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How to say “I Love You” With Lumber:
A Guide to Finding the Perfect Gift for Your Romantic Partner

by Kevin B. Burk, author of The Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life.

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and with it the annual panic that comes with having to find the perfect gift for our romantic partners. No other gifts are quite so tricky. Birthday gifts and Holiday gifts can be whimsical or practical and sometimes even a card is sufficient. The Valentine’s Day gift, however, must convey the depths of our feeling, the breadth of our passion, the strength of our commitment, and, if the Florists and Jewelers have their way, the majority of our paycheck.

The Valentine’s Day Gift, in short, must be the very embodiment of love and romance.

What we so often fail to recognize, however, is that love and romance don’t mean the same thing to everyone. While it’s true that many people do enjoy the traditional Valentine’s Day gifts of flowers, candy, romantic dinners, and lingerie, these are hardly universal symbols of love and affection. And the wrong gift can create unexpected and unanticipated challenges in your romantic relationships.

I had a couple in one of my weekend Relationship Workshops a few years ago, who, at the time, had been married about eight or nine months. He shared that during the first few months of his marriage, he would come home and surprise his wife with a big bouquet of flowers. The real surprise was that the more flowers he bought, the more angry his wife became. He doesn’t appreciate how close he came to being hit over the head with a vase, in fact.

Although this is an extreme example, the issue was that he and his wife spoke very different Validation Languages. There are four major languages that we speak to meet our Validation Needs—the ways that we give and receive love and appreciation. I’ll explore each of these languages later in this article. But to finish the story, it turns out that he had a Fire Validation Checklist, which means that he expresses affection through grand, romantic gestures and actions. His wife, on the other hand, had an Earth Validation Checklist (and an Earth Safety Checklist) and she was angry because he was wasting good money on things that were going to be dead in a few days.

When I asked her what kind of gift she would have preferred, she replied that she would have enjoyed some power tools from Home Depot—things they could have used to do home improvement projects. What mattered to her were things that were practical, useful, lasting investments.

This realization seemed to be a major breakthrough in their relationship, and they were both very excited about this new, shared understanding of each other’s needs.

I ran into him about six months later and he told me that he and his wife were getting ready to take a drive up the coast, and that his wife had been very stressed out at work and in some very important meetings. He wanted to do something nice for her, so he had planned to buy a big bouquet of flowers and have them waiting on her desk for her when she got out of the meeting.

I asked him if heenjoyed sleeping on the sofa. And then I asked him to think about how his wife usually responds when he gives her flowers, and to consider whether he wanted to be trapped in a car with her in that mood for an eight-hour drive.

Why, after such a big breakthrough in the weekend workshop on exactly this subject, was he so forgetful? Well, part of the reason is that he has quite a bit of Fire in his birth chart, and Fire individuals tend to be quite impulsive. But the main reason was that he genuinely wanted to express his love and affection for his wife, and when he gets that urge, he automatically wants to express it using his own language.

Flowers don’t mean, “I love you” to his wife. In fact, flowers may mean, “I don’t really care about how you feel about wasting money,” or “I don’t really listen to the things you tell me.” What would say “I love you” to his wife would be a Home Depot gift certificate. The problem is that not everyone can bring themselves to say “I love you” with lumber. Even though a Home Depot gift certificate (or a new electric drill) would convey the meaning he truly wanted to convey to his wife, he wouldn’t get any enjoyment out of the gift because as much as she would have appreciated it, he would never be able to feel that it was a gift from his heart.

I suggested a compromise to him. I invited him to go to a high-end department store that has a jewelry counter and pick out a piece of jewelry that he would love his wife to have. Then, instead of actually buying the jewelry, buy a gift certificate for her for the exact amount of the jewelry (tax included). This way, he can feel that he’s expressing himself in his language (Fire) and can cope with the fact that she’ll receive the gift in her language (Earth) and buy shoes or a new business suit.

So what are the four Validation Languages and, more importantly, what are some gift suggestions for each one?

Fire is the first language. If you have a Fire Validation Checklist, you express and receive love and appreciation through actions. People with Fire Validation Checklists likedoing things with their partners. Spontaneity is often a plus, and things like surprise romantic getaways—or even surprise romantic dinners at home—are always appropriate. People with Fire Validation Checklists are the most drawn to the grand romantic gestures, and usually respond well to the “traditional” expressions of romance.

