The idea of ‘love languages’ comes from a book by Gary Chapman, who described five different ways that couples express and experience love: through words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving, acts of service, and physical touch.
His ideas haven’t been tested by research, but nevertheless many couples do find that they’re a useful way of building emotional connections. And I’ve certainly seen people using the five different ways of showing love for their partner in my counselling practice.
What is his/her lingo?
Watch your partner carefully and ask yourself which of the things they do are showing their love for you. Look for what they seem to want from you. For example, if your spouse often cuddles up to you, or asks for hugs, then receiving touch is certainly an important love language for them. Or perhaps their face lights up when you compliment them? Then the chances are that words of affirmation are their preferred love language.
You should also think about your own ways of conveying your love. Especially if you realise that they’re different from your partner’s. It’s also a good idea to simply talk about the whole idea of love languages together!
Chapman argues that we use one love language as our primary way of expressing and receiving love, and another as a secondary way to communicate. And that we tend to give love in the same way we like to receive it. And just as most couple’s personalities differ, there’s also a good chance that you and your partner’s love languages are different! Which means you’re likely to disappoint one another. So working on understanding each other’s love language is a good way to improve your lives together.
1. Words of affirmation
Feeling appreciated is one of our deepest human needs, so compliments and words of appreciation form a powerful love language.
If your partner prefers receiving love via words of affirmation, then they really value hearing words like ‘I love you’ ‘You look good!’ ‘That was a lovely meal!’ Negative or insulting comments cut especially deep, and aren’t easily forgiven.
2. Quality time
Quality time means giving someone your undivided attention — not just watching the same movie together. Quality time means being close, with no distractions. TV and phones off, looking at each other and talking together. It means sitting on the sofa, just the two of you. Or taking a walk together, going out for a meal, or having a long and deep conversations.
Your undivided attention is hugely important to a partner who’s preferred love language is quality time. Focussing on them means they feel satisfied and content. Only half listening to them, distractions, or postponed dates are deeply resented.
3. Gift giving
Giving someone a gift is another way of showing that you’re thinking affectionately of them. So if your partner’s preferred love language is receiving gifts, meaningful and thoughtful presents are how they feel appreciated. It doesn’t matter how much they cost. What is important is that the gifts show that you’re thinking of them. What if you discover that your partner’s preferred love language is receiving gifts, but you’re not a gift giver? Someone who hardly ever received gifts as a child, and never learned how to choose one? Then you and your spouse speak different love languages. Now you have a second language to learn! Just practice — gift-giving’s one of the easiest languages to learn.
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4. Acts of service
Acts of service means doing things you know your spouse would like. Things like cooking a meal, setting or clearing the table, making the bed, cleaning, getting the kids ready for school, picking up the groceries, maintaining the car are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time and energy, so if done with a positive spirit, they really are expressions of love. Because if your spouse’s love language is acts of service, then actions really do speak louder than words. Maybe your wife likes working in the garden. She will definitely feel more loved if you help her occasionally.
For people whose preferred love language is acts of service, lending a helping hand shows you really care. People who prefer this language don’t cope well with broken promises — or laziness. They have very little tolerance for people who make extra work for them. So if you’re not willing to show your love for them by doing them a favour, they feel you’re saying you don’t value them.
5. Physical touch
Physical touch is a hugely important way of communicating emotional intimacy. Babies, for example, who are held, stroked and kissed develop far better than those who are deprived of physical contact.
Physical touch is also a powerful way of communicating love in a relationship. Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse are all ways of communicating your love to your partner. When physical touch is your primary love language, you feel unloved without it. With it, you feel secure. What if you realise that your partner’s preferred love language is physical touch, but you didn’t grow up in a ‘touching family.’ Try sitting closer together as you watch TV. Touch your spouse as you walk through the room. Hug and kiss when you leave the house and again when you return.
What if you aren’t a touchy-feely person?
Because if you do discover that physical touch is your spouse’s primary love language, then suddenly there are lots of new ways you can demonstrate your love to them. And that doesn’t mean only in the bedroom! Every physical connection, like holding hands, kissing, or any type of physical contact will be hugely appreciated. Your partner may not be into over-the-top Public Displays of Affection, but getting more physical contact will definitely make them feel safe and loved.
When you speak different languages
There’s often confusion when they don’t match. So if a husband’s love language is acts of service, but his wife’s is words of affirmation — like him saying that he loves her — then she won’t see that when he clears the table he’s expressing his love for her. She just thinks it’s only fair he’s doing some of the chores.
So you should consciously try to use your partner’s love languages to show your love for them. Even though they might not be in the love languages you prefer. You can also train your partner to use your love languages! Just reward them with a smile every time they do. Or a small touch, or compliment. Before you know it, they’ll have started to pick up your preferred languages.
And just because you or your partner like a particular love language, that doesn’t mean you should stop using the others. Even though you’ll still tend to use each other’s preferred languages more than the others, you can still enjoy using them all.
Trying out all the love languages is a lot of fun, and using them regularly will build stronger emotional connections between you.
Above all, talk about how you communicate your love for one another. Talk about moments when an expression of love was missed or misinterpreted. And start saying ‘I love you’ a lot more! Words of affirmation may not be your primary love language, or your partner’s, but learning how to say ‘I love you’ a lot more always improves a relationship.