Acts of Service: Ubiquity and Ineffectiveness

I don’t buy into a lot of “easy to define” categories in terms of people or relationships but when I first read about the 5 Love Languages, everything written about people whose love language is Acts of Service felt like it was written exactly about me. There’s a lot written about how, if you are someone who shows love with Acts of Service (ME) and people get used to it, they may no longer notice it as a sign of love. Especially if that’s not the way they want to be loved. (For me, I want love through Words of Affirmation.) But even if they like love through acts of service, your actions become so common they don’t notice it anymore so if you really want to show your love through acts of service, you have to try to do new acts of service, like yesterday I brought my husband a warm cookie while he worked. Something I have never done before.

It’s a frustrating conundrum many people who speak love in Acts of Service feel. We serve and serve so much because that’s how we show love that our service becomes expected and therefore no one actually sees it as a way of showing love. They view it as more of your Chore List and just something you’re checking off every day.

I find my particular combination creates a weird problem in my life. I use service as love language so I really do enjoy washing my family’s clothing and cooking them food. I’m not a great domestic goddesss or anything, but I do feel a certain joy knowing that I’m serving the people I love. And sometimes I’m showing love to other people, like I often thing about that when I’m serving my Mom, I’m showing love for my brother who carried the mantel many times in our parent’s crisis when I couldn’t.

The problem is that I feel love with words of Affirmation and so a lot of time what my heart wants is someone to affirm me for those acts of service. Ideally through some sort of exclamation of gratitude/praise. “We are so lucky to have you right now during this pandemic. You’ve really risen to the challenge by taking the job of teaching and cooking so many meals and doing all of the errand running and still caring for your Mom. I mean…NO ONE ELSE IS AS LUCK AS WE ARE!”

The problem is, like mentioned in the first paragraph, if service is your love language you do it all the time and so there’s really nothing for anyone to notice. Yeah, you break the mold and bring them a cookie then of course they’re grateful. But your love language kinda becomes part of the everyday norm and no one is noticing which means…and this is the part that breaks my heart: NO ONE FEELS LOVED. Including me! Because I feel love through affirmation but no one is giving me that because no one is noticing my acts of service because they’ve become ubiquitous which means they’re not feeling love from it.

So suddenly I find myself realizing I’m working my ass off to show love but no one is feeling love or returning love because none of my actions are spontaneous or unexpected.

The other conundrum is that it’s hard to bring attention to this without sounding like you want help. I don’t ever want help, really…because these acts are the way I show love. What I want is everyone to feel the love behind those acts. If I never did my kid’s laundry and then one day….boom!…it was done, they would really feel the love from that act of service. But if I do it every day it’s just expected and so they don’t feel it. But if I constantly say, “Aren’t you grateful that I do your laundry?” then they say, “I can do it myself if it’s a problem,” and then no one is getting what they want.

But where I’ve made the problem worse is that instead of trying to figure out some way to tone back my “acts of service” for my family, so that the things I do stand out more, I’ve just picked up more. Like…I started bring my kids breakfast and/or lunch to them while they do their school work during the day. This is a trying time and I wanted them to feel loved and since they never notice the other things, I added more on to be “spontaneous” and they truly felt loved. At first. Now? It’s become expected too.

(And it’s not just the kids in my house, for the record.)

I just know that a lot of us have commiserated here about being an Acts of Service kind of person and I was wondering if you’ve noticed the same thing. I do talk to my family about this, and often say when I bring them laundry, “This is how I show my love for you,” because I want them to really know that and honestly? That does help. But it doesn’t keep me from still wanting them to just feel loved and so I add more acts of service on until what we have is this:

I spend 80%-90% of my waking hours serving others.

And y’all? Even I know that is not tenable. There are a lot of ways this creates negative energy in my life. 1) I need time to myself to recharge so that I can serve with love instead of bitterness and 2) I have parts of my brain that stop working if they don’t get stimulated. Like my creative brain and my intellectual brain. And if those parts of my brain are not stimulated then my mental health deteriorates.

I really tried to carve out time this weekend for those parts of my brain. It was hard because I had to let some things go (like I couldn’t deal with the dog to make my husband’s life easier while he worked) but I think it was for the better. But I don’t know. I think I’ve created an unhealthy situation during this pandemic. In such an effort to make sure everyone was feeling loved during this time of stress, I somehow took on more work and so I’m trying to figure out how to backtrack some of that in a way that doesn’t feel contrary to my natural instincts of showing love.

ANYWAY…no point in this really other than to just see if any other of you Acts of Service people have noticed similar problems.

5 thoughts on “Acts of Service: Ubiquity and Ineffectiveness”

  1. Add in societal norms of housework and emotional/invisible labor here, too, just to complicate things further!

  2. My love language is Acts of Service. I found after discussing love languages with my family, that I could get them to recognize my acts of service a bit more. However, one thing that clicked for me was that they were never going to feel loved from my acts of service because that isn’t their love languages. My husband’s love language is quality time. If I don’t show love that way, he’ll feel lonely. My daughter’s love language is gifts. If I choose to serve her on her birthday instead of giving the gift she wanted, she’ll be disappointed. Not only does my family have to make adjustments to show their appreciation, but I also have to change myself so that I’m intentional about how I show my love based on their individual needs.

  3. Raising my hand here!
    My love language and spiritual gift is Acts of Service.
    Add in the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom – now sharing the space with two kids remote schooling and a husband working from the home office.

    I feel so validated by what you wrote. I try to be intentional – to do the Work I’ve been doing all along without feeling bitter or put-upon. Yet, I also expect there to be some levels of cooperation. I’m not a slave either.

  4. In my marriage, no. I’ve not had this experience and I think its due to a couple of things.

    I believe that when we know what it is like to not be treated well, we are more grateful of being treated well. Like you, the love language I most like to receive is by far WORDS OF AFFIRMATION. I love to be paid attention to and to be shown praise and gratitude. In the 8 years I’ve been with my husband, I’ve not felt lacking in this department, which I believe is partially due to his prior 16-year marriage. Honestly, I think his previous experience of being married to someone perpetually dissatisfied with him gives him a perspective of gratitude to be married to someone who doesn’t resent being married to him. For this, I am grateful to be married to someone who’s been married before. Is that wierd?

  5. My husband is fantastic at Words of Affirmation, and I’m terrible at it. I love giving Gifts and Quality Time, and I love receiving Acts of Service and Quality Time. My husband is a Physical Touch & Words of Affirmation guy, but he also loves Gifts. We haven’t figured it out perfectly – I am sometimes wish we spent more time “doing things” together vs. just sitting in the same room with the TV on; and he wishes I’d compliment him more. But we do actively work on this – mostly by communicating with each other. He sends me the “give me compliments” GIF (or just imitates the voice) https://gph.is/2HQmmPv when he needs to hear me praise him. And I usually ask for quality time by offering him a couple of activities and having him choose which one and when (during the next few days or week) that we do that activity, giving him time as a serious introvert to “prepare” to do a thing with me. I know it feels like our partner and kids should just know what we need and provide it, but I think it’s more realistic to just ask for what we need. (I’ve given my husband a script before when I needed to hear something really specific. “I’m going to tell you a story and I need you to ONLY say, “Josh, that’s so hard. I’m sorry X person was so wrong about that. I know you’ll figure out what to do next. I believe in you.”) It does feel forced and fake at first, but the more we practice it, the better it feels to both of us.

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