Written By: Kate Scolatti, MS, LMFT
Expressing love and affection to your partner is critical for creating and maintaining emotional closeness, but how often are you thinking about how to show love? The 5 love languages, a framework created by renowned marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman, helps couples understand both how they want to be loved, and how their partner wants to be loved. With knowledge about your partner’s preferences as well as your own, you and your partner can optimize your efforts to connect and show affection, and make sure that you are meeting each other’s needs.
Let’s go through the 5 different love languages and how they can help.
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality time
- Physical Touch
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
Words of Affirmation
Kind words are always helpful, but for people whose love language is words of affirmation, even the smallest notes of recognition, appreciation, and compliments can make them feel loved. You may think that your partner just “knows” you are proud of them, think they did a great job on a project, or think they have great style, but a person who appreciates words of affirmation wants to hear those things and specifically wants to know them from you.
Spending time with a partner provides opportunities for connection and making memories. While special experiences and events are great, many people who have quality time as a love language just want their partner’s undivided attention and presence, no matter the activity. Even sitting together on the couch in silence is often comforting for people who appreciate quality time.
While this does include physical intimacy, it is so much more. Small gestures of physical affection like holding hands, placing a hand on your partner’s arm or back in public, even making sure part of your bodies are touching as you fall asleep are all meaningful for people whose love language is physical touch. The outward expression of physical closeness helps them stay emotionally connected.
Acts of Service
The specific acts of service that would be meaningful are different from person to person, but this typically refers to noticing what would alleviate your partner’s burden and taking care of it for them. Unloading the dishwasher, picking up the grocery item you were running low on, or taking on one of their typical tasks is more than a kind gesture for people who like acts of service. It lets them know you see their effort, notice their emotional state, and are willing to make sacrifices to help them. Again, these don’t need to be major sacrifices or taking on so much that it’s overburdening to you; the smallest of gestures can make a big impact.
Possibly the love language that is misinterpreted most frequently, receiving gifts is not about being materialistic. In fact, many people whose love language is receiving gifts will tell you that the gifts that made them feel most loved weren’t expensive or extravagant. Instead, they were sentimental or meaningful; their partner thought about them while they weren’t with them, and went to the effort to pick up or plan something to make them feel loved in the future.
Now that we’ve explored the basics of the 5 love languages, let’s walk through how to identify them, and how to improve your relationship with that information.
- Identify your love language
- Learn your partner’s love language
- Prioritize expressing their love language
How to identify your love language
Chapman and his colleagues have created a simple love languages quiz that can help you identify your love language, but many people also find it useful to learn about all the love languages, and just begin to notice how you feel as your partner expresses different forms of affection. Here are a few example questions that might help you narrow things down:
- Do you feel more loved when your partner hugs you after a long day, or when they run an errand for you?
- Do you feel more loved when your partner surprises you with your favorite snack, or when they prioritize cooking dinner together?
- Do you feel more loved when your partner compliments you, or when they tell you they did something on your to-do list?
Comparing how you feel or would feel in certain scenarios can help you start to decipher what feels most meaningful to you. If you read through that list and wanted to shout “all of them!” you are not alone! Most people have several love languages that are important to them, and most healthy relationships show affection in all these ways at some point. The important thing to remember about love languages is knowing which are most impactful, and in turn, which would create feelings of disconnection if they weren’t happening.
Learn your partner’s love language
Taking the love languages quiz together and having frequent conversations about your love languages can help ensure that both partners have those needs met and that any necessary adjustments can be discussed. You may even be surprised to learn that your partner’s love language is entirely different than you would have predicted.
Unless we are consciously trying to do something different, most people automatically show love how they want to receive it, and that may not match what your partner wants or needs. Learning your partner’s love language can feel like having a cheat code to their happiness, and the more frequently your meet that need, the more loved your partner will feel.
Prioritize expressing each other’s love language
Now that you know how each other wants to be loved, this is the fun part! Try out new ways of showing affection, even if they feel weird or not how you would normally express your love. If your partner prefers words of affirmation, challenge yourself to voice affirmation every day for a month. If they want quality time, set aside an hour a week to play a new board game or go on a walk together. The options are endless! Remember, even the smallest of gestures can show your partner you see and understand their love language, so don’t feel pressure to plan something elaborate. Consistency and effort are so much more important!
If you’re looking for a way to improve your relationship quality, the 5 love languages framework could be just the tool you’re looking for. Set aside some time with your partner to read up on the different love languages, get curious about your own needs and theirs, and try out new ways to express your love!