The Five Love Languages
Written by Michele Dial, M.Ed, LPC
Dr. Gary Chapman’s decades-old book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, attempts to unveil the mystery of effectively showing our partner love, as well as how we receive love. We all make efforts to show our love in one way or another, so it can be frustrating and disheartening when a partner says he or she feels invisible, unloved, or unimportant. “How can they not know?”, we wonder. “I never get any credit for my efforts.” On the other hand, you may find yourself thinking you are married to or dating a saint, and can’t figure out why you don’t feel fulfilled.
If either of these scenarios has been your experience, it may be that you and your partner are speaking a different love language. When that’s the case, it’s unlikely that any amount of effort will communicate your love and commitment to your partner, and either or both of you may be left with feelings of longing, sadness, and disconnection. That’s why it is so important to understand what specific behaviors resonate with our partners to demonstrate our love and support.
Here’s a snapshot of the Five Love Languages. At the end, you’ll find a list of specific be actions you can take to jumpstart your efforts toward putting these love languages into practice.
Words of Affirmation
The written and spoken word speaks volumes to people who fall into this category. Speakers of this language thrive on unsolicited compliments and words of appreciation and support. They need to hear from important figures in their life that their efforts are noticed. Meaningful, specific words of kindness speak volumes to this crowd. On the flip side: verbal insults leave especially deep wounds and can be devastating.
This love language takes presence to a new level. It’s not about just being in the same room, working through the daily tasks of life alongside each other. It’s about single-minded, undivided attention. Seriously. Not chatting across the dinner table, not catching up while folding laundry or during commercial breaks. This is face-to-face, eye-to-eye focus on one another. While it may sound difficult to achieve this laser focus, its power is so strong that small chunks of time are sufficient to communicate value and sustain connection. This language about quality more than quantity. On the flip side: missed dates and distractions are especially harmful to those who thrive on quality time.
It may be easy to see this language as materialistic or superficial. But in reality, it’s all about the gestures, big and small. “It’s the thought that counts” is truly the prevailing mindset. Gifts that cost absolutely nothing, such as something you’ve built, grown, written or created, will invoke joy beyond measure. If you’re not the creative type, don’t worry. You can still select gifts of any price range that are specifically relevant and meaningful to your loved one. Bonus points for everyday gifts or gestures that are not attached to a holiday. On the flip side: missed birthdays, anniversaries, etc, as well as generic, hasty gifts are often painful, albeit unintended messages of your beloved’s lack of value.
Acts of Service
This love language recognizes your loved one’s contributions to the family or home and seeks to ease his or her burden. If you partner is especially task-oriented and can’t rest until all the chores are finished, sharing the load speaks volumes of love. It’s not enough to suggest that your partner take a break and let the laundry wait – he or she won’t be able to relax, even if they do sit down. But taking over the task in order to give your partner a break – that’s downright heroic. On the flip side: laziness or broken commitments can increase your partner’s work load and diminish their value.
Physical touch is often reduced to sex exclusively. While sex is often an important component of a healthy, romantic relationship, it is far from the only way to show love through physical touch. Think back rubs, foot massages, a caress of the cheek, hand-holding, a lingering embrace. These gestures convey warmth, love, concern, compassion, and support in a tangible way. On the flip side: physical aggression or withholding physical affection can be catastrophic for lovers of this language.
These love languages are most effective when viewed as tools or instruments. Their goal is to assist and facilitate. Tools can’t “fix” our relationships for us. Nor does just reading about the tool and how it works. That’s why this concept of couples connection sometimes falls flat – if we know what someone’s love language is, but rarely make strides toward putting it into practice regularly, it’s wasted information. We don’t learn how to use a power drill and then sit on the couch and hope it drives in the screw for us. We have to take each tool in hand and actively use it to reap its benefits.
It is also crucial to remember that tools not weapons. When you’re angry, don’t use your loved one’s vulnerability to punish them. It’s okay to be angry, and wise to talk about the deeper emotions that are fueling your anger. But no one wins when the goal is to “get back at” or “punish” someone for being a party to our pain. Instead, use these tools to connect with and build up your partner in times of peace, and to understand your partner in times of distress.
While I don’t believe any singular concept can solve all issues for all relationships, Dr. Chapman’s work is still relevant today because it can help us identify our own needs and the needs of our partner in the context of romantic partnerships, as well as in other friend and family relationships. When both parties strive to meet these needs in meaningful and consistent ways, we are able to build strong bonds and a firm foundation for the inevitable ups and down we encounter throughout life.
Wanna know what your love language is? Take the quiz at 5lovelanguages.com.
The Five Love Languages in Action
Words of Affirmation
Let me express myself without agreeing or punishing
Let me know about your day
Tell me about when you feel proud of me and why
Tell me how you feel, your intimate thoughts – don’t clam up
Tell me when you like the way I look
Compliment me in front of others
Tell me I’m doing a good job
Tell me something you appreciate about me
Say you’re sorry
Describe something positive about our future together
Come home for dinner together
Plan time to be alone with me
Focus on what I’m saying rather than being distracted when I talk
Read a relationship book with me
Make weekend plans with me
Be protective of our time together
Giving / Receiving Gifts
Send or pick flowers for me
Surprise me with small gifts
Buy me my favorite magazine
Bring home my favorite dessert
Make me something unique
Acts of Service
Groom yourself in preparing for time together
Do one of my regular household chores
Do tasks around the home
Run an errand for me
Spend more with being affectionate
Tell me more about what pleases you sexually
Show me affection that doesn’t lead to sex
Hold me when I’m upset
Give me a back rub
Give me a foot massage
Brush my hair