Dr. Gary Chapman has written several books about what he has dubbed "the five love languages" for both romantic and non-romantic relationships.
Love is an important part of the human experience, and it dictates many of the decisions we make regularly. Love is traditionally viewed as romantic -- but it is present in different forms in all our relationships.
Stefani Goerlich, a Detroit-based psychotherapist states, “I have found that 8 times out of 10, whatever the issues are that my client-couples bring to the table, they are rooted in a fundamental misalignment in how each partner gives and receives love.”
This phenomenon is not exclusive to romantic relationships. One of the most defining relationships in our lives is the one we have with our parents.
They set our standards for how the world works and are likely the first experience of love for most people. They inadvertently guide and mould our perception of love and its experience. The same can be said about siblings and friends. Love shapes many meaningful relationships in our lives, long before any romantic notions are even introduced.
For example, in a household where words of encouragement are prioritized over criticism, a child will likely hold value in words of affirmation as an adult.
In contrast, a household where love is expressed through giving gifts or doing things for one another, a child will most likely view gifts and acts of service as love over words of affirmation.
The path to determining the reasoning behind your love language might not always be that simple. Parents are only human and equally prone to making mistakes like the rest of us – especially a generation ago, when all this information was not readily available. Your love language can be dictated by how you received love as a child but can equally be dictated by the love you wanted but did not receive. For example, if a child didn't get sufficient quality time with their parents, they might crave that type of love and prioritize it in their future relationships as an adult.
Your parental relationships and experiences as a child are a great place to start analyzing how you express/receive love and why.
Dr. Chapman says that there are 5 love languages:
1. Words of Affirmation
"People find fulfillment through positive reinforcement: compliments or praise, Underneath each word is an ocean of meaning and significance that is working to either strengthen or weaken the relationship's bonds.
Things to remember about the words of affirmation aficionadas in your life:
I asked a few people in my life about what their love languages are. Their thoughts are shared throughout, including one person who is a fan of words of affirmation.
“I feel like people understand the concept of “say nice things” but they often forget that it’s only effective if it’s personalized. Take the time to figure out specific insecurities and reassuring/reaffirming those goes a long way instead of just saying “you look nice today”. It’s about your intention, your choice of words in a conflict, and your day to day demeanor. It all counts.” - RS, a words of affirmation connoisseur.
2. Quality Time
Things to remember about the quality time aficionadas in your life:
- Intention – there’s a difference between being together and spending time together. Make eye contact & use active listening skills.
- It’s the QUALITY, not the quantity.
- Make plans & stay accountable – even if an invitation seems silly or redundant, it hits differently when you're actually invited. Even if you've been together for years, ask them to be your valentine. Trust me, it hits differently.
Some people, just want that one-on-one time.
“I find quality time important because that is where you really build your connection with all forms of relationships in your life. Giving someone your time and energy is very valuable. It’s how you learn most about a person and create memories” - HM, a quality time connoisseur.
3. Acts of Service
"It’s the physical expression of a thoughtful gesture. At its core, it’s about someone taking initiative and going out of their way to meaningfully help and support the other person. It makes them feel taken care of, safe, and loved.”
Things to remember about the acts of service aficionadas in your life:
- Try to anticipate their needs – be vigilant & listen to their complaints or things they could use help with but haven’t asked.
- Cater to your skills – think about things that come easy/naturally to you but seem to be difficult for them and lend your expertise.
- Follow through on your commitments – It stops being an act of love when someone has constantly remind/nag you to do it.
Others say, actions speak louder than words.
“Acts of service don’t have to be huge projects. I don’t expect someone to build a house for me like Noah in The Notebook. I do think actions speak louder than words, and you may say you love me but when you pick up my prescription because I didn’t have time, especially if I didn’t even ask, then I know you love me.” - GK, an acts of service connoisseur.
" It’s demonstrating love with a tangible item, whether that item is a tiny trinket from a thrift store, or a 50-foot sailboat is inconsequential. They convey the same message: I was thinking about you when I saw this. You're always on my mind."
Things to remember about the gift aficionados in your life:
- Pay attention to them – get to know their likes and dislikes, their favourites, their taste and style.
- It’s not the materialistic value of an item, but the reasoning and meaning behind it that’s important
- Make a habit of it – don’t just save it for when you mess up. It defeats the purpose if it's meant as a peace offering.
When it comes to gifts, it’s the thought that counts.
“I think gift receiving gets a bad rep because it feels greedy and selfish. For the longest time, I didn’t admit to myself how important it was to me. I grew up in a home with gift giving parents who surprised me with thoughtful gifts for every occasion. It’s an expression of thoughtfulness; it takes time, effort, and really knowing somebody to be able to give them things that are meaningful and useful to them. They don’t have to be extravagant, it’s the sentiment behind them that makes me feel most loved.” - HM, a gift giving/receiving connoisseur.
5. Physical Touch
"Physical touch releases the 'feel-good hormones' like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin (the bonding hormone). The same hormones are released between a newborn baby and its mother, which is why skin-to-skin contact is highly recommended for bonding after childbirth.”
