Dr. Gary Chapman, the highly regarded marriage counselor and author, helps couples learn to work together intentionally by guiding them through the languages of love and apology to reach the goals of unconditional love and spreading love's impact in the world. In this interview with Jeff McDonald and Elizabeth Hanley, the author of "The Five Love Languages" (with more than 13 million copies in print) reveals how young people can best prepare for marriage and how couples can find ways for each to grow into the joy and purpose which the love of God makes possible.

You point out in your book "Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married" that we do little to prepare young people for marriage. Do you know of cultures that could serve
as a model of preparation?

  GC: No modern culture really stands out as a model for marriage preparation. I think it's weak in most cultures. We put far more into preparing for our vocation than we do preparing for marriage. Maybe that's why we're more successful in our vocations than we are in our marriage. If you ever think you're going to get married, you ought to be learning something about the dynamics of marriage.

   I'm speaking from experience because my wife and I had one hour with the pastor who married us. We didn't read any books, and it showed up in our marriage because in the early years, we had lots and lots of struggles. A lot of that could have been avoided if we have had the proper preparation.

How do you define love particularly as it applies to dating and marriage?

  GC: There's really two kinds of love. There is the experience that we call falling in love, which is very euphoric and doesn't require a lot of effort. It just grabs you. It's romantic. The other person seems to be the most wonderful person in the world. The average lifespan of that euphoric experience is about two years.
   Then we come down off the high and that's where love has to become much more intentional. You do have to work it. It's intentional and that's where the five love languages I talk about in my book become very helpful. It lets you know how to express love in a way that's meaningful to the other person emotionally.

I suppose it's a lot easier to start off with that at the beginning of marriage rather than changing later in a marriage.

     GC: It's ideal if before you get married, you understand each other's love language - then when you come down off the high, you hardly miss it because you are communicating love in a meaningful way. But at whatever stage couples get the concept they can look back and say, "Oh, now I see what happened. We had not been speaking each other's love language. So let's give it a try," and emotional love can be reborn. We all desperately need to feel loved then if you're married the person you would most like to love you is your spouse.

Is it best for people dating or considering marriage to look for shared interests and traits in common in a marriage partner?

    GC: You know the old saying is, that opposites attract. The fact is all of us are opposites. None of us are the same. What's important is that we understand each other's traits so you're prepared to handle those differences once you get married. I'm a morning person, my wife's a night person. Before we got married, I had this dream of we'll have breakfast together. We'll have devotions together. We'll pray in the morning and we'll start our day off together."
  I got married and I found out she didn't wake up fully till 10. The more we can understand what the implications are of personality differences for our lifestyle, the better it's going to be. You want to make those differences assets rather than liabilities.

The institution of marriage is changing,
given the number of children of divorce,
the changing roles of men and women, new attitudes towards gender and childbearing. what are the problems that young people are facing in terms of marriage today?

    GC: With all of the diverse ideas related to marriage today, we have not come up with a better plan than the biblical plan. Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Okay, so you're married to a sinner. You get the chance to love them like Christ loved us. One man, one woman in a covenant relationship with each other for a lifetime.
  That provides the best possible environment in which to raise healthy children. All the research indicates that. In homes where the mom and dad are loving, supportive, caring for each other, it creates an atmosphere where a child can grow up and be emotionally healthy. We know that children whose parents divorce have emotional struggles. This is not to put down people who are divorced. Wherever we are, the more we come back to the biblical concept of marriage, the better it's going to be...not only for us but for our culture and for our children. That's why I have such a passion for helping couples wherever they are so they can work together and accomplish great things for God and good in the world.

How can someone deal with hurtful memories and how can couples avoid falling into
well-worn habits and patterns of behavior?

    GC: We will not have long-term healthy marriages without apologizing and forgiving. None of us are perfect. You don't have to be perfect to have a good marriage, but you do have to deal with your failures. That means we had to be honest when we do fail, apologize and then we choose to forgive.
  Forgiveness, essentially, is lifting the penalty. I'm not going to make you pay for what you did to me. It's removing the emotional barrier between the two of us so that our relationship can go forward. It's a choice. It's a decision we make. But offering forgiveness does not destroy the memory. Everything we've ever experienced in life is stored in the human brain and from time to time it jumps from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. When the hurt, the anger, the disappointment comes back, what do you do with that? You take it to God and you say, "Lord, you know what I'm remembering today and you know what I'm feeling again but I thank you that I forgave that. Now, help me to do something good today."
  You don't allow the memory and the emotions to control your behavior because, if you do, you will lash out at your spouse, you'll move away from the pardon and you'll try to let them pay for what they did. But if we do something positive then the emotions will subside and the memory will fade. A memory and the emotions that come with it don't have to control our behavior.

What do you say to people who are beyond the point of wanting to try?

    GC: Many times, when people decide to see a counselor, they are looking for confirmation that they should go ahead and divorce. What I ask is, "Will you work on your marriage? I can understand how you get to that place where you don't want to work on the marriage, but will you work on the marriage?" If they're willing, things can happen. We are not slaves to our emotions. We can say "I'm going to work on this even though I don't feel like working on this." If we begin to change some things, the emotions catch up with the behavior.

What would you say is the biggest pitfall couples are making that cause a relationship to suffer or fail?

  GC: If I had to summarize it in one word, it would be selfishness. We are by nature, self-centered. Now, there's a good part to that. That means we feed ourselves. We get sleep. We get exercise. We take care of ourselves. But when that self-centeredness becomes selfishness, I'm looking at this relationship in terms of what am I getting out of it rather than how am I contributing to the well-being of my spouse, which is love.
  Love is the opposite of selfishness. It's the most powerful influencer in the world for good. There's nothing more powerful you can do for anyone than to love them unconditionally. In marriage, it's loving them unconditionally no matter how they treat you, but you're also loving them in their love language so that your love is getting through to them emotionally. We can't change our spouse but we can influence our spouse and love is the greatest positive influence we can have.

On the flip side of that, what is the
best thing that someone can do
to help a relationship succeed?

    GC: Three things are essential. One is keeping love alive in the relationship. Keeping the emotional love alive and meeting the emotional need for love. Another essential is dealing with our failures. Being within an open and honest about our failures and apologizing and then choosing to forgive. The third would be learning to manage our anger in a positive way. All humans experience anger. I believe it's because we're made in the image of God. The Psalm 7:11 says "God is angry every day with the wicked."