What Is a Love Language?
Your love language describes the primary way that you receive love from others. Dr. Gary Chapman, in his work as a marriage counselor, noticed that couples voiced similar complaints regarding how they wanted to feel loved by their spouses. When he found that their desires often fell into one of five categories, his work on the five love languages began (1).
Why Love Languages Matter
Awareness of your love language can help you increase your emotional intelligence and satisfaction in relationships. For example, there may be disconnects between how a loved one shows you affection and how you actually perceive affection. Conversely, the way you show love to others may be misaligned with the ways they prefer to receive love. Understanding your love language and those of people you care about can help you experience love at a deeper level.
The 5 Love Languages
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
#1: Words of Affirmation
One way to emotionally express love is to uplift others with your words. Complimenting others, or verbally expressing your appreciation for them, can be powerful ways of doing so. Some simple ways to affirm others:
- “That hat looks great on you!”
- “I appreciate that you made dinner for me.”
- “Your smile brightens my day.”
There are various “dialects” of this love language, or more specific ways in which your loved ones may prefer verbal affirmations. The following are a few examples:
Encouraging Words: Uplifting others with encouragement, especially in areas that they may feel insecure or lacking courage (e.g., trying a new skill, maintaining one of their goals, or experiencing sadness)
Kind Words: Your tone matters. For example, saying “I love you” with kindness and tenderness has a very different effect than saying, “I love you?” Similarly, offering to do something for your spouse may lose its value if your tone indicates that you’re doing so begrudgingly or with contempt.
Humble Words: Make requests, not demands. When we demand things from others, entitlement negates affection. For example, asking “Could you please help me assemble this?” conveys a different message than, “Instead of just standing around, make yourself useful and help me assemble this.”
#2: Quality Time
Another way to express love is spending time with others and offering them your undivided attention. This does not mean sitting on the couch and watching TV together while you’re both occupied with your phones. It could, however, mean talking to each other, face to face, with your devices turned off. It could also mean taking a walk together, or looking at each other while you talk over a meal.
Focused Attention: Spending quality time with someone doesn’t just mean being in the same room as them. The key to quality time is intentionally focusing on your loved one so that they feel seen by you. With the ever-present demands of technology, offering your undivided attention may be difficult at first, and may feel more intimate than you’re used to. Don’t lose hope, and keep practicing; it will get easier.
Quality Conversation: A dialect of “quality time” is quality conversation. When offering our undivided attention to others, it’s critical that we do so intuitively to their needs. For example, interrupting your loved one’s recount of their day with multiple questions, or being quick to offer unsolicited advice, may detract from your quality time together. Listen to understand, and create a space where they can comfortably share their experiences with you. Learning to listen can be as difficult as learning a new language.
Quality Activities: Spend quality time with your loved ones in ways that are most meaningful to them. For example, there may be hobbies or activities that your loved one already enjoys, or you may propose a new activity that you’re both willing to try.
#3: Receiving Gifts
Gifts can be physical manifestations of love, and are more important to some than others. Maybe you’ve received a gift that made you feel appreciated, cared for, or understood. A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “She was thinking of me,” or “He remembered me.” It’s important to remember that gifts themselves, or their monetary values, are not the important aspects of this love language. Your thoughts and emotions behind the gifts are ultimately what convey love.
The Gift of Self: Offering your presence to your loved one, and “showing up” for them when they need you, can be the greatest gift of all. There may have been times in your life that a loved one wasn’t there for you when you really needed them, and there may be times you fondly remember feeling supported by their physical presence.
#4: Acts of Service
Perhaps your loved one most appreciates when you do things that she or he would like you to do. For example, running errands, cooking a meal, cleaning the house, or handling the bills are acts of service. Furthermore, the acts of service that convey love will depend on what your loved one would specifically appreciate for you to do. You can discern this by having a conversation about what they’d most appreciate your help with. Doing things for your loved one communicates that you were thinking of them and wanted to support them.
Intention Matters: Completing acts of service for your loved one may attract the wrong kind of attention if you do so in a manner that is forced, begrudging, or with an expectation for reward. Love is freely given, and your acts of service should be also.
Don’t Be a Doormat: Serving your loved one can breed resentment if you feel disrespected, unappreciated, or ignored. When you complete acts of service, although you may not expect gratitude or acknowledgement for them, it’s important that you still feel appreciated by your loved one. Feeling used or manipulated by your spouse to do certain things is not an expression of love.
#5: Physical Touch
Physical touch can be a powerful tool for communicating love, especially marital love. For example, holding hands, kissing, hugging, and sex are ways of communicating emotional love with your love. Physical touch can strengthen or tear down a relationship. It can convey love or hate, especially for those whose primary love language is touch.
For example, hitting is detrimental to any child, but is catastrophic to a child whose primary love language is touch. A hug conveys love to any child, but it shouts love to a child whose primary love language is touch. The same applies for adults. Being aware of whether your partner appreciates physical touch, and how they feel most loved by physical touch, can further strengthen your relationship with them.
Learning How to Love
When we understand how our partners/family/friends best receive love, we can more easily strengthen our bonds with them by honoring their love languages. In the same vein, we can feel disconnected from our loved ones when our attempts to express love go unnoticed, unacknowledged, or unappreciated. Increasing our emotional intelligence in understanding how we best receive love can produce more intimate relationships with people we care about.
What’s Your Love Language?
Take some time to reflect on the ways you best receive love with this online quiz.
- Chapman, G. D. (2010). The 5 love languages: the secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Pub.