Do you sometimes feel unloved even though you’re in a relationship? Do you want to know how to improve your relationships – without having to do any extra work? Then learning about love languages is for you!
The idea of love languages comes from Gary Chapman, a relationship counsellor who over the course of his early career, made some key observations about the way couples interact with each other. What he saw led him to develop the idea that each person has a primary ‘love language’ and that knowing this, and accommodating for it, is the key to a successful relationship with anybody you love. He wrote a book about the topic ‘The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts’ and it became a bestseller. He then wrote a few more books around the same idea, connecting the idea to parenting, and singles looking for love.
Whether or not there are actually 5 love languages, the principles this book promotes are sound from a psychological perspective. The main message is that to have a good relationship with another person, you need to focus less on changing them, and more on changing yourself. Chapman advocates strongly throughout the book to communicate openly to your partner what you like and want, and to listen to and act upon what your partner says they’d like from you. These are good ideas to take on board even if you don’t like the ‘love languages’ concept, and you’ll find a version of this idea underpins most forms of relationship counselling.
The anecdotal feedback I have received regarding this book has either been neutral or positive. So let’s learn what your love language is, and how to use it your benefit!
First up: What’s a ‘Love Language?’
Chapman states that we all have preferences as to how we receive love. Some people feel most loved when they experience physical touch from another, others would prefer their partner to do things for them (aka what’s going to make you feel more loved: getting a hug, or your partner taking out the rubbish without having to be asked?).
There are no right or wrong styles, but often your love style doesn’t match your partner’s, and this can create big problems. For example, if you like physical touch, then to show your partner love, you might be giving them lots of hugs and kisses. But if your partner prefers acts of love, they’re not really feeling love from those hugs and kisses (even though they’re nice!), because they’re fuming you haven’t taken out the rubbish. And if you do take out the rubbish for them, they might respond by getting up and ironing your shirts – while you’re sitting on the couch feeling lonely, waiting for a hug!
Explained like this, it’s pretty easy to see how a lot of the love you show your partner may be going to ‘waste’ - or at least not directed where it’ll have the most bang for your buck. Learn your partner’s love style, and you can maximise how loved they feel for the amount of effort you put in.
The 5 Languages
Words of Affirmation
Compliments and praise are most important to these people. They like to hear ‘I love you, you look great’ and anything else you can tell them about how well they’re doing.
These people like for you to spend time doing things with them. They want your presence, and to some degree, your attention – Chapman states that watching TV together doesn’t count as quality time unless you’re talking too.
Not as materialistic as you may be thinking, people who love gifts like all tokens of love. They don’t mind if it’s a post-it note with a heart on it, or grabbing a tub of their fave yoghurt when you go to the shop for milk and bread. It’s the physical representation of love that matters to people who like to receive gifts.
Acts of Service
People who enjoy acts of service want your love expressed in actions. Taking their car to the mechanic for them or going out of your way to organise a surprise party for them are the types of ways that these people love to receive love the most.
For all the huggers and hand holders out there. People who love physical touch want to be touched!
What’s Your Love Language?
Can you tell from the above descriptions what your love language is? Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking ‘well I like all of them!’ because most relationships will contain all of these languages at different times. But which one matters to you most?
If you don’t know straight away, it can help to ask yourself three questions:
If your partner only did one thing today that would really show they cared, what would you want them to do?
What do you find yourself resenting/complaining about/wishing your partner did more of? The answers can provide a clue to what matters most to you.
What do you do to show others love? The way we choose to express love can hold the key to our primary love language.
Chapman has a variety of ways (including a quiz) for you to decide upon your primary style, so if you can’t figure yours out easily, then it’s worth taking the quiz here and figuring it out.
What about my partner/children?
Don’t expect other people to be able to tell you their love language, unless you can get them to read this post/the book! Aim to become more observant of the ways they express love to you: people naturally tend to show their love in the way they prefer to receive it, because that’s what ‘love’ means to them.
Similarly to above, if you listen to what types of things your partner/children get upset over you not doing, then this can provide clues to their love language.
What can I DO with this info?
Use the love languages information to:
Be as explicit as you can with your partner about how you like to receive love. Ask for presents that reflect your love preferences (e.g. I don’t want a gift, I just want to spend the whole day with you on my birthday) and say ‘I’d really love it if you…’. Remember, we’re all a bit slow and hard of hearing when it comes to requests to change – lots of reminders and patience will be essential.
Look for the ways in which your partner already does express love to you. You may have missed a lot of gestures, simply because you’re only looking for love in a certain style. Being aware of the other ways they show love can make you feel a whole lot more loved without having to change or speak up about a single thing.
Observe the way your partner and children show their love to you. This will help you to figure out what their love language is. Often it helps to read through the list of the 5 love styles at the end of each day. For each style, stop and ask yourself: Did my partner/child use this style to show love today? If you keep a record of your answers for a week or two, their preferred style should become evident. Then you can use that information to increase the amount of love you show them through that language.
Test if you’ve got it right: if your partner responds really positively to changes in how you express love to them, you’ve nailed their style. If they don’t seem to be much affected over the course of a week or so, try a new style and see if that has more effect. Remember to look for the ‘proof’ they’re happier not just in their attitude but also for an increase in the way they express love to you.
Be aware of your own preferences and how that affects how you show love. It can sometimes feel really unnatural and uncomfortable to show love in ways you’re not used to. If you don’t like being touched much, then it’s going to be harder to express love to your partner through touch.
Chapman’s advice in this situation again mirrors what most relationship experts will tell you: that in the long haul, love is often shown by what you choose to do even though you don’t feel like it, knowing that the only reason you’re doing it is because it benefits the person you love. This is a key concept in maintaining long term relationships: the idea of compromise, and of doing something mostly because your partner loves it. Think of it this way: Doing something you don’t like is actually a great act of love. Because it’s not easy to do, it shows the depth of your commitment and love. Note: We’re often much better at doing this for our children than we are for our partners!
I hope the information in this post helps you to show more love and to feel more loved. For more information on the Love Languages, check out Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages.
(Note: I don’t get any compensation out of this, I just like the ideas and wanted to share them).
And if you feel like it’ll take more than reading a book to improve your relationship, then book a session with me today, where we can talk about how to specifically work on the ways you and your partner relate to each other.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.