Three "love doctors" spoke and hundreds of couples listened.
HomeLife magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, hosted the one of six Love & Marriage conferences on March 6 at LifeWay in Nashville, Tenn. About 400 people, ranging from engaged couples to a couple who has been married 49 years, attended the event.
Spouses Les and Leslie Parrott are experts at relationships. She is a marriage and family therapist, and he is a clinical psychologist. But that doesn’t mean their marriage is perfect or that they never disagree.
They talked about the myths of marriage and how each person in a marriage relationship brings assumptions about what their marriage will look like. Often those assumptions are determined by the kind of marriage their parents had.
Giving a personal example, Les Parrott said when he was growing up his mother always put the ketchup on the table in a small dish. She "never, ever" put the bottle on the table.
"It was just my dad, my brother and me, so we didn’t care," he said. "We used to tell her, ‘Just put the bottle on the table.’ Even with hamburgers or hot dogs, she always put out that little dish with the ketchup. I told myself when I lived on my own, I would have 10 bottles of ketchup and put every one of them out at the same time."
One night, after he and Leslie were married, they had hamburgers for dinner.
"I walked in and saw the ketchup bottle on the table and my first thought was, ‘Was she raised in a barn?’" he said, adding that he unconsciously had thought a woman would never put the ketchup bottle on the table, even though he consciously thought it was sensible to do. He reacted to the assumption.
Leslie Parrott told the group that it is important to say what you mean and to understand what you hear in conversations.
"Men and women tend to process things differently," she said.
Men tend to want information. "Just the facts. Just tell him what he needs to know. He is interested in ‘report’ talk," Les Parrott said.
"Women, on the other hand, tend to want ‘rapport’ talk," Leslie Parrott said. "We want the information, but we want to know details and how you feel about it.
"Look at how men and women talk to each other at church," she said.
Men are more likely to talk about their jobs, their calendars or sports; they generally don’t touch outside of a handshake or shoulder pat.
Women, though, are more likely to immediately go deep and talk about things they think are important. "If you will notice, women will lean into each other when they talk, maybe grasp each other’s hand and leave with a hug," she said.
Both ways are OK, but spouses need to understand that they may process information differently.
Gary Chapman, author of several books, including The Five Love Languages, took the platform for the afternoon session. He told the crowd that this was the 15th year he and LifeWay have partnered in marriage events.
"One of the fundamentals of a good marriage is to feel loved," he said. "If you feel loved by your spouse your whole world will feel bright. If you don’t feel loved by your spouse, the world can look very dark."
He said that a high percentage of people who come to him for marriage counseling are helped when they discover how and begin to speak the love language of their spouse.
In his book, he describes the five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. (Read a description of each)
"I use the image of each of us having a love tank," he said. "As long as our tank is full, boy, are we happy! But if our tank isn’t being filled with love, we’re not happy. I have found that much of the misbehavior in marriage comes from an empty love tank."
He said it is rare for a husband and wife to have the same love language, and by nature each will speak in his or her own language. For example, if a husband’s love language is words of affirmation, he may like receiving a gift, but it won’t speak to him the same way as his wife bragging on him for his work in the yard.
Chapman said learning your own and your spouse’s love language is good, but it isn’t enough just to know them; they have to speak them.
"You can know [the love languages]," he said, "but if you don’t apply them, they’ll be nothing more than just a fun little exercise."
LifeWay and HomeLife will sponsor four more Love & Marriage events this year: July 24 in Virginia Beach, Va.; Aug. 14 in New Orleans; Aug. 21 in Dallas; and Sept. 25 in Knoxville, Tenn. Go to LifeWay.com/Marriage for more information.