Dr. Gary Chapman, an anthropologist and philosopher, wrote a book entitled The Five Love Languages after working as a marriage counselor for several years.
During his time as a counselor, he realized that the vast majority of relationship issues stemmed from the fact that people express and understand emotional love in different ways.
He determined that although there are many different facets of such expression, they all fall under the umbrellas of five primary languages.
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
When people speak a different love language than their partner, their actions can be misinterpreted, and their needs neglected.
Note that this isn’t out of any kind of malice, but rather a lack of awareness and understanding.
Let’s take a look at these love languages to see what they encompass, and what they mean in terms of understanding one another on a more fundamental level.
By doing so, we can learn to recognize other people’s actions, and be able to both fulfill their needs and express our own much more clearly.
Discover Your Love Language(s) (And Theirs!)
We all give and receive love in different ways, but we tend to rank these in different orders of priority.
If you don’t already know the order of your own love languages, we’d recommend taking the quiz here to see how you score.
(And while you’re at it, get your partner, friends, family, and other loved ones to take it too!)
Once you’ve taken it, your results will show you your love language priorities, by percentage.
You may discover high percentages in one or two, or you might be the type of person whose percentages are quite evenly distributed.
Either way, this quiz will give you a lot of insight as to how you give and receive love.
In turn, once you and your loved ones all take the quiz, you can share your results with one another to see who speaks which languages.
By doing so, you’ll all likely have “eureka!” breakthrough moments.
You’ll be able to see where misunderstandings have occurred, and glean greater insights into each other’s personal preferences: both in terms of how they show their love, and how they receive it.
You and your partner might, for example, have similar results for words of affirmation, quality time, and gift giving.
But one of you might have acts of service at a much higher percentage than physical touch, while the other’s results for those two are reversed.
This would allow you to understand that one of you thrives more on giving and receiving physical affection, whilst the other expresses affection and care through doing things for your partner.
Understanding such differences can be really eye opening, and give you both the opportunity recognize each other’s efforts, and each other’s needs in that regard.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the love languages.
Words of Affirmation
If you’re the type of person who gets the warm fuzzies inside when your loved ones tell you that they love you and appreciate you, then words of affirmation might be your primary love language (or at least one of the top three!).
People who express and receive their love primarily through words will often write cards, letters, and little notes to their partners and family members.
They’ll send random texts just to reach out and make contact during the day, and might even write poetry to express themselves.
If your partner’s main love language is word-related, they’ll likely respond really well when you tell them how much you love and appreciate them.
You can be sure that if you write them letters and cards, they’ll be treasured forever.
Just be aware that they’ll put their heart and soul into the little notes they write to you, as well as the time they take to tell you how they feel.
If you don’t take a moment to let them know that they’re heard, they might close off because they’ll feel that their efforts aren’t appreciated.
Learn more on our dedicated Words of Affirmation Love Language page.
Acts of Service
You know that happy little feeling you get when someone does something nice for you?
We’re not talking about a surprise gift, but rather… like when a neighbor clears the snow off your walkway without being asked, or your partner makes you a cup of tea just the way you like it, simply because they felt like you’d enjoy one.
These are just a couple of examples of acts of service, and they can mean the world to those who have this as their primary love language.
If this is your partner’s language, they might go out of their way to do things for you that you don’t particularly like doing yourself, because to them, that means alleviating your load a little bit.
Let them know that you’re aware of what they do for you, and how much you appreciate them for it.
In contrast, not having their actions acknowledged can be devastating, because they’ll feel like their efforts aren’t being seen.
Take note of all they do for you, and lighten their hearts a bit by doing things for them in turn.
Learn more on our dedicated Acts of Service Love Language page.
For some people, receiving – and giving – tangible tokens of love and affection means absolutely everything.
They see these items as emotion in physical form, and will develop incredible attachments to them.
In fact, people with hoarding tendencies may have this as their primary love language. Food for thought!
Now, if the person you love considers gift giving to be an important part of your relationship, that doesn’t mean that they expect you to lavish them with expensive trifles and trinkets.