Things to remember about the physical touch aficionadas in your life:
- It’s not all about sex – it can be about sex, but most of the time, it's not
- Small contact has a big impact – giving a hug or a quick peck on the cheek as you say hello or goodbye. Holding their hand as they talk about their day.
Remember: not all love is romantic.
“I think it can be awkward to think of physical touch as a love language outside of a romantic setting and that’s why so many people who need it feel deprived. It’s about making a physical connection in conjunction with an emotional one. It makes the emotion feel real and strong. My grandma has been massaging and oiling my hair since I was little and I still feel so close to her when she does that.” - AC, a physical touch connoisseur.
Love languages are not a black and white, clear cut matter. They are just as intricate and diverse as love itself. Most people have more than one language in which they express love, however, one or two might be the most common.
I implore everyone to think about when they feel loved and then analyze that in order to equate it to the specific mechanisms at play.
Do you feel loved when someone does something that was on your to do list?
Do you feel loved when someone thinks of you and brings you a coffee?
Do you feel loved when someone tells you how important you are to them?
Understanding your own love language is imperative in leading healthy relationships because it empowers you to ask for what you need. You can analyze your perception of love and then explain it to your partner, parent, sibling, or friend so that they know how to show up for you. This is a vulnerable and gruelling process, but the reward of clear understanding and communication within your relationships makes the process well worth it.
Once you discover the power behind understanding your own love language, you feel open and encouraged to understand others' love languages as well. It is extremely fulfilling to show up for someone you love, exactly how they need you to show up.
Confusion and misunderstandings generally occur when two people in a relationship are not aware that they speak different languages.
It is literally a communication problem – like speaking English to someone who only understands Swahili. I can endlessly scream and yell how much I love someone in English but if they don’t speak English, it’s just simply not going to work.
Let’s say, your predominant love language is acts of service – you feel the most love when people show up for you in their actions. Now let's assume, your partner's predominant love language is words of affirmation – they feel the most love when someone verbally tells them that they're important. Now, because you mainly view love through the lens of service, you are likely going to do the most for your partner.
You might try to help them by doing something that has been on their to do list for a while or help them complete a home project. You will view these things as expressing your love for your partner however they still might not feel loved because they don't perceive it as such. To them, you haven't verbally expressed your love, so they don't feel loved. This leads to doubt and misunderstandings in relationships.
From your end, you feel justified because you expressed your love in the way you know how, and your partner seems ungrateful and unappreciative. On the other hand, your partner feels unfulfilled because they don't view your actions as acts of love – they need to hear the words. Nobody is right or wrong, it is just a language barrier. Just like it’s not my fault I don't speak Swahili, just as it's not the other person's fault they don’t speak English.
Luckily, learning another love language is easier than learning an actual language.
You can figure out other people's love languages simply by being attentive to their reactions. You might have told your mom she's the best mom in the world and received a mediocre reaction but when you cleaned her car for her without being asked, she might have been much happier and really appreciative, or vice versa.
If we put our preconceived notions aside for a minute and truly try to understand how someone wants to be loved, we can easily figure out how to avoid miscommunication. Not everyone knows their own love language, and you don't have to wait until they figure it out for themselves and tell you.
That's their journey, but you can use your intuition to analyze what makes them happy. For example, if your sister is thrilled when you buy her a bookmark because it reminds you of her, then she obviously values gifts.
It is not the monetary value of the gift that’s significant, it’s the idea of you thinking of her even when she isn't around.
When we show up for people in the way they want, it is a powerful and enriching act of love.
It will strengthen your relationships and provide you with deeper emotional connections. You can truly have the impact you want when you speak to others in their love language.
Self-analysis towards understanding your own love language is also an extremely powerful act of self-care and self-love. Once you understand yourself, you can be empowered to show up for yourself in the way that you need and simultaneously set the standard for others in your life.
Although, it’s the case for some, self-care isn’t just face masks & telling yourself you love yourself.
Personally, my biggest love language is acts of service, and since I've figured that out, my self-care game has immensely leveled up.
If I know I'm going to have an exceptionally hectic day, I take the time the day before to make my life easier. I'll make myself a nice lunch, fill up my water bottle, lay out my outfit etc. – basically anything that I think will allow for a smoother day.
As cheesy as it sounds, I find that I am appreciative of myself throughout the next day, and I have a better day because of it.
Speaking to yourself in your love language is a revolutionary experience, and once you experience the impact, you are determined to implement it in all your relationships.
This knowledge has completely shifted how I perceive, analyze, and experience love. I truly believe that love is a force of nature that influences everyone regardless of age, sex, race, gender or anything else. It's time to stop standing in our own way and make the effort to truly let it enrich our lives to its full potential.
Take the love language quiz and start understanding your love languages.
About the author: Gurshabad’s educational background in Biology and Psychology is inspired by her lifelong pursuit to seek and decipher the human connection. She loves McDonald’s fries, long walks on the beach, and telling people how to correctly pronounce her name. She regularly forces her friends to sit in her car & record a podcast aptly named Sitting In The Car. You can find her but more importantly her dog, @gurshabadkang on all platforms.