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Transcript: Wednesday, March 3 at 1 p.m. ET

On Love: Marriage and relationship advice

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Gary Chapman, Ph.D.
Author of "The 5 Love Languages"
Wednesday, March 3, 2010; 1:00 PM

Are you a newlywed or in a marriage that's lost its spark? Gary Chapman, Ph.D., author of "The 5 Love Languages" (Northfield Publishing, 2010), answers your questions and discusses how to build -- and keep -- a lasting love.

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Chapman has over 30 years of experience as a marriage counselor. His book aims to help couples identify practical and powerful ways to express love.

For more tips, marital and relationship advice and to see how other couples have gotten to the altar, visit our OnLove section.

The transcript follows.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi, Dr. Chapman. Read your book. It was great and I would love for my husband to read it -- but he's just so resistant to do anything I suggest to improve our marriage. The issue in our marriage is an overall lack of getting along. We love each other and we don't really have issues in any other area, except getting along. By that, I mean, engaging in a conversation for over an hour without one of us getting offended and frustrated by the other. We've been married four years with no kids yet. He feels that we need to get over this hurdle before having kids, but I'm ready now to have kids and feel that he's using this as an excuse to delay it. What can I do?

Gary Chapman: Most couples have issues that must be negotiated. If each of you are speaking each other's love language it is easier to negotiate. As for him not reading the book I have two suggestions. Ask him if he will read chapter 1. Then if he does not like it, he does not need to read the rest. (Most men will read the book after one chapter.) Secondly, Guess his language and speak it regularly. Then in three weeks ask him on a scale of 1-10 how much love he feels coming from you. If he says anything less ten, ask: "What could I do to bring it to a ten?" Use his suggestion as a clue to his love language. Do this once every three week and he will probably start asking you the same question. Then you can teach him your love language without him reading the book.

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Help!: I am a wife, a mother of two children under four years old, I work full-time, and I have ZERO sex drive. I absolutely adore my husband. He is funny, patient, smart and handsome. But he is frustrated with the situation, as I am. Please don't suggest that I have a medical check-up -- there is nothing wrong with me physically. And the suggestions to "get a babysitter and have a date night once a week" aren't feasible because we can't afford the babysitter (we already pay for a full-time nanny). What can I do?

Gary Chapman: The sexual relationship cannot be separated from the emotional relationship. My first question would be, "On a scale of 1-10 how full is your love tank?" By which I mean how much love do you feel from your husband. The second question is how full is his love tank? So, the first issue is making sure you are speaking each other's primary love language. Second, if the emotional intimacy is high level, it is then a matter of finding physical energy. With two pre-schoolers and a full-time job, who would not be drained? My initial thought would be to plan to leave the children with your parents or a 'good' friend and the two of you take a weekend away.

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Anxiousville, USA: My question is about getting engaged. What od you think about "surprising" a woman with an engagement proposal? This feels old-fashioned to me; if the woman hasn't been anticipating an imminent engagement, maybe surprising her is OK? But if the man has been dropping hints for a few months and saying it's coming -- but not saying when -- is the woman "ruining things" by asking about it so she can have a stake in her future and plans? (And so she cannot go into every holiday or special date wondering if an engagement is going to happen?) I am under some pressure from family members who expect an engagement soon (we've been dating about a year, and we're in our 30s.) I am trying to ignore the pressure, but I myself want to get engaged to this man and I also want to start planning since we are expecting to move next year for work. I have expressed this to my boyfriend, and his view is that I need to just trust him. He says he has very specific plans for the engagement and I need to chill out. But is it my job to just sit back and trust his judgment? Am I displaying a lack of trust in him by seeking more information? I've decided to just sit back and enjoy the upcoming surprise. But I do wonder about this at a theoretical level: This seems like a pretty big decision affecting two people. In the 21st century, is it right for only one person to get a say in the timing?

Gary Chapman: A surprise proposal can be positive or negative depending on the person. Some people don't like surprises. Others do. It would be nice if he inquired about your preference. If he is not concerned about your preference, what makes you think he will be concerned about your ideas after you are married? This would be a red flag for me. If you have not, I'd suggest the two of you read and discuss "The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition." I think you'd find it helpful.

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Washington, D.C.: I am a 35 year old female about to be engaged within the next several months. Any must do homework items before we walk down the aisle? Either as a couple or individually?

Btw, loved your book. I have given it as a gift to many friends, as well.

