When Gary Chapman, PhD, published the book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate in 1992, I'm not sure he intended to make such a huge impact in how we look at giving and receiving love. But nowadays, you can barely go a week without hearing about love languages. While they're often mentioned in jest (I'm thinking about those "pasta is my love language" memes), many people credit the framework with completely changing their relationships — romantic and otherwise — for the better.
According to Dr Chapman, there are five specific love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch, and acts of service. These "languages" refer to how people express and feel love. You might be happiest showing your love for someone by showering them with compliments, for instance, or you may feel most loved when someone spends quality time with you. (Usually, how you show love is also how you like to receive love.)
I've often joked that I need all five of these love languages fulfilled by my partner to be happy, and it turns out I'm not wrong. "In a balanced relationship, we're hitting all of these things," Moraya Seeger DeGeare, licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, NY, tells Refinery29. "But some things matter a lot less to people." In other words, while we probably relate to each of these love languages on some level, there are likely one or two that really stand out to us and mean the most.
Dr Chapman's premise is that at least some relationship discord comes from couples not speaking the same language. For example, if you experience love through quality time but your partner shows love through acts of service (like keeping the house tidy), you might end up feeling disconnected and unhappy in your relationship — they're spending your date nights washing the dishes. So understanding each other's love languages can go a long way to strengthening your relationship.
The five love languages aren't inherently romantic, either. You could use your friends' and family's love languages to support them emotionally too.
While the love languages are a useful tool and incredibly relatable and fun to learn about — there's a reason you hear about them so often — being able to utilise and respect them isn't the single key that unlocks a successful and fulfilling relationship. You may be able to show love through your partner's love language, or recognise the type of love they express, but that doesn't mean much if your long-term values are misaligned, if they're consistently disrespectful of you, or if you have other issues in your partnership.
But since knowing how you tend to show and receive love can come in handy in all your relationships, DeGeare says it's worth taking the actual love language quiz online. Encourage your partner, closest friend, or family to take the quiz, too — it can be fun to do it together, then discuss your results. And knowing your loved ones' languages can help put into context why they never seem thrilled to receive gifts from you (maybe their primary love language is physical touch) or they're always gassing you up (their language may be words of affirmation). For a little more context on what each love language means, though, check out this brief overview.
Words of Affirmation
DeGeare says that people with this love language value verbal encouragement, and like having people tell them very explicitly what they're doing that they appreciate or notice. So if getting a text from your partner before a big meeting or presentation wishing you luck makes your entire day, this might be you. If you know someone with this love language, here's a tip: Just telling this person you love them often won't cut it. It's all about being intentional, and offering up affirmations that are "very much in tune with what's going on with them," DeGeare says.
Those who value quality time really appreciate hanging out with their partner (or friend!) one on one. "The important thing here is uninterrupted time," DeGeare explains. "Put down your phone, and really dial into the person." If you "speak" this language, you know: Spending time with someone who's completely distracted doesn't feel fulfilling. But as long as your loved one is present, it doesn't really matter what you're doing. Even just going for walks together can go a long way here.
If your love language is receiving gifts, you enjoy getting thoughtful presents from your partner. DeGeare points out that this love language often gets a bad rap for being "materialistic," but the gifts don't actually have to be as grand as a diamond necklace or an all-expenses paid trip to Italy (although, I'm sure few people would turn those down). "This is very much about being really thoughtful," DeGeare says. "It's less about the money side of receiving gifts, but really knowing the person and giving a gift that says, 'I know you and I see you, and this is a real need for you.'" For example, you could run to your partner's favourite doughnut shop when they're having a rough day to grab them a treat, or even buy them a new aux cord for their car if they haven't gotten around to replacing their old, broken one yet.
Physical touch is a pretty straightforward love language. Someone who's love language is touch really values holding hands, snuggling close on the couch, kissing, getting their backs scratched, and just being physically close. It's not inherently sexual touches, it's more just the closeness and feeling the full physical connection, DeGeare says. This love language is when someone wants physical intimacy to be a main priority, and you can show it just by consciously making an effort to create closeness with your partner.
Acts of Service
Showing love through acts of service is when you take something off of someone's plate to make their life easier. It's "being mindful of all the things that need to be done, and doing something for that person," DeGeare says. A few examples might be emptying the dishwasher for your partner, taking their car to get an oil change, or shovelling out their walkway after a snowstorm. Even just doing chores together can be a great way to utilise this love language and show your partner that you appreciate them.