Gary Chapman’s concept of “love tanks” is a spinoff from a theory of Dr. Ross Campbell’s emotional tanks in children and adolescents. It’s simple stuff. Everyone has a love tank. When we are in a committed relationship, our words, actions, behaviors, and energy either fill up or deplete our partner’s love tank. When our love tank is full we feel loved, desired, cherished, respected and, in turn, feel more loving towards our partner. When our love tank is empty we may question our relationship, turn our focus towards our partner’s negative attributes, and lose sight of that spark of magic that made us fall in love with our partner way back when.
No one, and I mean no one, gives a better demonstration of the power of a love tank than our cat, Sli.
Sli’s love language is physical affection. He requires refueling every evening when we go to bed and every morning when we wake up. He is an animal with a finely tuned biological clock and insists upon going to bed as a family every evening at 9:20 p.m. Once we’re in bed together, he nestles between me and my husband in what has affectionately become known as “The Valley of the Humans.” My husband then lavishes Sli with pets. Once Sli’s tank is full, he hops off the bed, helps himself to a snack, and sleeps through the night at the foot of our bed.
When the first alarm rings in the morning, Sli shakes himself awake and cozies up to whoever stays in bed. He’s consistent enough in this behavior that alarms are now known as “pets chimes.” If I’m the one who stays in bed, he gets three minutes of pets before I start my day. If it’s my husband, Sli gets to crawl under the covers and they may snuggle for an hour. On the days where my husband and I are both in a hurry, Sli is forced to begin his day with an empty love tank. My husband and I spend the rest of the day regretting it.
Sli, an affectionate cat more dog-like in his mannerisms than feline, becomes insufferable when his love tank is empty. No amount of make-up pets will undo the damage of beginning his day devoid of affection. He’s desperate and nearly aggressive in how he seeks the affection he missed. He switches from affable companion to needy nuisance.
There’s a lesson or two in there.
If we know what it takes to fill up Sli’s Love Tank, why not make the time to do it? We know it makes him happy. We know it improves the quality of his day. We love and adore Sli and want him to have the best life possible. We know our actions can contribute to that quality of life. So why not do it? Is there really a time when we can’t find 2 minutes in our morning to scratch Sli’s cheeks? If we align ourselves with giving without expectations of a return, there is no good reason to ignore the cat. Focusing on the love we can give, rather than the love we feel we deserve to get, keeps us in a positive place of loving intention. And Sli gets his love tank filled.
Sli, on the other hand, is a classic example of lashing out in desperation when we feel hurt or like we aren’t getting the love we deserve. But it doesn’t make him any more lovable, and he’s furry, soft, and adorable. We don’t have all of that going for us to soften the blow of our wild attempts to force a demonstration of love out of our partner. If we ground our behaviors in hurt and disappointment, that will come through in our actions. Which, unfortunately, is not a great way to motivate our partner to fill up our love tanks. Hurt often creates more hurt.
But what happens if we re-root in a place of loving and positive intent? Be the loving change we want to see and perhaps fill up our partner’s tank just a little bit more? If their tank is full, there is a very strong chance they will reciprocate with exactly the loving behaviors, words, and attention we were hoping to find.