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The Five Love Languages

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

In our Ingredients for a Healthy Relationship blog, we advised you to “nurture your commitment” to your relationship. In this blog we want to give you a fun tool created by Dr. Gary Chapman to do just that.

As an anthropologist, Chapman observed that the world-wide phenomena of being “in-love,” never really lasts more than two years. Further, that people often misinterpreted the departure of that effortless and passionate attraction (called being in-love) as a sign to move-on to a new relationship, or else suffer a loveless relationship.

But Chapman argues in his top-selling book The 5 Love Languages (#ad), that it isn’t until this obsessive love ends, that real love, lasting love, can begin. The key to surviving that transition (from in-love to real love) is to recognize your “love languages,” and for you and your partner to learn to speak each other’s “love languages.” If you can do that, your relationship won’t just survive the transition, it will thrive in a new, healthier, and more enduring form of love.

Your love language is whatever speaks to your heart-- whatever makes you feel loved. People can speak more than one love language, in-fact it’s important to receive and express love in many different ways over the course of a relationship, but most people are “fluent” in one or two, and limited or awkward in the rest.

For example, “我没兴趣,” is Chinese for “I love you.” If you don’t speak Chinese, or even if you don’t speak the same dialect, then those words are very unlikely to have the desired effect. (P.S. before you go get that tattooed on your lower-back, that’s actually Google Translate for “I’m not interested.” Which only further illustrates my point -- you want to speak the same language as the person you love… and always spell-check before putting ink to skin.) But if instead of saying “I love you,” you squeeze your partner’s hand before they set off for their job interview, your actions will convey the same message, possibly more powerfully.

So if you want your partner to hear you when you tell them you love them, you have to be willing to ask them what language they learned to speak growing up. If you want to feel loved by your partner, you have to be willing to find out what they can do or say that you can understand.

There are 5 love languages:

  1. Words of Affirmation

  2. Quality Time

  3. Receiving Gifts

  4. Acts of Service

  5. Physical Touch

Words of Affirmation: What would you most like to hear your partner say to you?

“Hello Beautiful. How was your day?” This is how my boyfriend greets me almost every time I get home -- kind words, a long hug, and a quick kiss. He’s not calling me beautiful because he’s hoping it will get me to cook dinner or compliment him back, he’s not even calling me beautiful because I look especially good in my athleisure that day, and yet those six simple words go so far. It tells me that he missed me, that he was looking forward to seeing me, that I have his full attention, that he continues to value my presence, thoughts, and feelings.

Words of affirmation come in more forms than just compliments though. They are the expressions of gratitude, humble requests, and words of encouragement:

“Hey! We’re dating. Isn’t that great?”

“Can you help me pick out flowers for Mother’s Day? She loved the ones I sent last year, but we both know you picked them!”

“You worked really hard on your paper, you should submit it for publication.”

If words of affirmation are one of your love languages it’s comments like these from your partner that will make you feel the most loved. It’s your job to share this information with your partner. If words of affirmation are your partner’s primary love language is, start asking yourself: what about your partner do you love? You want to be sincere about what you say, so reacquaint yourself with your feelings for your partner. This can be a good way to make sure that these words resonate for both of you. Then ask your partner: when was the last time I told that? If their response is anything along the lines of “not in way too long,” even jokingly, listen. Know that your perception of how regularly you use words of affirmation to express love may be radically different from your partner’s. If your partner grew up in a family where they say “I love you” everytime they hang up the phone, they’ll read into it if you hang up without saying it. The same way if you grew up with a stoic male role-model, you may not realize that your partner expects to hear those three little words almost everyday, and not just on anniversaries.

Quality Time: How often does your partners give you their undivided attention?

When my boyfriend asks me how my day was, he waits to hear the answer. He isn’t looking at his phone. He isn’t yelling from the other room. He is actually looking at me for non-verbal clues, and engaging me in conversation. Admittedly, if my day was anything but great, it becomes a lot harder for him not to interrupt me with unrequested advice and solutions. But he is aware of his tendency to want to fix everything, and my conflicting desire to sometimes just complain and be heard, so now we have a joke about it.

The joke is that “it’s not about the nail.” (Click on the link to see the hilarious YouTube video). Whenever I reference this Youtube video, we are able to switch gears from frustration and annoyance, to awareness, humor, and gratitude. This allows for our time together to remain high in quality despite our predispositions. That way, when one of us has a long day, and we just want to sit on the couch next to each other and not talk, it doesn’t result in a fight.

