I mentioned earlier in the year I was trying to force my way through The Five Love Languages, but not that I had finally succeeded.
That was actually a few months ago; I've been mulling it over since then. Immediately upon finishing the book, it didn't make a lot of sense to me. It seemed limiting. What person out there doesn't want compliments and "acts of service" and physical touch and to spend time with their spouse and the occasional thoughtful gift?
I appreciate the idea that you should discover what makes your spouse feel loved and make an effort to do that, but I think this idea is at once overly complicated and overly simplistic.
Near as I can tell, every person in love, in order to feel loved, wants pretty much the same thing:
They want to be paid attention to. That's what the book boils down to, by the way, because there's no asking your spouse what their love language is; you're supposed to look back on your relationship and figure out what sort of thing makes your spouse the happiest. You are, in other words, supposed to pay attention to them.
Not hard. But more difficult than it should be, from some of the things I've seen recently. Lots of people want to shove subtext into simple statements from their spouse. I know the theory exists that women never say what they mean and men always do, but I have seen a lot of evidence that women say exactly what they mean and men (who have been conditioned to believe there's a hidden meaning involved every time we open our mouths--thanks, Cosmo) over think it and try to figure out what's really meant and then wind up going off on a tangent. (I'm sure women are no better, by the way.)
The bloggers I see who have successful marriages all seem to pay attention to their spouses. I still like reading posts from the guys who've been married a while and seeing how they talk about their wives. It's all about paying attention.
And on the converse, you have the troubles that arise whenever one spouse or both doesn't pay attention to the other. I know that every single bit of trouble I have had has been because of this. True story: We had to buy a refrigerator when we moved into this apartment because it was rented without one. The day before we moved in, I told Erik how much I hate side-by-side refrigerators with ice and water dispensers in the door and how much I never want one in my house. One guess what kind of refrigerator he and his mother bought the very next day. I will tell you, I am annoyed every single time I go into the kitchen. (Damned thing was filthy too; I'll let you imagine the imprecations I was muttering while I scrubbed the fucker.) Now I am not sure which of the Love Languages "Don't buy a refrigerator your wife hates to make your mother happy" falls under, but I know it's covered by "Pay attention."
Life, by and large, is made up of little things. There are big happenings too; in my experience usually crises of some sort, but looked at over the course of 40 or 50 years they are few and far between. It's possible for a bad response during a crisis to break your marriage...but I think that poor responses to the little things are far more likely to kill it. Death by a million paper cuts, I guess.
Every day brings a new opportunity to pay attention to the other person. We'd all be a lot better off if we did so.