In his book The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman, a marriage counsellor of over 35 years, describes the five different love languages that people use, need, and respond to. For humans, he noted, these languages are like oil is to a car. Without them, engines and people seize up and can't operate smoothly or efficiently.
Chapman believes that within every child, there is a love tank that is waiting to be filled. A child who feels loved will develop. Normally those who don't will look for love in the wrong places…and at the wrong times. But this need for love isn’t limited to childhood. It continues right through our teenage years where even greater difficulties can occur. And the need to understand and fulfill these preferences for love languages never stops; it's there through adulthood and ultimately until the day we die.
Personality tools like Love Languages can help you create the best connection and relationships with everyone in your life, starting with your partner. So how does all this work? The five love languages that Gary Chapman discovered and wrote about are:
- Quality time
- Receiving gifts
- Acts of service; and
- Physical touch
All it takes to make use of these languages is the effort of working out which one your partner or family members prefer and then speaking to them in that love language and keep their love tank full.
At first, we’re multi-lingual
When we first fall in love, we speak all five love languages to the other person. We buy them presents, and have plenty of great, impulsive sex (hopefully we do, because it often doesn't get much better than this initial flush of hormones!) We tell the other person how gorgeous they are, thank them for everything, enjoy quality time together, give gifts with no thought of expense or expectation. We have lots of touchy, feely moments. We are, after all, 'in love'…the first stages of love.
If we don’t use it, we lose it
When this exciting, impossible-to-keep-up-forever, first stage disappears, so do most of the love languages we were so generously speaking to our partner. As humans, we do what's natural to our own preferences. So over time, we click back into our own preferred love language. There's nothing wrong with this, but your preferred love language – or languages – may not be your partner's. Therefore, not only are you both in the second, less intense phase of love, but you're both no longer receiving the variety of love languages you were getting before. As a result, you can each start to feel unloved. This might not affect your relationship immediately, but over time it can lead to real problems.
So, lets step through the five love languages so you can get an idea of how you love and how your partner and members of your family love too.
Love Language #1: Words of Affirmation
For those who prefer the love language of affirmations, the words 'I love you' and other words that affirm them, are greater than anything else. In this case, actions do not speak louder than words; kind words make their heart sing. Telling them how great they are or what a good job they've done is so important. By contrast, insults or rude or insincere words will upset them more than others and may not be easily forgiven because they’re so easily wounded by these.
If Words of Affirmation is your love language, remember that the world does not always flatter and give out compliments. You need to develop some resilience to non-affirmative language, hurtful words, and actions and build the skills to cope with life's imperfect situations.
If this is your partner’s love language, encouragement and affirmation requires your empathy and effort. And this means putting yourself in their shoes and using language that makes them feel loved and happy. If this isn’t your primary love language, you may find this difficult. But believe me, it will be worth the effort.
A friend of mine named Sharon, whose love language is 'Acts of Service' (which we'll discuss shortly) spends much of her time picking up after her son Chris, which aggravates her no end. He's a very kind young man, but he’s untidy as young people can often be. As a result, she nags him constantly. One day they visited us, and as it happens, Chris had helped Sharon clean up the garden earlier that day. As she told us how Chris had helped her, she put her arm around his shoulders and affirmed his behaviour. I have never seen a person stand straighter or smile more widely. His eyes absolutely lit up and he felt so proud and loved. And so did she! Both of their love tanks had been filled to the top. It was a truly joyful sight.
5 Love Language Tips: Words of Affirmations
Here are five tips for showing love to someone whose love language is ‘Affirmations’:
- Set up a reminder to affirm them somewhere where you can see it because affirming daily words is important.
- Compliment them aloud around others.
- Look for their strengths and tell them how much you appreciate these. Bonus: Often, it makes them want to live up to their reputation.
- Speak positively about them. Use words of praise, affection, and encouragement.
- Always say, 'I love you'.
Keep these in mind and you’ll keep the love tank full for those in your life who thrive on Words of Affirmation.
Love Language #2: Quality Time
For people whose love language is Quality Time, time alone together is perfect. Quality time means no interruptions, no phones, no eating, full eye contact…just time to talk and be together. Turn the TV off, put down knives and forks, and just listen. Being there for these individuals is important, whereas distractions, postponed dates, not showing up on time, failing to listen, and so on can be especially hurtful.
If you are not a Quality Time person and your partner or child is, learn to listen. Understand the other person's thoughts and feelings, ideas, and desires. Be willing to give advice, but only when it's requested (and never in a condescending manner). My family is always distracted by other things in the home environment. When we want our quality time, we go to dinner or coffee in a quiet place where we can enjoy each other's company.
5 Love Language Tips: Quality Time
Here are five tips for showing love to someone whose love language is ‘Quality Time’:
- Walk, ride, or run together and ask questions about their day.
- Ask to make a list of five activities that they would enjoy doing with you.
- Ask where they most enjoy talking to you and make time to talk with them there.
- Plan a weekend getaway, just the two of you.
- Date night or breakfast (one-on-one) would be wonderful.
These tips are happiness keys for those who need and love Quality Time.
