During his time as a marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman outlined five love languages — different ways in which people give and receive love. Dr. Chapman’s ideas extend beyond married couples; each person has a different personality and means of expressing and accepting appreciation, so a lack of understanding of a partner’s love language can lead to miscommunication and turbulence in any relationship. Moreover, every person has a primary love language or a specific order of multiple that they prefer over others. Deciphering your own love language and decoding your partner’s will lead to a clarity of expectations and needs of both parties in a relationship.
1. Words of Affirmation
Those whose love language centers words of affirmation need to hear your gratitude or encouragement regularly. Most importantly, the words must be genuine. Don’t overplay certain compliments until they lose their meaning, but do remind them of your fondness and appreciation frequently. You don’t have to be the next André Aciman or Tyler Joseph in his song “Smithereens,” but something as simple as, “Thank you so much for all your hard work,” “I’m so lucky that you’re in my life,” or just, “I love you,” goes a long way. They may respond well to personal nicknames or pet names, so ask them what they’re comfortable with and consider a name that makes them feel special.
While centered around verbal communication, words of affirmation extend beyond the spoken word; small notes or texts can hold just as much meaning. Perhaps a social media post with a sweet caption will make your partner feel appreciated. Or maybe they’re a more private person and would prefer that the words stay between the two of you; send that caption idea as a text instead and it will be more meaningful. Be careful to avoid criticism in general, but especially with someone whose love language is words of affirmation. Words will hold even more power to them and negative comments during a conflict can impact the individual in a devastating way.
2. Acts of Service
Those who hold acts of service as their number one love language live by the saying “actions speak louder than words.” They feel the most loved when their partner does something for them. You don’t have to be Superman, but as in any case, small acts of kindness go far. Pay attention to your partner’s likes and dislikes. You could make them their favorite cookies or bring them their routine tea. Or maybe they hate cooking so you decide to make them a meal. It’s also beneficial to consider your strengths that could aid your partner. Perhaps they’re not so great at painting but you are, so you offer to paint their room for them.
Completing acts of service can take time so make sure to consider your schedule and your partner’s. Communicate to your partner if you’re having a busy week and you’re not around to show your affection through acts of service. Communication is always key; even if you can’t perform any small acts of service during a certain period of time, letting your partner know will be assuring to them and they will still appreciate your efforts.
3. Receiving Gifts
Those whose love language is receiving gifts feel love through tangible items that symbolize thoughts behind them. To these people, it truly is the thought that counts; the fact that their significant other found or made something that reminded them of their partner means the world. The gift love language can be misinterpreted as materialistic, but in reality, the language conveys sentimentality because the object acts as a reminder of their partner’s love whenever they see or use it.
You don’t have to be rich or drop all your money for your partner if one of their primary love languages is receiving gifts; it can be as small as picking a few flowers on your way home, picking up their favorite candy bar when you’re on your way out of the grocery store or painting them a cute mug that they can keep on their desk as they study. The flowers, candy or mug will let them know that they are on your mind and that you notice what makes them happy. Random gifts not on special occasions may hold the most meaning because they don’t seem obligatory or like a chore to the giver.
4. Quality Time
Those whose love language is quality time appreciate your presence and undivided attention most of all. They view their partners setting aside time for them as the best expression of love. When with your quality-time significant other, make sure to maintain eye contact to express your presence. Actively listen to what they’re saying and ask questions to better understand them. In the digital age of constant notifications, put away your phone. Don’t let it distract you even for a few minutes. Ensure that your partner knows that you value your time with them and that it is entirely dedicated to them and nobody else.
While it can be a challenge to spend time together when schedules are busy, remember that the quality of the time spent together is more important than the quantity of time. When possible though, initiate quality time with your partner by making plans. Try to develop a routine of seeing each other. Invite your partner along when you have the opportunity, even if it’s only to go to the grocery store or run errands. They’ll appreciate that you want to spend that time with them while getting done what you need to.
5. Physical Touch
Those with physical touch as one of their primary love languages value physical expressions of affection most of all. Touch isn’t limited to sex and it builds emotional intimacy between a couple. It causes the brain to release oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone” that produces “feelings of connection, bonding and trust.” Kissing, hand holding, cuddling and generally any physical contact is the most effective way to show connectedness to those with the physical touch love language when they consent. Verbal communication is also critical with partners who prefer physical touch to set clear boundaries.
A number of studies show that around 70% to 93% of all communication is nonverbal. Body language plays a large role in nonverbal language and is especially significant to physical-touch communicators. Similar to those who speak in terms of quality time, give your partner your undivided attention by maintaining eye contact and inviting body language to show your physical presence.
When understanding one of your partner’s love languages, you also know what not to do because you know what would hurt them the most. Pay attention to what your partner does for you; that’s mostly likely their love language and the way they’d like to be treated. Now you can start to translate and speak their language.