Keeping the Love Tank Full

Love is the most important word in the English language – and the most confusing. Both secular and religious thinkers agree that love plays a central role in life. We are told that “love is a many-splendored thing” and that “love makes the world go round.” Thousands of books, songs, magazines, and movies are peppered with the word “love.” The apostle Paul said that in the last scene of the human drama, only three characters will remain: “faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Yet, love is a most confusing word. We use it in a thousand ways. We say, “I love hot dogs,” and in the next breath, “I love my mother.” We speak of loving activities: swimming, skiing, golfing. We love objects: food, cars and houses. We love animals. We love nature. We love people. We may even love God.

Our purpose is not to eliminate all the confusion, but rather to focus on the kind of love that is essential to our emotional health: the need to feel loved.

I liked the metaphor the first time I heard it: “Inside every child is an ‘emotional tank’ waiting to be filled with love. When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally, but when the love tank is empty, the child will misbehave. Much of the misbehavior of children is motivated by the cravings of an empty ‘love tank.’” I was listening to Dr. Ross Campbell, a psychiatrist who has treated hundreds of children and adolescents.

As I listened, I thought of the hundreds of parents who had paraded the misdeeds of their children through my office. I had never visualized an empty love tank inside those children, but I had certainly seen the results of it. Their misbehavior was a misguided search for the love they did not feel. They were seeking love in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

I also realized that many of their parents were suffering from an empty love tank and that much of the misbehavior of married individuals was growing out of an empty love tank. This week we are visualizing this tank, inside all of us and talking about how to fill it.

The need to feel loved by one’s spouse is at the heart of marital desires. A man said to me recently, “What good is the house, the cars, the place at the beach, or any of the rest of it if your wife doesn’t love you?” Do you understand what he was really saying? “More than anything, I want to be loved by my wife.”

Material things are no replacement for human, emotional love. A wife says, “He ignores me all day long and then wants to jump in bed with me. I hate it.” This is not a wife who hates sex; this is a wife desperately pleading for emotional love. Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another.

I believe this need can be met in any marriage, if each of them will discover the primary love language of their spouse and speak it regularly. There are only five love languages. Your spouse desperately craves one of them. Make it your goal to discover it and speak it, and their love tank will be full.

Marriage is designed by God to meet our deep need for intimacy and love. Yet this emotional love often seems elusive. I have listened to many married couples share their secret pain. Some came to me because the inner ache had become unbearable. Others came simply to inform me that they no longer wanted to be married. Their dreams of “living happily ever after” had been dashed against the hard walls of reality.

Again and again I have heard the words “Our love is gone, our relationship is dead. We used to feel close, but not now. We no longer enjoy being with each other. We don’t meet each other’s needs.” Their stories bear testimony that their emotional love tanks are empty.

Can these marriages be reborn? Absolutely! Because love is learned. My files are filled with letters which say: “Dr. Chapman, we have read your book: The 5 Love Languages™, and we have finally learned to love each other. We can’t believe the difference it has made. We actually feel excited about being with each other.” Love is a language waiting to be learned.

Could it be that deep inside hurting couples exists and invisible “emotional love tank” with its gauge on empty? Could the misbehavior, withdrawal, harsh words, and critical spirit occur because of the empty tank? If we could find a way to fill it, could the marriage be reborn? With a full tank would couples be able to create an emotional climate where it is possible to discuss differences and resolve conflicts? Could that tank be the key that opens the door to a satisfying marriage?

I believe the answer is “Yes.” God made us with a capacity for giving and receiving emotional love. He also made each of us unique. Which means that what makes one of us feel loved will not necessarily make the other feel loved. [Thus, we must learn the primary love language of our spouses if we want them to feel loved.]

Nothing is more important to the emotional climate of your marriage than asking God to teach you how to effectively love your spouse. Learning his or her primary love language and speaking it regularly will make you an effective lover.

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-The Gary Chapman Team