A Q&A with Gary Chapman on Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade
By Maina Mwaura
It’s been more than 20 years since Gary Chapman released The 5 Love Languages. According to Chapman, people express and experience love in five ways—receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch.
In counseling couple, Chapman realized every person understands and receives love in one of these specific “languages.” The idea is for couples to discover each other’s love language and find ways to express love in their spouse’s language.
Over two decades, the New York Times best seller has sold more than 11 million copies, and the five love languages have helped revitalize relationships and save marriages.
In 2016, Chapman released Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade with co-authors Edward G. Shaw and Deborah Barr. The book correlates the love languages with the developments of the stages of Alzheimer’s disease and discusses how both the caregiver and care receiver can apply the love languages. The authors also discuss the unique challenges of caregivers.
Facts & Trends asked Chapman about what he learned working on a book about Alzheimer’s and how the love languages can help spouses walking through this heartbreaking disease and how the church can step in and care for caregivers.
What has surprised you about the longevity of The 5 Love Languages?
What surprises me the most, is how many cultures it’s in. I was an Anthropology major, so I understand culture. I was just surprised how it speaks to every culture.
One of the first publishers that approached my publishing company about publishing the book was a Spanish publishing company. That translation sold 3 million copies. I am amazed that it works in every culture. I stand amazed at how God has used The 5 Love Languages.
Originally, I wrote the material to help couples I couldn’t counsel with directly, because I knew it would help couples. I never thought God would use it like He’s using it.
Every year it sells more than the previous year. I am very grateful to God for how He has used The 5 Love Languages around the world.
Where did the idea to write on Alzheimer’s disease come from?
The idea came from Dr. Shaw, who co-wrote the book with me. His wife developed early stage Alzheimer’s at age 53, which propelled him into going back to go school to study and learn memory loss.
He would later find The Memory Counseling Clinic at the Wake Forest Baptist Health Center. My former administrative assistant Deborah Barr went to work with him and through the process of typing his notes each day she began to notice he was using the five love languages with his patients.
She approached him about meeting with me. When Dr. Shaw and I met, I learned that he and his wife had been to one of my seminars years prior. After our meeting, he asked if he and I could write a book together. I’m thankful God allowed us to work together.
How can the five love languages help the spouse care for their loved one who has Alzheimer’s?
As the disease and memory loss continues and the cognitive ability begins to fade, the patient can still feel loved, and the emotional center of the brain is still alive.
Although the spouse no longer has the same function as they used to have to fully engage with the five love languages, the caregiver still has the ability to use the five love languages to engage emotionally with the spouse.
When one of the five languages emotionally connects with the patient, a response will occur.
What have you heard from men and women who have used the five love languages with their spouse who has Alzheimer’s?
Many of the them have said it helped them grow closer together as a couple and that they wished they had used it earlier in their lives.
One of the reasons why I wrote the book was because Dr. Shaw was able to experience the five love languages in his own life when his wife had early onset Alzheimer’s. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the patient retains much of their cognitive abilities.
What else did you learn while writing Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade?
My wife and I have had loved ones who we have walked with through Alzheimer’s. In fact, my mother suffered with dementia before she passed away. I know that isn’t the same as Alzheimer’s, but I say that to say I understand.
I walked away from sitting in the support groups having learned that spouses deal with a lot of emotions and frustrations in taking care of their spouse and that they need to be cared for too.
You talk about this in the book, but what are some things the spouse of a loved one dealing with Alzheimer’s should know?
They should keep their eyes on Christ and remember that God watched His own son suffer, so He knows and understands what they’re dealing with.
The spouse should also not feel guilty and beat themselves up. Some spouses tend to want to go into seclusion during this season and cut off the friends around them. They are going to need their support system.
I would suggest that those closest to the spouse (family, extended family, friends) should know the love language of the spouse to make sure they are being cared for. The spouse would be very unwise in blocking their friends and retreating into their own emotions.
You mentioned in the book that you sat in some of the care groups. What did you learn from them?
I learned about the deep pain a spouse goes through during this season of taking care of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. It’s very painful watching a loved one who is out of their normal character.
How can pastors and church leaders come alongside the spouse who is the caregiver of a loved one with Alzheimer’s?
The spouse of the loved one dealing with Alzheimer’s needs people to care and love them and come alongside them in this difficult time. The spouse of an Alzheimer’s patient is providing care usually 24/7.
The church can help the spouse with simple things such as running errands and even allowing the spouse to have some alone time. The church can be the spouse’s biggest advocate in this difficult season.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.