Pop culture tells us that love follows a reliable path: from meeting, to interest, to connection, to commitment, to reminiscing about a shared life while sipping cups of tea from well-worn armchairs. But between commitment and tea there’s quite a gap, and most of us are left to figure it out for ourselves.
But what if there were a technique for building and maintaining relationships that was as simple as it was effective? Author and marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman believes there is, and his groundbreaking book, The 5 Love Languages, has sold more than 11 million copies in over 50 languages.
The premise is simple. Chapman states that each of us experiences love most strongly in one of 5 ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. While any of these can make us feel appreciated, there is generally one that we ‘hear’ most clearly. And relationship problems can arise when a partner communicates love in a way the other isn’t wired to receive.
The solution, according to Chapman, is to identify your own love language (hint: it’s often the way you express love for others, and what you find yourself regularly asking for) and that of the person you’re communicating with, and then take steps to speak each other’s language.
So here’s our quick breakdown of the 5 Love Languages, and some tips on how to speak them. And keep in mind these don’t just apply to romantic partners—you can use them to improve your relationships with friends, family members, and even colleagues.
Words of affirmation
People with this primary love language feel good when they hear positive comments about themselves. Things to try:
- Give your friend, workmate or partner a compliment about the effort they’ve made to look good for a night out, prepare a meal, or finish a project.
- Pair a request with a compliment, such as “Could you make that delicious pasta again this week?”
- Say nice things about the person to others.
Having this primary love language means enjoying having someone’s undivided attention. Things to try:
- Have a quality conversation. This means spending time listening and validating the other person’s experience rather than just talking about your own.
- Find happiness in your friend, partner, or workmate’s enjoyment of an activity.
This primary love language means taking pleasure in receiving thoughtful gifts from others. Things to try:
- Surprise someone with something that makes you think of them. And remember, people with this love language care about the thought, not the cost. A flower picked on a walk, or a shell found on a beach will be just as precious.
- Give the gift of time. During a crisis or illness, cancelling other engagements to be with your friend or partner will make them feel loved.
Acts of service
People with this primary love language are all about actions, not words. Things to try:
- Help your partner or friend out with something that you know they find difficult or unenjoyable. Make sure you’re helping with things they actually want help with, not just the things you like doing.
- Offer to do something for someone else or for a cause they care about.
Not to be confused with sex, this is the primary love language of people who need physical connection with the people they care about. Things to try:
- Hold hands with your partner in public, or rest a hand on their arm when sitting together.
- Make sure your greetings always include a hug.
- If you’re apart, a note or text message expressing a desire for physical closeness can bridge the gap for someone with this primary love language.
Some final thoughts
Like learning any new language, trying something outside your comfort zone can make you feel vulnerable. But making an effort to speak the love language of someone you care about is in itself an expression of love and, over time, will come to feel natural. The trick is to not give up.
Just remember, in Dr Chapman’s words, “No single area of marriage affects the rest of marriage as much as meeting the emotional need for love.”
Take the test to find out your love language.