Conceptualized in marriage therapist Dr. Gary Chapman’s 1995 book The Five Love Languages, the notion of relationship discord being a result of combatting “love languages” has been making the rounds once more over two decades later.
What is a love language?
A love language is basically what any given person needs from their partner in order to feel loved. Because we all express love differently, we need to understand our own wants and needs as well as those of our partners. Dr. Chapman writes in his book:
My conclusion after thirty years of marriage counseling is that there are basically five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects….The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.
The five love languages:
Words of Affirmation: Expressing affection through spoken affection, praise, or appreciation.
Acts of Service: Actions, rather than words, are used to show and receive love.
Receiving Gifts: Gifting is symbolic of love and affection.
Quality Time: Expressing affection with undivided, undistracted attention.
Physical Touch: It can be sex or holding hands. With this love language, the speaker feels affection through physical touch.
If you find yourself saying “I require all of these things” then know you are not alone. The love languages aren’t hard and fast scientific rules so much as guidelines. Chapman suggests most people have a primary and secondary language that to them are more important when it comes to feeling appreciated.
Chapman offers a way of discovering someone’s love language: “One must observe the way they express love to others, and analyze what they complain about most often and what they request from their significant other most often.” The idea here is that people generally want to receive love in the same way they give love, and that ideal communication occurs when both partners in the couple ‘speak’ to each other in their preferred love languages.
What’s my love language?
In order to figure out your love language, you need to figure out the exact actions that make you feel loved in a relationship. Is it when your partner says “I love you”? Is it when they make dinner and do the dishes without being asked after you’ve had a long day of work? When they bring you a cupcake? When they give you undivided one-on-one attention? When they kiss you or hold your hand?
Make a list of the last five or ten specific things your partner said or did that made you feel the most loved. You should start to see a pattern emerge. Chapman also offers a quick quiz on his website, which is actually super helpful because it ranks the significance of each language for you, personally, and can help you narrow down which one is primary and which is secondary for you, as well as what ‘”dialects” you speak.
For example, my primary love language is physical touch, but close seconds are acts of service and quality time. Gift-giving means the least to me, which is also important to note. If my partner’s primary love language is receiving gifts and I couldn’t care less about presents, you could see where a communication divide could occur as a result of feeling unappreciated.
How can this help my relationship?
Knowing what makes your partner feel loved allows you to put yourself in their shoes while simultaneously not wasting time on things that don’t matter to them. In understanding each other more you will inevitably argue less. You’ll know what you have to do to make your partner feel appreciated.
Similarly, you’ll know what you have to do to keep things flowing smoothly. If quality time ranks high on the list for both of you, you can probably figure out that a long-distance relationship will not work well for you. If words of affirmation rank high for your partner, you’ll remember to tell them how you feel more often. If your partner’s primary language is “acts of service”, you can get their lunch ready and change the oil in the car for them.
Yes, this works in other relationships too.
The same languages can be applied to friendships, family, and the workplace (the last one so much so, that Chapman wrote a followup book called The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace).
Keep in mind, however, that your love languages may not hold the same priorities in different settings. For example, physical touch is probably way less important when it comes to your best friend or your sibling than it is in your relationship with your partner.
While love languages will not fix most of those heavy relationship problems couples deal with, they do act as a helpful little cheat sheet when it comes to empathizing with your partner and understanding what you can do to make them feel happy in a relationship. Communication, after all, is the key to any successful relationship.