Speaking the Love Languages: Acts of Service
Hey DL Family! Today, I’m going to talk about Acts of Service, the fourth (and my own primary) Love Language.
(If you haven’t read the introductory article in the Speaking the Love Languages series, “The Myth of the In-Love Experience,” check that out first for some background. Also, check out the articles I’ve written on Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, and Receiving Gifts.)
Acts of Service is perhaps one of the easiest Love Languages to understand, but one of the most difficult to execute. Acts of Service often (read: usually) require time and physical effort.
But, at least for me, that’s exactly why Acts of Service speak love as loudly as they do.
What Counts as an Act of Service?
It depends on who you’re asking! Generally, speaking the Love Language of Acts of Service means “doing things you know your [partner] would like you to do,” author Gary Chapman explains. “They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.”
Essentially, an Act of Service is anything you do that helps someone you love accomplish something. To perform an Act of Service is to demonstrate to your partner that their happiness is important enough to you that you were driven to do something to prove that to them. Acts of Service can be done at your partner’s request, but my favourite way to perform (and receive) Acts of Service is by surprise. Cook your partner’s favourite meal without being asked and see just how far that gets you.
“They don’t necessarily require a lot of time,” Chapman mentions. Taking an extra second to clear your partner’s dishes before you take your own to the sink can be a simple yet potent expression of love through an Act of Service. Small favours here and there add up and make a big impact.
Ask for What You Want!
A crucial part of learning to speak this Love Language is learning to be vocal about the things you’d like your partner to do for you. Here’s the thing: you cannot expect your partner to read your mind - if you want them to do something they currently are not doing, it’s your responsibility to speak up.
But there is a right (and a wrong) way of going about this. It’s the difference between learning to make requests of your partner rather than demands:
“No one likes to be forced to do anything. In fact, love is always freely given. Love cannot be demanded. We can request things of each other, but we must never demand anything. Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.”
We know by now that love is a choice, and relationships are built upon whether or not we “decide daily to love or not to love our [partners].” Communicating openly on your end of the relationship is what enables the people we care about to care about us as best they can.
Make gentle suggestions every so often to give your loved ones guidance. Try sitting down with your partner, your best friend, or a family member and suggest you each write a list of 3 small Acts of Service that would make you feel loved if the other person chose to do one of them. That way, you can return the favour.
Set (Realistic) Expectations
It’s also important to remember that someone’s behaviour before they become part of a relationship “will not be the same behaviour exhibited when [they] were caught up being “in love”’ due to the in-love experience/obsession. Be mindful of your expectations of your partner.
We all have expectations of our partners and our friends, as well we should. It’s important to set standards for the way you allow yourself to be treated in your relationships. That being said, it’s probably worth your while to reflect and consider why you have the expectations that you do. “Different cultures have different expectations of the “right” way things are done in marriage,” Chapman points out. Different generations within one culture or society also tend to have differing expectations from each other as cultures learn and grow over time. In what is perhaps the most important quote in the entire book (at least, in my opinion), Chapman asserts that:
“A willingness to examine and change stereotypes is necessary in order to express love more effectively. Remember, there are no rewards for maintaining stereotypes.”
You might have to swallow pride or fear, but it’s always worth it to talk through your differences with your loved ones. Don’t stop the conversation when your partner requests something of you that is out of your comfort zone. Try to find out why your partner needs the things that they do. Examine your own resistance and biases and dismantle them if they don’t serve you. Chances are, you’ll both come out with a much deeper understanding of one another. You might be able to come to a few compromises, or maybe you’ll use the opportunity to push yourself out of that comfort zone. Either way, you win.
“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”
You’ve heard this a thousand times, I know, but this sentiment is especially important to people whose primary Love Language is Acts of Service. Regardless of whether or not Acts of Service is your partner’s or your own primary Love Language, we can all use a helping hand every now and then. Doing something for someone else is not always fun or easy, but that’s exactly why it speaks such volumes of love when you do.