Have you ever been in a country where you didn’t speak the native language? You may have tried to communicate with a local, but the words coming out of your mouth were not entirely effective. Intention and effort were there on both sides, but because of the language barrier, your communication had little impact.
The same can be true about the ways we love one another. We each have a “language” of love that we use to give and receive care and compassion. You may be trying to show someone you love them, but if you’re not doing so in the way they want to be loved, your intention and effort won’t land. The good news is that we can identify and become fluent in each other’s love languages.
Pioneered by counselor, author, and speaker Gary Chapman, PhD, the 5 Love Languages came to fruition after Chapman noticed a pattern in the hurts and frustrations articulated by the couples he was working with. Despite often tireless effort to give and receive love, some spouses were still feeling distant from one another. After analyzing years’ worth of session notes, Chapman made a breakthrough. What most people want in a relationship usually falls into one of five categories: quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, physical touch, or words of affirmation.
Chapman defined these categories and started to help couples identify their own languages so that they could more effectively give and receive each other’s love. That knowledge can serve any type of relationship — romantic partners, good friends, close family members. The better we understand the ways in which we seek and naturally offer love, the better we’ll be able to meet each other’s needs.
Here are the five languages Chapman identifies. Reading these might help you get a sense of your own primary love language(s), but if you want to dive into it more, Chapman’s site offers free online quizzes for couples, singles, children, and more.
Quality time: If a two-hour coffee date sans phones makes your heart sing, quality time just might be your primary love language. Marked by conscious effort to be present, quality time can look like meeting for a meal, going for a walk (or other companion-friendly exercise of choice!), or even putting away the laundry together. Regular dates, family meals, and unplugging for a heart-to-heart can be especially important to someone who is loved best through quality time.
Acts of service: You may have noticed that you smile from ear to ear when your spouse scrubs the dinner pots or fills the gas tank without making a big announcement. For some, the most piercing kind of love is found in having someone tangibly share or carry life’s daily tasks and burdens. Actions often speak louder than words, and for someone who values acts of service most, even cheerful help with mundane tasks — especially when things may be a little more demanding than usual — can mean the world.
Receiving gifts: Within the context of love languages, receiving gifts entails not just presents but the thought put into them, too. In the same vein, someone who feels most loved by receiving gifts may feel especially hurt when an anniversary or birthday gift isn’t approached thoughtfully. Planning and searching for something extra special is particularly valuable here.
Physical touch: We all have at least one friend who feels most loved by a warm hug. Perhaps you also know someone for whom a hug would be intrusive. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum of this love language. Though there is an important difference between sexual and nonsexual physical touch, there are a number of different manifestations of this love language. Physical touch refers to what is most appropriate or suitable for a given relationship and the boundaries necessary for good health.
Words of affirmation: A good compliment goes a long way for someone who values words of affirmation above all else. Words of genuine support and encouragement are treasured — and missed if they don’t go deeper than the surface level or feel like they have to be coaxed out. For someone who feeds on affirmation, being ignored or passed over can be a real challenge. Spoken or written (perhaps even handwritten!) words of affirmation blossom in the hearts of those who speak this language.
As a tool for growing in self-knowledge and deepening relationships, the 5 Love Languages offer a framework of receptivity, and can help us acknowledge our needs in both giving and receiving. Keep in mind that the way you receive love best may not be the way you share love best. Identifying the languages in which you give and receive love can lead to greater understanding and intimacy in the relationships you treasure most.
As humans, we’re made to love and be loved! The 5 Love Languages offer insight and encouragement when it comes to living out that reality well in the relationships that color your life.