The five love languages describe five ways that people receive and express love in a relationship. These are words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts.
Knowing your partner's love language and letting them know yours is a way to help you both feel loved and appreciated. Author and pastor Gary Chapman describes how to use these love languages to show your partner you care for them in a way that speaks to their heart.
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The Five Love Languages
Chapman's book "The 5 Love Languages" was first published in 1992. Before writing the book, Chapman began to notice patterns in couples he was counseling. He realized that the couples were misunderstanding each other's needs.
That led him to come up with five love languages, or ways that people in relationships express love. They are:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
Words of Affirmation
"Words of affirmation" is about expressing affection through spoken words, praise, or appreciation. When this is someone's primary love language, they enjoy kind words and encouragement, uplifting quotes, love notes, and cute text messages. You can make this person's day by complimenting them or pointing out what they do well.
Someone with this love language wants undivided attention. They feel loved if you are present and focused on them when you are together. This means putting down the cell phone, turning off the computer, making eye contact, and actively listening.
People with this love language are looking for quality over quantity.
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A person with physical touch as their primary love language feels love through physical affection. Aside from sex, they feel loved when their partner holds their hand, touches their arm, or gives them a massage at the end of the day, for example.
This person's idea of a perfect date might include cuddling on the couch with a glass of wine and a good movie. They simply want to be close to their partner physically.
Acts of Service
Acts of service are nice things you do for your partner that make them feel loved and appreciated, such as:
- Helping with the dishes
- Running errands
- Putting gas in the car
If your partner's main love language is acts of service, they'll notice and appreciate little things you do for them. They tend to perform acts of service and kindness for others, too.
For someone who uses and responds to this love language, gift-giving indicates love and affection. They treasure not only the gift itself but also the time and effort the gift-giver put into it.
People who enjoy receiving gifts as part of their primary love language do not necessarily expect large or expensive presents; it's more the effort and thoughtfulness behind the gift that count.
When you take the time to pick out a gift specifically for them, it tells them you really know them. People with this love language can often remember every little gift they have received from their loved ones because it makes such an impact on them.
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How to Identify Your Love Language
In a relationship, do you feel more loved when your partner:
- Tells you, "I love you," or praises something you did?
- Surprises you with a meaningful gift?
- Plans a trip for just the two of you?
- Runs the errands or does the laundry?
- Holds your hand while you're walking?
Answering these questions could give you a hint as to what your love language might be. You could also try to recall the sorts of things you ask for in a relationship or consider how you express love to your partner. Chapman also offers an online 30-question quiz to help you determine your dominant love language.
Your partner's love language might not be the same as yours. When couples have different primary love languages, there are bound to be misunderstandings. However, if your partner learns to speak your love language (and you, theirs), they will likely feel loved, appreciated, and, ultimately, happier in the relationship.
How Love Languages Benefit Relationships
We all express and receive love differently. Learning and understanding those differences can have a meaningful impact on your relationship. According to Chapman, this is one of the simplest ways to improve your relationships. Here are some other ways learning your respective love languages could be beneficial.
Love Languages Promote Selflessness
When you are committed to learning someone else's love language, you are focused on their needs rather than your own. This is the central premise of Chapman's theory. Couples should work to learn their partner's love language rather than trying to convince their partner to learn theirs. Ideally, both people will want to express love in a way that is meaningful to the other.
The entire purpose of exploring your love languages together is to learn how to love your partner in a way that is meaningful to them.
Love Languages Create Empathy
As you learn more about how your partner experiences love, you learn to empathize with them. It helps you step outside of yourself for a moment and take a look at what makes another person feel significant and loved.
When couples are committed to learning and using the love languages, they increase their emotional intelligence and learn how to put someone else's needs above their own. Instead of speaking their own love language to their partner, they learn how to speak in a language that their partner understands.
Love Languages Help Maintain Intimacy
Regularly talking about what keeps your love tanks full can build more understanding—and ultimately, intimacy—in your relationship. You'll not only learn more about one another, but you'll also connect in deeper, more significant ways. When this happens, your relationship feels more intimate.
A 2016 review published in the Global Journal of Health Science concluded that improving communication skills can aid intimacy in a marriage.