Earth is the second language. If you have an Earth Validation Checklist, you express and receive love and affection through the physical and material plane. Earth, as a rule, does not like surprises, and is by far the most practical and grounded of the four languages. Individuals with Earth Validation Checklists always appreciate tangible expressions of affection—in other words, gifts matter. However, the gifts that most matter are ones that will endure and can represent a lasting and tangible expression of one’s commitment to the relationship. Jewelry is almost always welcome; flowers, on the other hand, may not be, because they don’t last. Physical intimacy (not necessarily sexual) is also extremely important to individuals with Earth Validation Checklists.

Air is the third language. If you have an Air Validation Checklist, words are what matter to you. People with Air Validation Checklists have to hear the words. They need to hear their partner tell them how much they are loved and appreciated, and when they want to express affection, they use words to do so. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that if you’re in a relationship with someone with an Air Validation Checklist that you don’t have to worry about spending any money on Valentine’s Day! Gifts and romantic gestures are always appreciated; however, what matters to the Air Validation Checklist individual is the amount of thought that went into the gift. Last-minute gifts, no matter how lavish or expensive, are rarely appreciated by these individuals.

Water is the forth language. If you have a Water Validation Checklist words don’t matter to you. What matters are the emotions and feelingsbehind the words. Individuals with Water Validation Checklists have the most difficulty expressing what they need in words. They experience and express love and affection through emotional, spiritual and energetic connections with their partners. Intimacy is extremely important to individuals with Water Validation Checklists. Little gifts are always welcome, but what they truly crave is your undivided attention, and a willingness to share and explore your deepest feelings. A private dinner for two at home with the telephone unplugged and nothing but candles and soft music in the background will be far more appreciated than an evening out in a crowded restaurant.

The challenge, of course, is not only to be able to recognize what Validation Language your partner speaks, but also to recognize your own Validation Language. It’s as important that we feel that we’re expressing our feelings fully as it is that our partners actually get the message we want them to receive. If we speak our language and they listen in theirs, something essential may be lost in the translation.

Certain languages work better together than others. Fire and Water can work well together, as long as when Fire makes the impulsive, grand gestures, they are fully present for their Water partner. Fire and Air also work well together, although the Fire partner may have to learn to become a bit more verbal and the Air partner may have to learn to become more active. Earth and Water also work very well together; Earth provides the boundaries and structures to contain the emotions of Water, and both Earth and Water are concerned with what lies beneath the surface.

The most challenging combinations are Air with Earth and Air with Water. All Air cares about is the words, and neither Earth nor Water believes words are nearly enough. If you have an Air Validation Checklist and you need to express your love in words, and your partner has an Earth Validation Checklist, the only way your partner will ever hear those words is if you take them and engrave them on something. Of course, the Earth partner will express affection through physical contact and gifts, and may not understand why their Air partner is feeling unappreciated. Earth doesn’t care about words, and Air absolutely needs to hear them.

People with Water Validation Checklists never listen to the actual words (which, after all, only make up 7% of all communication)—what they listen to is the tone of voice (38% of communication) and the body language (55% of communication). Air and Water have the most difficult time communicating because they’re each paying attention to different parts of the message.

I have a friend who works at Tiffany, and said that the busiest times of the year are the week before Valentine’s Day when the men come in to buy the jewelry for their wives and girlfriends, and the week after Valentine’s Day when the women come in to exchange the jewelry for pieces that they would actually wear.

The most important consideration when buying a Valentine’s Day gift is asking what your partner will most appreciate, not what you would most like to give them. If you speak different languages, there’s always a compromise. Consider that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a gift certificate. You and your partner can go shopping together post-Valentine’s Day, and your partner can choose the gift that they will most appreciate.

Kevin B. Burk is the author of The Relationship Handbook: How to Understand and Improve Every Relationship in Your Life. Visit for a FREE Report on creating Amazing Relationships.

©2006 Kevin B. Burk, all rights reserved. If you would like to reprint this article in your publication, web page, or eZine (which you may do for free!), click here for details.


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