Saturday, January 09, 2010

NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY WAY, REVIEWING the MESSAGE OF Gary Chapman to the Married World

NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY WAY, REVIEWING the MESSAGE OF Gary Chapman to the Married World

By Kevin Anthony Stoda, Germany

I have just returned from the Philippines, where I spent over a month with my wife. Along the way, I read and reviewed parts of two books by two American authors that have helped me and my marriage. The first book was given to me by my church in Kuwait, just after my wife and I were married in a formal ceremony a year ago. The second book was Gary Chapman’s NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE. I bought this second book while underway in my journeys in Palawan during the weeks my wife and I were establishing a new residence on that island.

The classic book, given to my Kuwait church family, is named HIS NEEDS, HER NEEDS. It was written by Dr. Willard F. Harley in order to help all marriages stay on track, i.e. especially after the honey moon phase or whenever periods of anemone have arisen in the marriage relationship. The subtitle of this book is “Building an Affair Proof Marriage”, but that is only of marginal interest for me in the total work, which seeks to increase mutual companionship, love, and compatibility between married individuals, their behaviors, and their desires over weeks, months, and years of practice involving good planning for their lives and ever-increasing communication skills.

A summary of Dr. Harley’s main concepts can be found here:

However, Willard and his wife’s main passion is to build a more intensive marriage ministry for all. Willard and his wife have learned how to help save marriages after years of failure. They first found the paths toward conceptualizing solutions to marriage conflicts and began to build their counseling just over three decades ago.


I actually read Gary Chapman’s LOVE LANGUAGES OF GOD twice long before I got married, and I found those concepts very useful in talking more subjectively and objectively about similarities and differences of peoples living out of different faiths when I lived and worked in Kuwait.

Recently, I have proposed doing research at several universities and in several cities in Germany on the applicability of Gary Chapman’s LOVE LANGUAGES OF GOD model across faiths and peoples as part of my great interests in promoting better cross-cultural integration in Germany and Europe for the rest of this century.

Chapman’s book, which I am reviewing in this essay, is entitled NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE( Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2004), and takes a broader approach towards marriage counseling than does some of Chapman’s other earlier books. In a way, each chapter is like a new chapter in a textbook. However, the pieces eventually interlock or dovetail, but not as fluidly as in Chapman’s LOVE LANGUAGE series. Nonetheless, each chapter if read and discussed together by each partner in marriage, will certainly meet the subtitle’s intention: The subtitle of the work is “Honest Communication and Deeper Intimacy for a Stronger Marriage.”

Chapman’s thesis is that good communication is the rode to intimacy, and without intimacy there is, naturally, something important missing in maintaining any long term relationship. Chapmen writes: “Good communication requires that we identify and eliminate the unhealthy [elements or communication patterns] and then find new ways of communicating that foster understanding and intimacy. [p.13]”

Chapman, therefore, spends the 2nd chapter in this book discussing four models (or patterns) of “unhealthy” communication common in America and around the globe. I immediately recognized all four unhealthy patterns in my life or in the life experiences of people I have loved. Here are the four unhealthy patterns: the Dove, the Hawk, the Owl, and the Ostrich.

The latter one, the Ostrich, is naturally a pattern of communication where one never talks about the real issues or real problems in their marriage at all—i.e. hoping that problems will take care of themselves. On the other hand, the Dove’s is the unhealthy pattern of always capitulating to the opinion or the will/desires expressed by the other, in order to promote peace and harmony. That other may be a Hawk, who always seems to be blaming everything on others—even if the other has capitulated to their whims. The Owl is the wise one who believes that communication of words is enough to settle matters—and is oblivious to the amount of wasted time and uselessness of words--in cases where feelings are at the heart of a dispute (not the words used to express the feelings).

Amazingly, when I consider years of studying communication patterns among cultures and individuals around the planet, I know individuals (or societies) who believe that either the Dove, the Hawk, the Owl or the Ostrich are the single alternative as communication patterns. These societies and individuals demand that all others use or strive to use one of these four unhealthy patterns 100% of the time.

Chapman asks the reader to immediately to reflect on these individual, family, or cultural assumptions. He warns us against those who claim to find full biblical support for any single position of these unhealthy four, as well. Chapman notes that picking and choosing certain Bible verses out of millions will not help. In short, steadfastly following one of those four unhealthy patterns will lead eventually to worse and worse communication and, hence, to a lack of empathy or intimacy in any relationship.

For example, I recall many friends of mine who were Mennonite pacificists and intellectuals who stood firmly in the role of either the owl or the Dove. Some were constantly quite stressed or were busy stressing out others.

Likewise, I have met many bellicose evangelical protestants and catholics who have stood in the position of the Owl constantly—with the others were always wrong. These people never matured mentally, morally, nor spiritually—decade after decade.

