If you’ve ever seen a loving gesture to a friend go unappreciated, or spent hours daydreaming about an anniversary gift that you’d never receive, your instinct in that moment was probably disappointment, confusion, and sadness. It was probably hard for you to understand what went wrong: if this person loves me, why didn’t they do something so obvious to make me happy? There’s a good chance that the 5 love languages can help you understand this disconnect.
In 1992, marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman started to pick up on a trend he was seeing in the arguments he was mediating between couples. One person would say they were doing their best to make their partner feel loved, only to see their gestures, words or gifts to go unrecognized. Meanwhile the other partner couldn’t even see what they were supposed to be appreciating, instead wishing their partner would just do the one thing they had asked for. Dr Chapman realized the conflict came down to a difference in the definition of love: if one person feels loved when they’re complimented, and the other shows love by giving a gift, they can both start feeling invisible to each other. Dr Chapman saw it over and over again: a wife frustrated that her husband always told her she did a great job keeping the house clean but never helped, a husband hurt that his wife didn’t even notice when he cleaned the whole house. If these kinds of miscommunications sound familiar to you, you might be experiencing the exact sort of misunderstanding Dr. Chapman set out to solve.
What Dr. Chapman found was that there are five ways that people receive and express love, and that in general each person has one or two of these outlets that they prefer. This is how he came up with the five love languages: quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, gift giving, and physical touch.
If you’ve never taken the love languages test, I’d recommend it. Knowing your love language can help you understand and articulate your needs to loved ones and partners, and can even help you better learn how to express love to others.
People who prefer quality time as their love language feel most loved when someone simply makes time for them. For a quality time person gifts and kind words are all well and good but they don’t mean much if they never get to see you. If you’re experiencing tension with someone who has this love language, try to think of the last time you set aside time to focus on them and talk to them. If you’ve been busy lately, they’ve probably noticed and might be feeling neglected.
Luckily, this love language can be met in a variety of ways; people who prefer quality time are generally just as happy with a 30 minute walk around the block as they are on an elaborate dinner date. You might even find this type volunteering to drive you to the airport or help you with a demanding project just so they can spend some time with you.
Acts of Service
If your partner often takes on the housework, tackles a project you’ve been dreading, or always makes sure your car is filled up with gas, acts of service might be their love language. This language sees taking on burdens and obligations for someone else as the most loving thing a person could do. For people who prefer acts of service, there’s no sweeter act than having someone else take something that they were dreading off of their to-do list.
To these people a chore is never just a chore; if they’re always doing the housework or taking care of tasks for you it’s a sign that they care about you. This also means that they can be especially hurt when their partner doesn’t reciprocate, notice when they’re feeling overwhelmed and attempt to share the load. If you’re in a relationship with someone who speaks this language, you’ll get further doing a load of laundry or cleaning the bathroom than you will bringing home a gift or simply telling them “thank you.”
Words of Affirmation
People who prefer words of affirmation as their love language see words as the ultimate validation. If you don’t speak in words of affirmation but your partner does, you’ve probably been surprised more than once by them asking you if you care about them. To you, it might seem like you’ve been doing everything to affirm that you like them, and even the fact that you’re in a relationship could be enough of a sign that things are going well. But people who prefer words of affirmation need things spelled out for them to truly feel loved, and get a lot of joy and security from being able to store up these words in their hearts.
If you feel like your partner’s been acting insecure, you might just want to check the kind of affection you’ve been showing them. Sometimes all it takes is intentionally telling them the things you like about them, telling them how much you appreciate them, or even leaving them a note to make sure they feel loved.
At first blush this language might seem a tad materialistic, but the truth is it’s the furthest thing from it. When it comes to the gift giving language, the price tag is almost never what counts. To people who prefer this language, a gift is a symbol of the time someone has spent thinking about them and thinking about what would make them happy. Sometimes the best gifts for people who speak this language cost no money at all; a handmade gift you spent time on, a poem or song, or even a photo album of your favorite moments together will make this type feel incredibly loved.
The biggest thing to remember for this type is that gifts aren’t just for holidays— you wouldn’t only give your partner two hugs a year, so don’t deprive them of their preferred form of affection for that long either! Gift types love any excuse to give something to a loved one— one of this type’s most uttered phrases is “this just made me think of you so I had to get it.” The same is true in the inverse; gift people love nothing more than an unexpected present given to them “just because.”
Of course every relationship involves a certain amount of physical touch, but for people who prefer it as their primary language it’s crucial to feel connected to their partner. This type is quick to feel neglected or distant from their partner if they don’t receive validating touch.
It doesn’t have to be over-the-top PDA, either; a simple arm around the waist or a brief handhold in public will make this type’s heart sing. Subtle, loving touches are the way to make this type feel like they matter to you; if they seem out of sorts or upset, a hug or an offer for a back rub will always speak volumes to them.
One of the hardest obstacles we have to overcome when we get close to people is that real love can’t come without understanding. When we truly care about someone, we jump at the chance to better know how to make them feel loved, and the five love languages can be instrumental in that process. Knowing how to show love in a way that translates to our partners and close friends is a skillset, a gift that will never stop giving.