Love Language #3: Receiving Gifts
The next love language is Receiving Gifts. Now don't mistake this love language for materialism – it’s not that at all. In this case, the receiver of the gift thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If your preference is for this love language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever else was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.
The gift doesn't always have to be extravagant or elaborate. But it does have to be meaningful and thoughtful. If you know that your partner's favourite comedian or band is going to perform, and you surprise them with tickets that would show the love behind the gift. By contrast, forgetting to give a birthday or anniversary gift, or just as bad…a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous. Small, everyday gifting gestures are important too. My nephew often stops at a service station on his way home to pick up a block of chocolate for his wife. She loves this so much. They weren’t expensive, but it's the fact that he thought of her that’s important.
5 Love Language Tips: Receiving Gifts
Here are five tips for showing love to someone whose love language is ‘Receiving Gifts’:
- Gifts must be given with appropriate packaging and ceremony.
- Select presents that fit your partner's interests.
- Give private, treasured gifts with affirming words and thoughts.
- Send flowers or chocolates, recognizing achievements.
- Build a list of gifts that you could give, both inexpensive and expensive.
Give thoughtfully and you’ll keep that love tank full if your partner speaks this love language.
Love Language #4: Acts of Service
As parents and partners, we're all bound by Acts of Service at some time. For many of us, it's just something that is part of everyday life – things we must do. But don’t confuse these sorts of obligations with this love language if doing things for others and having things done for you doesn't make your heart sing and bring joy.
For Acts of Service people, it might be cleaning, cooking, taking the kids and their friends into town and then picking them up, making a meal, or giving a friend a helping hand that gives them great happiness. Hearing the phrase, “Let me do that for you”, is always nice, but for people who see Acts of Service as the greatest expression of love, hearing this phrase is like hitting the jackpot!
These people love doing things for others. Acts of service individuals want their partners and others around them to notice that their own responsibilities are grand and sometimes daunting and that a helping hand now and then, shows love and care. However, just as much as these individuals love Acts of Service, they don't deal well with broken promises, laziness, and have very little tolerance for people who make more work for them. This shows lack of value for what they do for others.
Can vacuuming the floors be an expression of love? Absolutely. My husband Paul and I are both Acts of Service. Nothing makes us happier than when Paul is in the garden cleaning up and I'm in the house tidying. I know, it seems so old-fashioned domesticated, doesn't it? But when we're finished and we congratulate each other on a job well done, the satisfaction is amazing. It feels so good. Who would believe that closing the curtains in the house could be such a turn-on?
Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an Acts of Service person will speak volumes. The words he or she most want to hear is: “Let me do that for you”.
5 Love Language Tips: Acts of Service
Here are five tips for showing love to someone whose love language is ‘Acts of Service’:
- Make a list of the requests your partner has made over the last few weeks and select one to do each week.
- Ask your partner to list the things that he or she would like you to do during the next month. Rate them from one to ten and begin with one.
- If you have the money, hire someone to complete the acts of service that you cannot or do not want to do.
- Ask your partner what daily acts of service they would really like you to do and work these things into a daily schedule as little things really do mean a lot.
- Keep a box of suggestions made by the Acts of Service person of things that would make them happy. Look at them regularly and more importantly, do them.
Keep these tips in mind so you can speak the language of love to those in your life for whom Acts of Service is paramount.
Love Language #5: Physical Touch
The final love language we need to cover is Physical Touch. This doesn't refer to physical touch and affection in the bedroom, but rather the everyday physical connections like handholding, kissing, pats on the back, thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder or face or any type of reaffirming physical contact. A physical touch person desires physical touch and affection from their partner as this shows how much their partner cares for them.
In our relationships, it's important to recognize what seems to be such an obvious love language. After the first glow of love disappears, if the physical touch is with someone who values a different love language, they can feel starved of human contact if it's withdrawn.
A friend of mine attended one of my workshops and went home and asked her partner which one was his favourite. When she found out it was physical touch, she knew that she had to mentally and physically make an effort to be tangibly affectionate because this was not her preferred love language. Hers was Quality Time. When he saw her changes towards him with respect to physical touch, he learned about her love language and began to spend more quality time with her. The impact of this joint effort saved their relationship. They both told me that they felt the most loved and happy that they'd been in years. It can be so easy when you’re aware of it.
5 Love Language Tips: Physical Touch
Here are five tips for showing love to someone whose love language is ‘Physical Touch’:
- When you're walking, hold their hand.
- Walk up to them, hug them and tell them that you love them.
- Hold hands or hug them in front of others.
- Give your partner a big welcome home when they walk in. Hugs, kisses, massages.
- Sit close to each other as you watch TV.
Seems simple, doesn't it?
Tools for better connectionPersonality tools like MBTI and Love Languages aren’t magic (even if they sometimes seem that they are!) Rather, they’re tools that help us consider the differences between our personality and those of others who are important to us. They help us reflect and adjust how we communicate and interact with one another – and that is critically important to better more harmonious relationships.
If you'd like to learn more about how you can use personality tools like the 5 love languages to improve the relationships in your own life, check out my book Who Is This Monster (or Treasure) in My House?