Last week's unseasonably warm weather has a lot of farmers I know thinking about spring fieldwork. Equipment is getting looked over to make sure everything is in working order. We just brought our tractor into the shop for a tune-up.
Likewise, we recently put our budget through a tune-up, too. When we ran the numbers for our cash flow report, we confirmed what we already suspected: 2016 will require very careful financial decisions and, even then, it will be a challenge.
As dairy farmers, we spend a lot of time and energy making sure everything from equipment to budgets to herd health is performing the best it possibly can.
But, when was the last time you tuned up your relationships? Engines aren't the only things that need small adjustments every now and then to make them work better.
I always thought that Glen and I had a good, solid relationship. But, then a friend of mine was telling me about a book she and her husband read. Then another friend recommended the same book and I thought maybe I should look into it. It's not a new book, but it was new to me.
Glen and I each read the book; and we've been discussing it ever since. We realized that in every relationship, there is always room for improvement. No matter how strong our relationship, we can always do a better job communicating our feelings and showing appreciation for each other.
The book we read is called "The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts." Gary Chapman is the author.
The first premise of the book is that inside each of us is an emotional tank waiting to be filled with love. When we feel loved, our tank fills up, and we act in loving ways; when our tank is empty, we behave in unloving ways. Chapman said, "I am convinced that keeping the emotional love tank full is as important to a marriage as maintaining the proper oil level is to an automobile."
The second premise of the book is that each of us feels love in different ways. In other words, our love tanks are filled in different ways. Those different ways fall into five categories, which Chapman refers to as love languages. We need to learn to show our love in the language our spouse understands. If we don't, it's like speaking a foreign language and never being heard, which leads to empty love tanks, misunderstanding, and frustration.
Another way to think about this concept is by remembering The Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated. (As opposed to The Golden Rule, which erroneously causes us to assume that everyone wants to be treated the same way we do.)
The five languages Chapman identified are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Our primary love language, the one we best understand, is often the language that was spoken by our parents and other family members; but our individual personalities and other life experiences also have an influence on our primary love language.
I've been telling people for years that Glen and I grew up on very different types of dairy farms. Our dairy farm is successful because we took the best parts of the farms we grew up on and combined them into a new system that works for us.
What reading "The 5 Love Languages" taught us is that we have to do the same thing with our marriage. We grew up in very different families and learned different love languages. We came into marriage with different ideas of how love is expressed and how marriage is supposed to work. For our marriage to be the best it can be, we need to combine our ideas to create a relationship that works for us. This new relationship might be very different from our parents' marriages.
"The 5 Love Languages" helps individuals identify their own preferred love language and identify their spouse's preferred love language. It's not very common for two married people to have the same primary love language. The book then offers practical advice for learning to show love in your spouse's language. The advice is really a collection of a lot of small changes each of us can make to better show our love.
The book also offers suggestions for periodically checking the level in your spouse's love tank. I liken it to the routine maintenance required for our equipment. We wouldn't run a tractor or vacuum pump for more than a couple weeks without checking the oil level.
"The 5 Love Languages" is like the owners' manual for relationships. It might just be the most important owners' manual you ever read. For us, this book will be remembered as one of the best $8.43 investments we ever made.
Regular maintenance pays dividends. Small adjustments can produce big results. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We embrace these mantras in our farming systems; they are critical to our success.
Investing our time, energy, and care in regular maintenance for our relationships is just as important. Small changes in how we show love can make a big difference.
Is your love tank full or empty? How about the love tanks of the people you love?
(Glen was the one who first suggested I write a column about tuning up relationships. He also contributed many of the ideas, for which I am incredibly grateful.)