Gary Chapman: Spend time with each other's parents. Observe the way his father treats his mother. This is his model, and is likely the way he will treat you. How do his parents communicate? make decisions? and generaly 'get along'. He should observe the same about your parents.

Second suggesion: Decide who will do what after you are married. Make a list of all the things that will be your responsibilities and those that will be his. For example, who will clean the toilet? If you don't decide these details before marriage you are likely to have conflicts over who should do what.

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Missing the spark after all these years: Hi, Gary. I love these types of chats and am looking for some advice on what to do. I've been married for five years (together for 14), we have no kids and high stress jobs.

When we were dating and engaged the spark was there, cuddling on the couch, falling asleep in each others arms etc. But after five years it's gone. I get a quick kiss before bed and when we leave for work in the morning but that's it.

I've tried to get it back, but haven't had any luck. Now, we sit on opposite end of the couch to watch TV, we're bickering more and just seemed to have lost touch with each other. Our likes have changed so we don't have as much common ground.

Please tell me we're not doomed.

Gary Chapman: Welcome to the real world. Everyone comes down off the high. The average life-span of the "in love" stage is two years. However, that does not mean that you are destined to grow apart. It means that your love must be much more intentional, and it requires effort. That's what my book "The Five Love Languages" is all about. How to keep love alive after you come down off the high. We can't do what comes natural. We have to learn to express love in a language that is meaningful to the spouse. When you consistently speak each others love language, emotion warmth is reborn and maintained. I think that is why the book has sold five million copies.

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Rockville, Md.: My husband and I have been married seven years and together for 10. Since we've had a child, I really want to move back to where my family is (Chicago), but he doesn't. How do you suggest we solve this? How do you ask someone to make a huge sacrifice like this without always resenting you? Should we go to a counselor to have a "third party" help us talk through this issue?

Gary Chapman: It is not unusual for couples to disagree on such issues. The question is how will you resolve the difference? Successful resolution involves listening to each other's reasons with a view to understanding their thoughts and emotions. We are not there to condemn their logic or put down their emotions. We are first of all trying to understand each other. Then we agree that we disagree and ask how can we solve the problem? Normally there is more than one solution. If the two of you cannot come up with ideas, then yes, see a counselor or older couple who can help you explore solutions. You must respect each other's reasons and focus on a win-win solution.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: This is the second marriage for both me and my husband. I can't even concieve of this marriage ending. It seems to be strong and we seem happy, comfortable and have a real partnership -- something we recognize and treasure every day because of our bad first marriages. I truly believe I have found my partner for life and that nothing can shake us. My concern is that I don't want to take our marriage for granted because it seems so "right." I want to still improve and make sure we are respecting each other, loving each other right. How do you maintain what seems to be on the right track? We believe that marriage requires work daily even when you are on the right track. Are there books for maintaining a happy marriage? Do you recommend anything to maintain what seems to be working good?

Gary Chapman: I'm happy for you. You are right that a 'good' marriage must be nurtured. I would suggest you begin by reading and discussing "The Five Love Languages," to understand the love language concept early in the marriage will help you keep emotional love alive.

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Chicago, Ill.: I just started re-reading "The 5 Love Languages" this week, so I'm really excited about this chat today. My question is (based on what you say about how many people marry during the initial "high" that comes from being in love and then have to work to figure out how to fill each others' love tanks once that high wears off) do you advocate waiting until after the two years or so of euphoria wear off to marry? Or do you think that good decisions about a relationship's future can still be made during those early years as long both partners go into it knowing it will be hard work and that the high will eventually fade?

Gary Chapman: Ideally, I'd like to see couples wait at least two years before they get married. I think it takes that long to really get to know each other. However, many who wait until they come down off the "in love" high decide not to get married simply because they "lost the feeling." That's because they see the euphoric feelings as the foundation for marriage. I think that if a couple understands that there are two stages to romantic love: "falling in love" where we are pushed along by our emotions and then the more intentional stage where we learn to love by choosing to speak each other's love language, we are more likely to have a life long marriage. Knowing what to expect emotionally prepares us for reality.

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Ashburn, Va.: I was so excited to see you listed as doing a chat. I love all of your books and regularly recommend them to friends. They have been very influential in my life.

My question is: What are some ways to express "Physical Touch and Acts of Service" to someone who does not live near you? I have identified those as being important to family and friends I am not close to, but am at a loss about how to speak those languages long-distance.

