Exclusive! Dr. Chapman gets personal about his own marriage while providing smart advice for yours.
[Editor's note: It was his own marriage of 40+ years—plus 35 years of pastoring and marriage counseling—that led Dr. Gary Chapman to publish his first book, The Five Love Languages: How To Express Heartfelt Commitment To Your Mate. It went on to become a best seller, and as a widely-respected expert on love and relationships, he's sharing his relationship wisdom right here with YourTango.]
YourTango: What was the last thing you did to show your wife that you love her?
Dr. Chapman: I was leaving for a business trip and would be gone for several days. Before I left, I made a point to take out the trash so my wife wouldn't have to do this in my absence. You say, "take out the trash, why is that a loving thing to do?" Well, my wife's love language is Acts of Service, and in her mind this is a very loving and thoughtful thing to do, and she appreciates me taking care of it for her. Making the effort to do this and other things that are important to her fills her love tank, and I leave for my trip knowing my wife is happy.
YourTango: What's the best love advice you ever heard?
Dr. Chapman: Before I discovered the concept of the 5 love languages, a bit of advice I was given was to become a student of my wife and to take time to learn what makes her feel loved. I soon learned that what makes her feel loved may not always be the thing I want to do because it may not come natural to me. But learning to love her in the way that makes her feel loved is a greater demonstration of my love for her, because I've chosen to do it with a goal of pleasing her.
YourTango: How do you keep your relationship solid and happy?
Dr. Chapman: Many years ago, my wife and I made a commitment to keep the love alive in our marriage and one of the things we do to make that happen is we invest in our lives as a couple and individually. Every year, we make plans to attend a marriage enrichment event and we also choose to read a book together on the topic. This gives both of us a time to learn new things, like how to deal with conflicts in a constructive way. It opens the door for discussions about deeper issues that are on our hearts, and I'm referring to things that go beyond what we face on a daily basis, as well as showing us what we're doing that's right for our relationship.
One other thing is my wife and I make a point to set a date night on the calendar once a month and we don't let anything interfere with those plans. We usually choose a special place where we like to go for dinner or an event in our area, and we look forward to enjoying our time together. We might enjoy just being quiet or we may pick a topic that we like to discuss and spend time interacting with each other; this is not a time for bringing up difficult issues or resolving conflict. Our commitment to keeping a date night has become a special time we thoroughly enjoy and encourage others to do the same.
YourTango: What's your most romantic memory?
Dr. Chapman: About two years ago, my wife was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and it rocked our world. She began a round of chemotherapy that left her very ill, weak, and eventually she lost all her hair. My wife is a beautiful woman who lives life to the fullest, loving and caring for people, and she is my very best friend in this world. Seeing her suffer was the hardest thing I've faced in life and there wasn't anything I could do to relieve her from the effects of the treatment she was receiving.
One day, I came home from work and I walked in our bedroom and saw her laying on the bed, feeling poorly, and at that moment I realized, in a deeper way than any time before, how my life has been blessed because of her and I would not be the man I am today without her. Nothing has ever been more romantic to me than that day when I recognized I am truly and deeply loved by a wonderful woman. She has made a remarkable recovery and doing well. Together, we say every day is romantic because every day is a precious gift!
YourTango: What's your tango?
Dr. Chapman: What energizes me is working with people as I have done for over 40 years in my counseling office and at the marriage seminars where I teach principles that help create healthy, loving, long-lasting relationships. I consider it a privilege to help people understand the positives and negatives within their relationship, and I have dedicated my career to help them start where they are at and learn what steps they can take that will move them forward in all their relationships.
YourTango: Do you believe in love at first sight?
Dr. Chapman: I do believe there can be a strong attraction to someone when you first meet. I call these feelings the "tingles" and this is when all your senses are heightened. The world looks brighter and everything about life and about getting to know this new person is exciting. However, as a counselor, I have learned and my research shows that this feeling I call the tingles will last about two years and then we come down off the high. At that point we are faced with the challenge to make a decision to continue to build a relationship with this person, or we discover that we really don't have much in common and may not be well-suited for each other for a long-term relationship.
YourTango: If you could tell your younger self something you've since learned about love, sex, and/or relationships, what would that be?
Dr. Chapman: What I have learned and wish I would have known in my early years of marriage is how to express love to my wife in the way that matters most to her and not in the way that I want to be loved. I found that we loved each other yet we didn't feel loved and it was as if we were always missing each other. That's what led me to discover the concept I developed years later called The 5 Love Languages. When we demonstrate love to the other person in their primary love language, the tension in the relationship goes down, as it did in my marriage, and the love can flow freely and each person feels loved.
YourTango: What's the most meaningful compliment your wife ever paid you?
Dr. Chapman: My wife told me, "Honey, you're the best husband on earth!" She has said that to me many times over the years, and I never get tired of hearing her repeat it.
YourTango: Do you believe in "The One"?
Dr. Chapman: There is a romantic side of me that says I do believe in "The One." We meet someone and love becomes alive! We can't eat, can't think straight or get things done; we are blindly caught up in this new and exciting relationship. But the practical side of me says differently because our lives are constantly challenged with choices: choices for a career, where to go to school, where to live, and so on. Relationships are no different. When we're in a new relationship that seems to sweep us off our feet, all things seem wonderful and we're convinced there couldn't possibly be anything that would interrupt our new relationship.
But we know that's not true, and over time relationships have a way of pulling back the curtain of our true selves, and conflict begins to enter in. That doesn't mean we should end the relationship and run in the other direction, but this is the point where it gets down to choosing whether or not we stay and work things out. Being confident that we're with "the one" certainly helps us make the commitment to stay and work things out. It also encourages us to invest in our relationship and build on our strengths and work on our weaknesses.
YourTango: How do you resolve disagreements with your wife?
Dr. Chapman: Resolving differences with your spouse or significant other is essential for keeping love alive. Unresolved issues or hurt feelings don't go away with time and they will eventually begin to erode the foundation of the relationship. Many people won't or they don't know how to give and/or receive an apology. We all make mistakes and disappoint someone, but if we are willing to deal with our failures by expressing a sincere apology, we can restore what's been broken and go on with our lives. My approach with my wife is to find a place where we can sit down and talk, face to face with no distractions. This means turning the cell phones off, friends!
We give each other our undivided attention so that we can create a safe atmosphere that will allow us to express hurt feelings and the concerns that relate to the conflict. We take turns talking to each other, not at each other, without interrupting the other before they've had time to finish their thought. I find it helpful to repeat back to my wife what she's just expressed so that I am clear about what she's telling me. When we get to the point where we understand the issue that caused the hurt, then one of us willingly gives an apology and the other accepts it. Our trust is restored, the air is cleared, and we can go on loving and serving each other. I deal with this topic more thoroughly in my book, When Sorry Isn't Enough.
YourTango: What's the one thing about your wife that has surprised you the most?
Dr. Chapman: I am an introvert and my wife is an extrovert. During our early years, I saw this as a negative personality trait in her and I couldn't understand why she would do things so spontaneously. I, on the other hand, wanted to make detailed plans and follow them to completion. After many years of learning about what makes her who she is, I began to value and appreciate her spontaneity and her open-minded approach to life.
Many, many times she has convinced me to try new things or to do something on the spur of the moment that I would never have considered doing. Much to my surprise, after going along with her idea, I end up really enjoying myself, and experiencing something new that I would not have tried if she hadn't insisted. She's helped me have a number of wonderful and meaningful experiences that I otherwise would have missed.