Finally, whole countries I have visited, such as the Philippines, Japan, Kuwait, or Germany, seem to praise the head-in-the-sand approach to bad governance, bad civil servanthood, and bad communication—rather than seriously even discussing the moving the society onto higher levels of communication and love.

Once one has analyzed the patterns of one’s parents or loved ones, one will certainly recognize the unhealthy patterns each of us have adopted with our spouse and coworkers, too. In short, we need to know ourselves and the formative patterns in our lives and discuss them with our partner: What are our “unhealthiest” tendencies in a pinch?


In another early chapter, Chapman reviews the five levels of communication. These are identified by Chapman as (1) Hallway Talk, (2) Reporter Talk, (3) Intellectual Talk, (4) Emotional Talk, and (5) Loving, Genuine Truth Talk.

The first level is more of a level of curt formality. For example of this routinized formality, (I will share a joke. ) This sort of routinized formality is very conspicuous in Asian and African societies. When I was in Japan, this formality was joked about with the following anecdote:

Mika broke her leg as she was skiing in the Alps. She lay in the wet snow curled up and crying, i.e. wrenched in pain. The ski medic arrived on the scene. He asked her anxiously, “How are you?” as he bent over Mika and noted that Mika had a compound fracture.

Mika answered politely and calmly, “I’m fine thank you.”

This first level seeks no real answers from the other person and is often simply known as formal small talk. Such a greeting phrase is simply a greeting phrase—not an exchange of any real information. At level 1, one person says: “How are you?” The other replies, “How are you?” Chapman notes: This level of verbal communication has its usage. It is intended to keep relationships or harmony among fellow men and women on earth—leaving the atmosphere or relationship friendly, safe and amiable.

Meanwhile, the second level of communication is more revealing—but it is only revealing of facts, not revealing of one’s feelings at all. In this second level, one is asked, like a reporter, to simply present “the facts”.

Questions, like “What did you do today?”, are asked with the expectation that one replies with points, like “First, I went to the store. Then I came back to the care. There I noticed that someone had scratched the left side of our car with a key.”

It is only at the third level of communications that feelings are delved into. For example, the second partner might state later, “I was surprised to see the long key scratch on our left car door. I think some gang or punks have moved into the neighborhood.” This third stage is called the “Do you know what I think?”

The fourth level moves beyond level three’s: “Do you know what I think?”

The fourth level of communication focuses on at least the feelings of one partner telling the other what they truly feel about a situation. For example, the first partner in the aforementioned scenario might note with exasperation, “I told you, dear, ten times that you should take the bus to work and leave the car at home until your firm hires some parking lot security for that downtown area.” In the exasperation, the first partner reveals his or her feelings and impatience or frustration.

Chapman notes, concerning, level 4, that “What we feel about something most vividly communicates our uniqueness as a person.” This fourth level of communication is also certainly marked by a bit of uncertainty about how the other will perceive or react to our openness. This is where growth in healthy communication pattern control needs to be acquired by both partners so intimacy can grow with trust during acts of communication of our feelings. For this to happen, the partners must realize from the start that they are committed to hearing out the other and it will eventually be OK to disagree.

All-in-all, Chapman explains: This is why the higher stages of communication are so important to intimacy. In order to approach this intimacy appropriately, the one sharing feelings often has to be seen as having the right to expect that the other partner not become too critical about what they are sharing at the particular moment. The fact is that any two peoples will have different feelings about most anything based on so many different factors and individual experiences. In short, we can have feelings and we should feel safe to share them.

Most importantly, Chapman warns that forcing the other partner to agree with our feelings or the interpretation of the facts much of the time is a no-go. We must learn to agree to differ in order to move up to the more intimate and loving level five of communication. On the other hand, Level 5 is far from the easiest form of communication to attain. It is where we are actually are--not just trying to be--really non-condemning and loving of the other. Moreover, despite our continuing differences, we are not demanding that the other feel nor act exactly like we do.

Chapman uses the metaphor of “climbing sets of stairs” in a journey together with one’s partner, i.e. when discussing these five levels of communication. Sometimes we will spend most of our days at level one and two with others around us. However, our job as married partners and lovers is to work and communicate each day for some solid period of time at levels three, four, and five. This creates a more permanent sense of intimacy in our relationships.

Chapman has counseled many a couple who think that they are talking at level five for long period each day. However, when he asks them when the last time that had a Level 5 discussion, they often can not think of one such moment in recent weeks. This is why they are in counseling—they have not been committed to this daily getting together for deeper more intimate communication.

In order to be at this Level 5 sometimes each day or each week, we will have to get used to the fact that we need to-some-degree be ready to quarrel, argue, disagree--but, in the end (through tears at times) if we are committed to moving past stages one, two, three and four, we will be at level five together.

With this understanding of commitment to communication in hand, Chapman turns to the concept of covenantal relationships between man and wife.