Gary Chapman: I am often asked this question by military couples who are often deployed. My answer is that all of the languages can be spoken long distance. For example if 'physical touch' is your friend or family member's primary language you can say via phone-email-text: "If I were with you I'd give you a big hug." It is not the same as actually giving the hug, but it does 'touch the heart' because it shows that you are sincerely communicating love, by remembering their love language. Acts of service would be similar: If I were with you, I'd take out the trash for you." Many military couples have told me how helpful this has been.

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Alexandria, Va.: I defninitely fall into the "Acts of Service" love language. What are some ways I can show my husband how much I appreciate his efforts, besides offering a sincere thank you?

Gary Chapman: That depends on his love language. When you speak his primary love language, it makes him feel like his 'acts of service' makes you feel. Of course, a simple. "I really appreciate that" is always appropriate.

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Washington, D.C.: What one piece of practical advice would you give to newly married couples?

Gary Chapman: Have a daily sharing time. The daily minimum requirement: Tell me three things that happened in your life today and how you feel about them? Honest communication is the only way to stay into each other's lives.

Second, speak each other's love language regularly.

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Columbia, Md.: "Spend time with each other's parents. Observe the way his father treats his mother. This is his model, and is likely the way he will treat you. How do his parents communicate? make decisions? and generaly 'get along'."

Wow! So, because my boyfriend is the product of divorce -- I should consider breaking up with him? His parents did not get along, thus, the divorce. I think it's unfair to think he will treat me the same way. If anything, he learned from his parents.

Gary Chapman: He is not destined to divorce. The question is what is he doing now to see that he does not follow his father's model. We can learn from a poor model. But if we do not understand the power of parental influence and simply 'let things happen' we will more often than not turn out to be like our parents. Facing reality and taking steps to change our future is the sign of maturiey.

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Madison, Wisc.: My husband and I have been married for 10 years and we have two young kids. Finding time and energy to devote to each other is hard. We had a rough Feb with a lot of commitments. What can we do now to reconnect, make each other feel special -- while on a budget? Thanks very much.

Gary Chapman: The first step is to decide that you need to give attention to each other. All of us have time pressure. When we make marriage a priority, then it's a matter of making time for each other. We all have the same amount of time. We are responsible for how we use it. This is a problem that all of us struggle with.

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Atlanta, Ga.: My finance and I are getting married this summer, after six years of dating. We'll be 29 and 30, and I think we have a solid foundation of communication, respect, and trust. Do you have any advice for us as we become newlyweds? Thanks.

Gary Chapman: Keep doing what you've been doing. So many couples drift apart because they neglect the relationship. Staying connected is essential. The foundation is speaking each others primary love language.

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RE: Spending time with the parents: What if you know either your parents aren't healthy examples or his aren't -- what can you look for to see if s/he's learned from their mistakes and won't pattern? There are a lot of people out there with unhealthy role models, and to count them out completely seems unnecessarily harsh for something that it not their fault.

Gary Chapman: Absolutely. I agree with you. Don't count them out, but on the other hand, don't ignore reality. The starting place is to discuss the parental patterns that each of you grew up with. In what ways will you be different? What are you doing now that will likely help you fulfill your desire to be different? For some, counseling will be helpful.

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Arlington, Va.: Good morning. I've not read your book yet but heard wonderful things about it and I plan on picking up a copy. I just embarked on a new relationship that so far is progressing well. How can your book help me make the most out of my new relationship in order to give it the best chance of succeeding for the long haul? Thank you!

Gary Chapman: I think that learning and discussing the love language concept will help you know how to communicate love to each other in the most meaningful manner. It will also help you in all your other relationships, such as parental relationships. If we have fractured relationships with extended family, they often affect the way we relate to others.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband is a wonderful man. Despite this fact, we argue on nearly a monthly basis about his sloppy habits. He treats our house like he is still single living in a frat house. To make matters worse, we are in the process of renovating our house. I'm sure we would have been divorced by now (only married a little over six months) except we really love one another and we're both over 40 so we're mature (somewhat). After we argue he changes some of his habits but then goes back do doing what he wants. What would you recommend we do? I'm afraid counseling will be too expensive.

Gary Chapman: The neatnik and the slob often marry each other. On some details we can negotiate change. I think every effort should be made to do so. On the other hand, our spouse will never do everything to our satisfaction. At some point we must learn to accept some of their 'imperfections.' You have to decide if you can 'accept' it or you can fight about it for 20 years. personally, I'm not a fighter. Please understand that 'accepting it' is a choice. It is very different with just 'putting up with it.'

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Gary Chapman: Thanks for all your questions. Hope my answers have been helpful. Have a good rest of the day.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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