Love Smells Like Pancakes

My pastor says love smells like pancakes.

I disagree.

To me, love smells like fresh sheets on a newly made bed and takeout Chinese.

I remember coming home one day to find that my husband had taken the laundry off the line and made the bed, one of my least favorite chores. I felt loved. And one Saturday this spring I was sick, tired, and discouraged. I’d been fighting a mysterious virus for over two weeks and I was still languishing on the couch in my pajamas long after I was ready to be well.

And to make matters worse, I was hungry.


Hungry is bad enough, but sick and hungry is downright pitiful. As tears formed in the corners of my eyes, and I wondered if it was possible to starve to death within 20 feet of a refrigerator, in walked my husband with a bag full of takeout Chinese food from my favorite restaurant. Now that’s love.

The contrast between my pastor’s pancakes and my fresh sheets demonstrates an interesting fact about how human beings give and receive love: what screams love to one person doesn’t even whisper love to another. 

 Dr. Gary Chapman, in his book, The Five Love Languages, backs up this observation with over 25 years of research. Human beings, he proposes, each have a primary love language—the way they best give and receive love. Acts of service is mine, but others’ are words of affirmation, physical touch and closeness, quality time, and gift giving.

Not knowing our spouse’s love language doesn’t usually get us into trouble. We get into trouble when we know what our spouse’s love language is, and we don’t speak it. It is rare to have two people with the same love language sharing the same marriage. Remember, opposites attract. The same is often true with parents, children, and friends.

Typically, we default to our primary love language when we interact with each other. It happens at my house all the time. I bustle around all day doing stuff for my husband – cooking, cleaning, and running errands—all the things I wish someone would do for me.

Meanwhile, my husband, who couldn’t care less about whether the kitchen floor is spotless or the closets are organized, but blossoms when I speak words of affirmation, is starving to death for a kind word.

Likewise, he has tried to convince me for years that my love language is not acts of service. He’d much prefer to sit on the couch for hours telling me how wonderful I am than mowing the grass, fixing the drain, and fetching takeout Chinese.

If we know this, why do we continue to struggle?

It comes down to two reasons, and neither of them are pretty: We are selfish, and we are lazy.

Human beings are naturally selfish. This is why our default setting prompts us to demonstrate love in ways we prefer. Speaking a love language that doesn’t come naturally means we have to deny ourselves and act outside our preferences, strengths, and interests to serve someone else. Sometimes, on the surface, there’s nothing in it for us. Let me paraphrase the words of Jesus, “If we love those in the way we prefer to be loved, what reward do we have? Even the pagans do this.”

The second reason we fail to speak our spouse’s love language is because we are lazy. Now that’s an ugly thought. True, but ugly.

It’s easy to look self-righteously at myself and all I’m doing for my husband and think I’m actively demonstrating love. In reality it’s the exact opposite. I’m lazily choosing to speak the language I prefer, the language of service, when he desperately needs to hear the language of affirmation. Because encouraging words don’t mean as much to me, and they take more effort because they don’t come naturally, I default to my love language instead.

Can you see why marriages break up when, at least on the surface, both partners seem to act in loving ways toward each other? I wonder if this love language disconnect is at the root of many marriages that dissolve “unexpectedly?” Perhaps the final dissolution was sudden, but it was preceded by years of selfish and lazy love language.

Marriages, family relationships, and friendships are precious gifts from God. They deserve our best efforts, not our selfish and lazy ones. What would happen if we began each day with a prayer like this:

Lord, I love my husband/wife/children/friends. Help me speak their love language today. Give me the desire to love them like you love me--creatively, wholeheartedly, and unselfishly. Amen.

I’d love to hear how you speak your loved one’s love language. Leave a comment below and join the conversation. If you’re reading by email, CLICK HERE to leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like  Speaking Gary Chapman’s Love Language.

I'm SO EXCITED to be presenting a Christian Devotion Writing Workshop on Saturday, Aug. 11 at Steele Creek Church of Charlotte, N.C., sponsored by Debbie Somjak's Unfolded Hearts Ministry.

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  1. I read this book years ago, and it seems like I need to reread it. You are exactly right that not speaking my husbands love language is selfish and lazy. And honestly, I'm not even sure what it is. Oh, the Lord used your post to convict me. Thank you!

  2. Nikki,

    I think it's one of those perpetual books that we need to keep returning to time and time again, not because we didn't understand it the first time, but because we need the reminder to keep applying it. May God lead you into a greater understanding of how to speak LOVE to your hubby!

  3. You sound exactly like my family! I am definitely an acts of service person, and my husband is words of affirmation and physical touch. And I am so guilty of exactly what you say. Nothing sounds sillier to me than just telling him over and over how great he is. But that is exactly what he needs. I think sometimes we think that if we speak in our own love language, they'll get the hint and do the same for us. And maybe they are doing the same thing! So silly. Thanks for the post!

  4. I learned this several years ago and it has really helped as my husband and I share our love with each other. He loves acts of service, and I love words of affirmation. We have both learned to offer those to each other. What is important for me to remember, also, is that even if my husband's main love language (that he likes to receive) is acts of service, he still loves a kind word or two! :) And the same goes for all of us, I think.

  5. Anonymous4:31 PM

    This post made me hungry for Chinese Takeout! :)
    Lots of wisdom here. Lovely to connect with you.

  6. I loved that book - my love language is definitely acts of service (I love when my husband cooks or folds the laundry!).

    Thanks for linking up at #HearItUseIt this week!

  7. It seems like even though your spouse has a predominate love language, that there are seasons where he needs you to “speak” another language, too. For example, my husband is a quality time/physical touch guy, but lately he’s been stressed at work and has needed more words of affirmation.

  8. Isn't it amazing how we're all different? Love probably smells like grilled cheese sandwiches to my husband, lol! Thanks for linking up to "Making Your Home Sing Monday" linky party! :)

  9. This looks awesome!!! We would love it if you would link up at our linky party:
    Live every Wednesday to Sunday.
    Hosted by: Parrish @ Life with the Crust Cut Off Dana @ This Silly Girl’s Life
    We hope to see you there!

  10. Great post. Really challenging and full of truth. Thanks for linking up at Essential Fridays. Blessings.

  11. My husband and I are about to start this book! We took the test and his is touch and mine is acts of service. I am looking forward to reading this with my hubby. :)

  12. I would love for you to share and link up at my weekly TGIF Link Party if you haven't already this week. Your favorite posts, most popular, recent or new! The party is open every Thursday night and closes Wednesday's at midnight. Followed by (Not SO) Wordless Wednesday!
    I would be honored if you join us and follow to stay connected Have a wonderful week!
    Hugs, Cathy