Love Languages Aid Personal Growth
Focusing on something or someone outside of yourself can lead to personal growth. Loving your partner in ways that are outside your comfort zone forces you to grow and change, and to look outside yourself.
Love Languages Help You Share Love in Meaningful Ways
When couples start speaking one another's love language, the things they do for each other become more intentional and meaningful. They are saying "I love you" in ways that make sense to their partners, who then feel noticed, content, and appreciated.
Love Languages in Everyday Life
According to Chapman, love languagesalso apply to relationships between parents and children, among coworkers, and among friends. For example, if your child's primary love language is words of affirmation, they'd like to hear verbal praise or, "I love you." It's highly individual: A coworker might feel more appreciated if you use one love language instead of another.
Your love language can also change occasionally. For instance, if you had a bad day at work, you might prefer a hug from your partner rather than an encouraging word.
The key is to regularly communicate and ask what your partner needs to feel cherished, heard, appreciated, and loved. Then, put this into practice.
Criticisms of the Love Language Theory
Though learning the love languages helps many people communicate better with their partners, there are limitations to the theory and how people apply it to their relationships.
Many People Misuse the Languages
Some people get a bit competitive about using love languages, which can actually strain a relationship. For example, partners might start keeping track of all the times they use their partner's love language and compare it to how many times their partner used theirs.
Love languages can be a way to open up communication and compassion, but you shouldn't use them as games or weapons against your partner. Some people continue to use their own language (instead of their partner's) to show they care—and that's OK.
You can be in a relationship with someone who doesn't share your love language. Try to be understanding and open. You can recognize and appreciate your partner’s actions even if they don’t match your own language perfectly.
They Don't Fix Other Relationship Problems
The five love languages won't fix all of your relationship issues; they are simply one tool of many you can use to improve communication with your partner.
Research shows that couples who use each other's love languages feel the happiest within their relationships when they also use self-regulation tools to handle their own emotions. While the love languages were a tool, the couples' accountability for their emotions and behavioral changes contributed the most to their overall happiness.
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Your love language can change, too. It's important to accept and expect that love languages can change over time, especially given life stressors or major changes such as having children.
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They May Lead to Pressure on Partners
Many people talk about love languages in the context of committed relationships or marriage. Remember that learning and understanding your own love language is an important tool for you to practice self-love.
You want to avoid putting too much pressure on your partner to consistently express your love language to you.
One study found that the biggest obstacle for couples who were using each other's love languages was that the recipient often didn't recognize that their partner was trying to use their love language. It's crucial that the recipient recognizes their partner's efforts, even if they don't exactly meet expectations.
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They Perpetuate Heteronormativity
Chapman’s original model focuses on heterosexual couples even though the theory can apply to any partnership regardless of their sexual orientation. If you're reading "The 5 Love Languages" and you aren't in a heterosexual relationship or you aren't heteronormative, it might feel frustrating to be excluded from the text.
What is heteronormativity?
Heteronormativity is the assumption that all people are straight and that romantic and sexual relationships are always between one man and one woman. It assumes that heterosexuality is the default sexual orientation and that it's the only normal or natural way to express sexuality and attraction.
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Once you and your partner know each other's love language, you both can benefit. Speaking your partner's love language can take a bit of effort and intention, though, especially if it is different from yours. Remember, healthy relationships aren't born; they're developed through attention and effort.
The good news is that you can enhance your relationship by learning your partner's love language and putting it into practice. And, if you both are committed to loving one another in the ways that speak to both of you, you will find yourself not only deeper in love, but also in a happy, fulfilling relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the love languages of children?
In 1997, Gary Chapman wrote a book with Ross Campbell, MD, about how the five love languages can apply to children as well. In it, he describes methods of observing which love language your child may resonate with. There is also a quiz that a parent can take on behalf of their child. It is available on the Five Love Languages website.
How can I tell my partner's love language?
The easiest way to determine your partner's love language is to have them take the quiz. You could also consider what they ask for or do most in a relationship. Do they frequently bring you thoughtful gifts? Or tell you they love you? This could be a hint as to what their love language might be.
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