Time and attention are our most precious commodities, and we aren’t always able to be as generous with them as we would like -- I have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), and my boyfriend is a really busy guy. Still we make time to share experiences together as often as we can. This sometimes looks like concerts or cooking classes, but most of the time it’s just working out, or taking a walk to the local bookstore together. I don’t usually want to work out, but I am willing to do it because it’s about spending time together, and that’s what counts.

If quality time is one of your love languages, schedule time with your partner where you agree to put the phones away, and talk or do something together.

If quality time is your partner’s primary love language is, start by asking yourself: when I’m with my partner, am I giving them my full attention? And what are some ways we could spend more time together given our schedules? Again, perception of time spent together, and the quality of that time may vary between partners so ask them if their needs are being met.

Receiving Gifts: Can a gift say what words cannot?

I grew up thinking that a good father/husband was one who was always away on business, but who always returned with a suitcase full of thoughtful souvenirs for his children, flowers or jewelry for his wife, and without having taken off his wedding band. These symbols of love mean less to me now, but if your love language is receiving gifts then such symbols of love hold great weight for you. And lucky for you, receiving gifts is the easiest of the love languages to learn if your partner doesn’t know to show you love by giving you gifts yet.

If your partner’s primary love language is receiving gifts, that’s probably the thing that they complain about. “You never buy me flowers anymore. It’s not like we’re starving. And even if we were my father used to pick my mother flowers everyday walking home from work. I’m always getting you things.” Listen to what they are saying. They aren’t asking for something you can’t afford. They are really just asking for you to show them that you care, in a way they understand. If you are a terrible gift giver, ask someone for advice, or just keep the receipt, because even a bad but thoughtful present is better than no present in your partner’s case.

Acts of Service: How can I help?

My boyfriend and I have different standards for cleanliness. He only sees a dirty room as problematic, were as I see a disorganized room as such. As a result, I tend to do more of the day to day cleaning and organizing, but we know what chores we like, and which ones we don’t, so we divide and conquer around that. For example, I hate: folding clothes; having to make the bed when it’s late and I’m already tired; and refiling the Brita water dispenser. I know he: hates having to break down cardboard boxes; doesn’t know how to load the dishwasher effectively and correctly; and would never remembers to throw out perishables before a trip without multiple reminders.

We know these things about each other, and so when one of us does that dreaded task so that the other one doesn’t have to, it’s recognized and appreciated as an expression of love. It took us awhile to figure these things out about each other, but the best thing to do is always just ask your partner: how can I help? A stress-free, mess-free home means your partner has more time to invest in you and the relationship.

If your partner’s primary love language is acts of service, figure out what acts are important to them. Cooking? Diaper duty? Walking the dog? Paying the bills? Then help out where you can. Make sure you don’t perform an act of service with expectations though. Just because you mowed the lawn does not mean you are owed anything. Acts of service are performed out of love for your partner, so if you can’t perform those acts without coming to resent your partner for having to do them, find something else to do.

Here is a funny video of a couple getting acts of service all wrong. Learn from their mistakes. Try to pay attention to what you partner does for you, so that you remember to be grateful to them.

Physical Touch: How does this feel?

Don’t assume that physical touch is every man’s love language just because it includes sex. A man’s relationship needs are not met simply because he is having quality sex as often as he so desires. My favorite Margaret Atwood quote is: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” To me this quote speaks to the power of physical touch in relationships, a touch can be hurtful just the same as another could be loving… and that doesn’t even begin to cover BDSM. But it also speaks to the fact that men require words of affirmation just as much as they need physical touch, sometimes even more.

Physical touch means the PG stuff too, so don’t write off a good hug, or a well-timed hand squeeze as immaterial expressions of love.

If your partner’s primary love language is physical touch, show them you love them by asking them: how, when, and where do you like to be touched? Don’t just assume you know what feels good to them. For example, I once offered to massage the knots out of my boyfriend’s back -- turns out I don’t have the upper body strength. He was too polite to say anything until I took a needed break from exertion to ask him how it felt. Then we both had a good laugh because he grabbed a feather and gently ran it across my shoulders. That was how it felt to him, even though I was putting my whole body into it! So again, ask your partner what feels good to them.

Want to Find Out Your Love Language?

To find out your love language check out Chapman's Book (#ad) or take it for free here on his website: Take your results lightly. If they serve as a useful tool for you and your partner, then have fun with it. If the framework doesn’t work for you, there are many other ways to improve communication in your relationship, including couples therapy and additional online resources.

Written by Sophie Wright

Originally published on 10/25/2019

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