Posted by: Mike Willoughby | September 1, 2011

How do you say Love (Part 4)

Is your native love language Words of Affirmation?  If you are a guy, I think there is a pretty good chance you are a Words of Affirmation speaker.  If not, I’ll bet there is someone close to you who speaks this love language.  I think just like Quality Time, this is also a love language commonly spoken by kids.

As I wrote in Part 2, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages primarily to help married couples discover the love language they should speak to each other.  However, the concepts in The Five Love Languages apply to other loving relationships such as parent/child and close friendships.  Bottom line – I believe my willingness to put others first and truly selflessly invest in my relationship is the key to success in all my relationships.

I think you can spot a Words of Affirmation a mile away if you know what to look for.  I call these folks “merit badgers” because they typically collect tokens of affirmation in addition to appreciating words of affirmation.  Walk into a kid’s room that showcases trophies, ribbons, awards, school papers with gold stars, winning science fair projects and champion pinewood derby cars and I’ll bet the room belongs to a Words of Affirmation kid.  The Eagle Scout with a precisely folding sash full of badges – Words of Affirmation kid.  Adults have their merit badges too!  Come visit my office and I’ll point some of them out to you.

Care and feeding of these folks is pretty straightforward.  Say to yourself three times, “words matter, words matter, words matter!”  Dr. Chapman quotes Mark Twain as saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  He goes on to observe that a mere six compliments per year would keep Twain’s love tank topped off it you take him literally.  Words of Affirmation speakers live for that little compliment, word of encouragement and even the carefully worded piece of advice offered in love.  To a person speaking this love language, words of affirmation spoken to them are literally investments made in filling their love tank.  If this is not your love language, you may not understand how someone could “live for” a simple compliment.  If you speak the language, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

Dr. Chapman offers the following advice when trying to learn to speak “Words of Affirmation” to someone:

  • Learn to speak Kind words
  • Learn to take time to Encourage
  • Learn to speak with Humility

Speaking kind words involves both tone and content.  We’ve all experienced what looks on paper like a compliment but when delivered with biting sarcasm or careful accenting of the wrong words comes across as a big slam.  I’m amazed at how commonly we assault one another with harsh biting comments and then move on as if nothing happened.  Ironically, this is especially common within families.  For anyone, these moments are unpleasant.  For a Words of Affirmation speaker, these surprise attacks can create permanent damage in a relationship.  If the unkind words come from a person of significant influence in the person’s life, there could be a significant negative impact to their self-esteem.  Let’s learn to speak kind words to one another in both tone and content!

Learning a lesson from one of my Bible heroes Barnabas, let’s also look for opportunities to provide encouragement to the “merit badgers” in our lives.  In many ways, encouragement is the fuel that keeps a “merit badger’s” engine running.  The word “encouragement” literally means, “to inspire courage.”  All of us struggle with insecurities but simple insecurities for most folks can be dark looming forests of doubt for a “merit badger.”  Your words of encouragement at a moment of insecurity can be a mighty source of fuel to help this person power through a time of doubt.  In serving them in this way, you help unleash latent potential that is hidden by the insecurity.  Next week, I’ll have an illustration of encouraging word in action from my hero Barnabas.

Loving a “Words of Affirmation” person in your life requires speaking humble words.  Most often this is done by making requests rather than demands.  Requests put the other person in the driver’s seat in responding and at the same time affirm his or her value and ability to meet your needs.  Demands create an authoritarian environment that demeans the other person and essentially delivers an ultimatum.  There are times in a parent/child relationship where demands must be made of the child in order to discipline him or her.  Even in these situations, especially when dealing with a Words of Affirmation child, it is best to try to make disciplinary requests with full disclosure of the consequences of disobedience.  It’s amazing how a little humility can make a huge difference in all areas of a relationship!

Finally, just because you might be a Words of Affirmation lover yourself doesn’t mean you are necessarily a fluent speaker of this love language.  I found in my own relationships that I can hear the love language really well, but oddly enough I haven’t always been a very good speaker.  I’ve had to be very intentional about going out of my way to speak kind, encouraging and humble words to those I love.  I still have a long way to go with God’s grace.  This love language stuff really requires work!

If you need help working on this love language, don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Five Love Languages.  For those of you with “merit badgers” in your life, you can say “I love you” by giving them some affirmation and encouragement this week.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Copyright © 2011 Michael Willoughby. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to author and/or owner with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Thanks Mike-this is one of my favorite intersections you have done! Very challenging and thought provoking!

    • Thanks, Doug! Nice words of affirmation. Thanks for your partnership.

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