Truth be told, the opposite is often the case.
They’re likely to be overjoyed if you bring them an interesting rock that you found on a hike, because you found it beautiful and it reminded you of them.
Or something silly you picked up on a business trip.
Basically, any physical option that they can associate with a memory or emotion about you.
They’ll also put a lot of thought and effort into the gifts they give you. As such, they’ll watch with great anticipation to see how you’ll react to what they give you, and may be hurt if you aren’t enthusiastic and appreciative of their efforts.
Learn more on our dedicated Receiving Gifts Love Language page.
We hear a lot about “quality time,” but what does it really mean?
For most people, it means uninterrupted time with the one they love, doing things together as a couple.
This could be something active, like doing a creative project together, or passive, such as watching TV or movies together.
Either way, it involves sharing time and space without distraction.
If your partner’s main love language is quality time, put your phone away when you’re spending time with them, and focus entirely on being/interacting with them in the moment.
This is about you two: nothing else.
It can be both frustrating and hurtful when you’re trying to spend time with someone you care about and they’re not fully present with you.
This is why setting aside solid, scheduled blocks of time to spend together is so vital.
When you make each other the priority, you reinforce that you’re the most important people in each other’s lives.
Everything – and everyone – else can wait.
Learn more on our dedicated Quality Time Love Language page.
This one’s probably quite self-explanatory, but let’s delve into it a bit anyway.
In terms of romantic relationships, physical touch runs the spectrum from squeezing your partner’s shoulder affectionately when you pass by, to sexual intimacy.
Hugging, kissing, exchanging massages, and even just overlapping legs when reading or watching a movie together all fall under this umbrella.
For platonic/familial relationships, this type of emotional love language can be expressed with hugs, cuddling, and hair brushing, just as a few examples.
It’s important to know if someone close to you has this language as one of their primary means of expression/need, because if they don’t get enough physical contact, they can feel neglected.
In fact, withholding physical affection from someone who needs it in order to feel loved can border on abuse.
This can be difficult for someone with an aversion to touch, as they may shy away from another’s attempts to hug or kiss them, and get resentful if they feel obligated to display physical affection.
Learn more on our dedicated Physical Touch Love Language page.
What Happens When People Speak Different Love Languages?
In simplest terms, what one person might consider to be incredibly loving and giving may not be what the other needs or wants, and vice versa.
Dr. Chapman discovered that when someone was hurt by something their partner did (or failed to do), the opposite of that hurt was their love language.
Same thing goes for what is most often requested of a partner, as well as what is most often expressed.
For example, let’s say that one person’s primary love language is physical touch/affection, and their partner’s is gift giving.
Partner #1 might feel neglected if they’re not getting hugged or kissed enough, and may feel saddened when Partner #2 “just” gives them gifts instead of physical affection.
Meanwhile, Partner #2 – whose primary love language is gift giving/receiving – keeps trying to show their love by thoughtful little gifts.
They’ll feel sad and rejected if their gifts aren’t appreciated, and may feel hurt that they’re not receiving items in turn.
They have very different ideas and expectations about how they show and receive love.
And if they don’t truly understand that their partner might have diametrically opposed love language priorities, they may face a maelstrom of hurt feelings and disappointments, just because they don’t see or understand each other’s gestures.
Ultimately, the easiest way to understand all of this is a simple phrase:
“If you want to show love to someone, then you should show love in the same language that person shows love.”
Does that make sense?
When we take time to really observe and recognize how the people in our lives show love and affection, we can better understand how to show love to them in turn.
An Opportunity For Greater Understanding And Connection
As with all other types of interpersonal relationships, communication and patience are absolutely vital.
In addition to personality type tests like Myers-Briggs, the love languages test can help people glean greater understanding and awareness in all kinds of interpersonal relationships.
Whether you’re trying to have a better parent/child bond, or your goal is to strengthen your romantic relationship, understanding one another’s love-related needs, expectations, and expressions can only be of benefit to everyone involved.