Chapman begins talking about the idea of covenant relationships as something that has become more and more foreign to modern man.

Nowadays, many in the West--and East--perceive of marriage as a contract between man and wife. Either party can eventually then annul the contracted marriage “before death do us part”, i.e. whenever one or both parties are no longer happy with it. Chapman confessed to having this attitude in his own marriage early on.

However, later in his marriage, i.e. when Chapman went back to his biblical understanding of covenant—an agreement for example, whereby God had made a covenant with Abraham, Moses, or Jacob and their descendents, Chapman rediscovered that a covenant relationship was not like a contract.

Chapman outlines the five keys of “covenant marriages” as follows:

(1) “Covenant marriages” are initiated for the benefit one’s spouse—i.e. not for one’s own protection as in many contracts.
(2) “Covenant marriages” require unconditional promises.
(3) “Covenant marriages” are based on steadfast love.
(4) “Covenant marriages” view commitment as permanent.
(5) “Covenant marriages” require confrontation and forgiveness.

Chapman shared how the early years of lack of intimacy with his wife had almost led him to become divorced.

Chapman had only stumbled upon a change in his relationship, communications, and actions towards his wife when he came to understand that “covenants” in the Bible were often based initially on the one-sided promise of one person committing themselves permanently to the others and to their offspring.

For example, the son of Saul, named Jonathan, committed himself initially in a one-sided covenant to David. This was nearly a generation before David saw that in response to Jonathan’s covenant (decades earlier), he [David] was called to undertake a response in kind to Jonathan’s offspring. Only, then did David take care of Jonathan’s crippled descendent. (Sometimes our covenantal love will not be reciprocated in our own lifetimes.)

Similarly, God promised Abraham and Moses many generations of offspring, not because they had offered a covenant to the Lord. It was The Lord, the Most Powerful, who had approached them with a covenant because he loved them. Similarly, God had made a covenant with Noah—not because Noah had built an Ark—but because God was committed to Noah and generations to follow.

In short, unlike contracts, covenants are commitments that one enters into one-sidedly initially. This may then lead to commitment and mutual permanent covenant with the other being fully accepted and reciprocated in hearts, mind, and deed. This covenant is naturally unconditional as Chapman pointed out in (2) above. Moreover, (3) steadfast love keeps the covenant fixed (from one side at least) for (4) eternity.

In Chapman’s own personal story, he said it took months and months before his recommitment to his covenantal relationship with his wife before he noted any reciprocation of that love and giving on his lifelong partner’s part.

Finally, it is the fifth point in the covenantal keys above that is the most overlooked corollary in marriage—and in the patterns of communication between partners--in our day and age. Recall, according to Chapman, (5) “’Covenant marriages’ require confrontation and forgiveness.” It is at this junction of commitment to communication and commitment to the covenant of marriage that Chapman’s earlier chapters unite in NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE, i.e. in this fifth point that the
Imagery of Healthy Communication patterns and levels of communication become more unified and logical and holistic for the reader.

In short, unless one is already at level 3 or 4 in communication, one cannot and will not reach level 5. Likewise, one cannot be truly committed to confronting issues and forgiving one another and really being able to move on with one’s marriage, if one has no real marriage covenant at heart.

In short, “covenant marriage” is based not only in our vows and oral commitments or oral covenants (or even in oral or written contracts), but it is based in covenantal commitments for each partner to communicate with the other positively while confronting issues while working through issues “till death do us part”.

This fifth level of commitment to “loving and genuine truth talk” with one’s partner must involve the most real attempts by both parties to confront issues. Moreover, it involves the most real acceptance of our differences and feelings in time (and through) or over time.


The most disappointing thing about NOW YOU’RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE seems to me to be that in no way during the opening chapters of this book does the author, Gary Chapman, seek to tie in his five love languages model to the communication he talks about this work. In this way, the reader is left expecting something which never arrives.

This does not distract too much from Chapman’s message and advice to couples to remember and to be committed to convents and communication. However, it does diminish the importance of the five love languages model, i.e. if an avid reader, such as myself, cannot find a connection between the earlier lessons of Chapman’s Love Language and his more current messages to couples.

Moreover, as a religious researcher and social scientist, I wonder how the distinctions between contract and covenantal marriage are handled in Islam and other faiths, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Is this distinction peculiar to Christian societies or is it present in Judaism and other faiths elsewhere today?

Just this past week, one Christian fascist on FOX News charged that Tiger Wood’s Buddhism has led to unfaithfulness in marriage. Is this fact or fiction?

Likewise the Shia Muslim male who currently marries a bride for only 24 or 48 hours to have sex (and then quickly divorces her) in Kuwait or Iran is certainly not interested in marriage covenants, but is this practice and attitude representative of most Muslim’s faith and concepts of marriage today? (I think not. I have met many strong and good families with important and healthy communication amongst husband and wife in Muslim households over the years.)



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