The term ‘love language’ is used to explain the way that people express and receive love in a relationship. If two partners are speaking different love languages without realising, love can sometimes get lost in translation.
Knowing what each other’s love language is can enable you to better understand what you might need from each other in order to feel loved and appreciated. It can also help you to communicate better, manage expectations, and prevent conflict.
And even if you’re not in a relationship, it can still be useful to learn what your love language is so you can get a clearer idea of how you might like to receive love in the future.
With that said, we’ll take a closer look at where the idea of love languages came from and how you can discover yours.
Where did the love language concept come from?
The concept of ‘love languages’ was created by renowned marriage counsellor, Dr Gary Chapman. After helping couples repair their relationships for more than 20 years, he noted that expressions of love can come in various shapes and sizes.
In 1992, he published his findings in a book called The Five Love Languages: How to express your heartfelt commitment to your mate.
The book explains that we don’t need to speak the same love language as someone else to have a healthy, happy relationship with them. But we do need to be able to respect and appreciate differences in the way that our partner likes to receive love (and vice versa) so that neither person ends up feeling neglected, misunderstood, or smothered.
The idea is that if two people can understand and embrace each other’s primary love language, the bond between them will be stronger. Dr Chapman says, “If we are to develop an intimate relationship, we need to know each other’s desires. If we wish to love each other, we need to know what the other person wants.”
Dr Chapman’s book is still popular today and continues to help couples all over the world. The five languages it identifies are words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. We’ll look at each of these below.
What are the five love languages?
Words of affirmation
If your love language is words of affirmation, then receiving love through compliments, verbal encouragement and appreciation, and saying “I love you”, will be particularly important to you. You might also value handwritten letters and cards, texting, speaking on the phone, and social media engagement.
If you have a partner who finds spoken and written words important, it can help to consider what meaningful things you can say or write to them.
For example, could you take extra care over the words written inside a birthday card or consider new ways to verbalise your support? Something as simple as, “You look nice today”, “I appreciate you”, or “Thank you for taking the time to do that for me” can go a long way.
It’s also worth being aware that people with this love language might be particularly aware of what you say and how you say it. So, a sarcastic, throwaway comment that seems harmless to you, might stick with that person a lot longer. So, try to remain kind with your word choices, even when you’re feeling frustrated or angry.
Though quality time is an important part of any relationship, some people will feel most adored when spending meaningful time with their partner.
This means being present and engaged with one another – free from distractions – while doing an activity that you both enjoy. For example, watching a movie with a glass of wine, going for a long walk, or exploring a new area together.
People whose love language is quality time may feel unseen or unheard if their partner is distracted or distant because they appreciate behaviours like eye contact and active listening.
Ways to connect with a partner who values quality time could include being mindful of how much time you’re spending on electronic devices when you’re together and scheduling time for intimate discussions. You could also try arranging a regular date night where you take it in turns to choose an activity to do together.
For people with this love language, gestures such as kissing, cuddling, holding hands, sex, and other physical signs of affection are powerful emotional connectors that affirm how their partner feels about them. These gestures will be preferred over spoken words like, “I love you”.
Actions to take to communicate with a partner who values physical affection could include taking the time to squeeze your partner’s shoulder or stop for a kiss as you cross paths while getting ready for work, and/or having a cuddle on the sofa in the evenings rather than sitting separately.
Acts of service
People whose love language is acts of service will feel most loved when their partner goes out of their way to do something thoughtful and helpful, to make their life easier.
This could include offering to drive if you’re both going somewhere together, cooking your favourite dinner, or running you a bath.
If your partner values actions over words then try to pay particular attention to the things they do for you – as these will usually be out of love, rather than habit. It’s also worth considering what acts of service you could do for them to reciprocate that love. If you’re not sure, it’s generally best to ask them.
If your love language is receiving gifts, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re materialistic.
It simply means that you see tangible items such as surprise deliveries and tokens large or small as a reminder of how your partner feels about you – so much so that absence of these gifts can leave you feeling neglected or hurt. This may be especially true on marked occasions like birthdays or anniversaries.
Giving gifts doesn’t have to cost you or your partner a fortune. It could be as simple as picking up a small bunch of flowers on the way home from work or making a scrapbook of your favourite memories together. Or, if there’s a pricier gift that you know your partner would really appreciate, perhaps you could save up for this over time.
Problems with the love language theory
Chapman intended the five love languages to become a useful tool to improve communication and connection between couples.
Through his book, he encourages us to see our partner not as an extension of ourselves, but as a separate individual who has their own wants, needs, and modes of communication. Therefore, it’s not healthy to try to force them into our way of thinking and make them feel bad when they fall short of our expectations, and vice versa.
In recognising this, we can work on showing love in a way that our partner wants, rather than the way that we want. The idea is that if both partners do this, then the relationship can really thrive.
However, there are also many ways that the love language system can work against couples if it’s misinterpreted. For example, these days, it’s often used as a personality test to make assessments of romantic compatibility.
But research suggests that couples who have the same love language don’t necessarily have a happier, more successful relationship than those who have different communication styles. This is because relying exclusively on one dominant love language type or putting each other in specific boxes without room for growth or change can cause problems, as love languages may change over time.
Therefore, it seems that the key to creating a strong romantic bond isn’t about having the same love language – it’s about understanding and adapting the love language theory and making compromises, based on what you and your partner need at a particular time.
Other ways that the love language system can be misinterpreted include…
- Using it as a point-scoring exercise, by comparing who does more for the other.
- Assuming that how loved we feel always has to come from other people. Though feeling loved by our partner is important, we should also be able to make ourselves feel good too.
- Thinking that it can fix everything in a relationship, as it can’t fix things like deception, abuse, and other toxic behaviours. The love language system also isn’t the only tool needed to create a successful relationship – it takes an entire toolkit.
How to tell if you and your partner are speaking different love languages
- Neglected, unappreciated, or unloved
- Frustrated that you’re not being loved in the way you want
- Overwhelmed or smothered by your partner’s advances
- Disconnected or distant from the other person
How to determine what your love language is
While most of us will have a primary love language, aspects of the other four languages will often be important to us too. So, when exploring love languages, it’s a good idea to remain open-minded and not try to put yourself or your partner into a single box.
Dr Chapman said, “Love can be expressed and received in all five languages. However, if you don’t speak a person’s primary love language, that person will not feel loved, even though you may be speaking the other four.
“Once you are speaking his or her primary love language fluently, then you can sprinkle in the other four and they will be like icing on the cake.”
To discover more about your love language, you might like to take the quiz on Dr. Gary Chapman’s official website.
Your partner might also like to take the quiz. Though, if not, there are still ways you can unravel more about their love language. The first and most obvious way is to consider which behaviours from each of the five love languages above your partner demonstrates most.
Or, you could ask them what expression of love means most to them. It’s common to assume that we know what our partner wants. But, to avoid misunderstandings and prevent tensions from building up, it can help to get a direct answer. Chances are, your partner will appreciate being asked.
Love can be complicated and it’s important to remember that there’s never going to be a one size fits all approach to having a happy, successful relationship. Most relationships require a multitude of different tools and approaches – and learning about each other is also a continuous process that never truly ends.
That being said, a flourishing relationship does tend to start with being kind and considerate to one another and respecting each other’s differences. And having an awareness of the five love languages can help with this.
For more dating and relationship advice, you might like to visit the relevant section of our website here. Or, if you’re looking for love and want to start making some meaningful connections, why not check out Rest Less Dating?