A few years ago, my friend was having issues with a guy she’d just started dating. He was pretty open about his feelings for her and was frustrated that she wasn’t. Her reasoning was that she was obviously into him, why did she need to keep saying it?
She’s pretty clued up on the science behind relationships (she’s actually the one who first told me about attachment styles, which I wrote about here) so was able to figure out the core reason behind their communication struggles.
“We have different love languages,” she explained to me. Again, she hadn’t been dating him for long – I was confused as to why she was already talking about love. Turns out, she was referring to a concept shared in a book called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman.
In it, Dr Chapman states that there are five general ways romantic partners give and receive love. He calls them ‘love languages’ and outlines them as words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch and gifts.
Dr Chapman says that because relationships grow better when partners understand each other, it’s crucial partners know each other’s love languages. He explains that we often show love to our partner in the way we ourselves like to receive it – despite the fact their love language might be different to ours.
So, what are the five languages?
Words of affirmation
People with a words of affirmation love language value written or verbal acknowledgements of affection, which can include compliments, words of appreciation and frequent texting or social media engagement.
Quality time is all about how you spend time with your partner. Regardless of what you guys do together, if they’re attentive and focused only on you, you’ll feel loved.
Acts of service
Acts of service is best described as doing something for your partner that you know they’d appreciate like bringing them a coffee in bed, cooking their favourite meal or filling up their petrol.
If your love language is physical touch, this means nonverbal acts can make you feel cherished. It refers to touch, physical closeness and other forms of physical connection, like kissing, hugging, holding hands and having sex.
Just like it sounds, a love language of gifts refers to someone who feels loved or shows love in the giving and receiving of gifts. Of the five love languages, gifts is by far the most misunderstood as people assume those with this love language are shallow and materialistic. In the book, however, Dr Chapman explains that it isn’t the price tag that’s important to someone with this love language – it’s the thought and effort that went into choosing or executing the gift.
In the case of my friend, clearly her love language was different to her partner’s. His was words of affirmation, which meant he valued verbal affirmation. Meanwhile, my friend’s was acts of service, which meant she was all about actions, big or small.
For her, vocalising her feelings for him didn’t come naturally – instead, later in their relationship, she made him a scrapbook and threw him a surprise birthday party. You see, those were the ways she expressed her love for him.
If you’re reading this and finding yourself relating to several languages, know that yes, you can identify with a few, though you will always only have a primary and secondary language.
The other thought that might arise is, like in the case of my friend, what if your love language is different to your partner’s? The good news is that you can still have a healthy relationship – you’ll just need to put in a little effort to understanding each other’s languages and, therefore, needs. Because once you know it, you’ll easily be able to meet them.
The bottom line here is that we shouldn’t assume everyone gives and receives love in the same way. If say, your partner often picks up your dry cleaning without you even asking them to, but doesn’t often say “I love you”, know that they have an acts of service love language – these small favours are their way of showing love. And with that knowledge, maybe try doing something nice for them too – especially now that you know they’ll really appreciate it.
You can take the 5 Love Language quiz here.