s made me feel loved and I make sure to express that to him so he always knows.
2. Good Timing is Everything.
Quality time isn’t something any spouse can expect every single day in real life. The weeks fly by, the work days are long, and kids often consume most of your focus and energy as the day draws to an end. By seven o’clock, my husband and I often crawl into our “me time” shells, eventually making it into each other's arms before we fall asleep for the night.
But, there are some evenings we draw near to each other at the end of long days. I might have had a day where I feel especially isolated from being in the company of just a two year old and I need conversation and companionship -- or my husband craves my warmth and affection after a tolling day at work. These are the times I crave real conversation that dives deeper than “what did you do today” talk. If I catch him at the right time, he is good about taking me seriously and giving me the undivided attention he knows I need in that moment. His ear and his willingness to engage are always precious gifts to me. These are the times where I might try to gently wiggle myself into his mind when I can tell he’s bottling something up, or I might share tensions I’m sensing between us, or it might be the time I express to him a personal issue I’m having or just passing thoughts from the day.
Good timing is important for both spouses to engage in meaningful ways. I usually initiate these talks during times I sense a calmness or stillness in my husband --both signals of approachability and receptibility on his end.
3. Find a babysitter you can rely on.
When you have children, dates don’t just happen on their own. Grandma doesn’t call you up asking if you’d like a night out while she takes the kids. A responsible teenager in trendy jeans doesn’t come knocking on your door to find you. You have to find her!
I recently made an account on Care.com because I realized my husband and I needed an escape every so often, just the two of us--like it used to be. We usually take turns picking our dates--maybe once a month or so--and this works well for us in two ways: it allows us to each have a say and enjoy the activities we’re doing, and it gives my husband the opportunity to get creative and take charge of planning our time together, which shows mastery in speaking my love language.
4. Quality conversation is key.
I have found that quality time and quality conversation go hand-in-hand hand. It’s usually hard for me to feel like I’m getting one without the other.
During separations, quality conversation is really the only form of quality time that can exist in a relationship; and if your husband is a man of little words like my own, this one won’t always come easily--but it will mean the world to you when he tries to engage and take interest in you no matter how far away he is.
During deployment, I remember a few things that helped us out in maintaining frequent quality conversations. First, we didn’t text very much. Instead of texting my husband every thought or event of the day, I kept a little list on my phone of things I wanted to tell him, stories I wanted to share with him. Some days the list was long, and other days not so much. But this little running list kept conversation flowing in the little bits of time we had to connect with each other over the phone.
Another thing that worked well for us was having weekly check-in questions. I remember becoming frustrated many times during deployment, feeling like there were never good opportunities to bring up deep subjects or concerns in my personal life while he was away. Those opportunities don’t present themselves as naturally during intermittent telephone calls with a fifteen hour time difference as they do in person living and breathing next to your spouse. It was a few months into deployment that my husband and I came up with 3 simple questions to routinely ask each other, questions that allowed us to share deeper moments and connect more on an emotional and spiritual level. The questions were:
-What is something you’ve been struggling with this week?
-Name one prayer and one praise you have from this past week
-How can I better serve and love you right now?
These questions usually prompted my husband to bring up various frustrations at work, allowing him to healthily vent from time to time. And I would usually bring up difficulties I was having with our son going through a rough phase, or perhaps I was feeling lonely or having a concern that needed to be discussed. It’s just a reality that tensions will build after significant periods separated from your spouse, and it’s important to make sure they’re resolved before resentment kicks in on either side. These questions kept us emotionally and spiritually connected and accountable with each other.
5. Have balance and boundaries with certain hobbies at home.
My husband is a simple creature, which is part of the reason I love him. If he has his computer games and the gym, he’s a happy camper. While I don’t share those hobbies, I make an effort to respect the ways he likes to unwind in his downtime, just as he supports my habits of plopping on the couch for some Netflix therapy or burying my nose in a book for a bit. My husband and I are opposites in a lot of ways, and with that--comes differing interests and hobbies. So naturally, we don’t spend every evening together and every moment of down time engaging in activity together, and that’s okay!
It is important to respect your spouse’s hobbies, but it is also important to have good communication with balance and boundaries with those hobbies. For instance, my husband does not play his games while our son is awake-- and we have a rule in our marriage that we go to bed together most nights. As long as a hobby doesn’t consume a spouse to a degree where the other spouse’s needs aren’t being met -- hobbies are a healthy thing.
And we have both found that in respecting and allowing each other to have the “me time” that we both need, it makes the quality time we do spend together more meaningful.
Intentionality and communication are both vital in any relationship made up of any love language combination. As the theory of love languages goes, and as Timothy Keller writes in his Meaning of Marriage, we have to learn how to tune to our spouses’ unique love channel. In a marriage where one spouse’s love tank feels empty, it is not usually an indication that he or she is not being shown love by his or her spouse. It might just not be the right dialect.
For instance, I do feel loved when my husband brings me home flowers or comes up behind me while I’m cooking to give me an affectionate hug; but it is when he looks at me and asks if I’d like to go on a date or watch a movie together or sit outside by the fire, or he sits beside me on the couch and inquires about my day -- that I feel completely adored.
I have found that is usually less about the actual way we spend our time connecting; but rather his initiative and his willingness to give me that time--in whatever form that might take. My husband is an extremely independent person who enjoys his alone time so it always makes me feel loved when he asks to spend time with me.
The challenges that present themselves in a military marriage do often complicate the application of the love languages and require spouses to get extra creative in meeting each others’ needs -- but with intentionality and recurrent communication from both spouses, I believe any military spouse can both learn to love and feel loved in their own unique ways.