In our most intimate relationships, partners ask each other all kinds of questions to deepen their bond and get to know the other’s true self. Coffee or tea? Beach or mountains? Dogs or cats? What are your hopes for the future? Strangely enough, one important question is rarely asked: what makes you feel loved? Without introducing this question into the conversation, people tend to make assumptions about what their partner needs. We resort to the adage, “Treat others how you would like to be treated,” and therefore express love in the same way in which we want to receive love. However, people experience love in different ways, often depending on how they were shown love as a child. Simply assuming that someone else shares our preferences and needs may lead one’s kind gestures to fall on deaf ears, despite good intentions. Author, speaker, and counselor Gary Chapman recognized these individual differences and categorized them into 5 Love Languages.
1) Words of Affirmation. For some people, hearing kind words from others is the surest way to feel loved. This may include expressions of one’s feelings (“You mean so much to me”) or caring compliments (“I’m so proud of you for getting that promotion!” “You look amazing tonight”). For individuals who crave this type of expression of love, a few words of validation can go a long way in making them feel noticed and cared for.
2) Quality Time. Time is one of our most precious commodities and spending it with loved ones makes it that much more worthwhile. For individuals who speak this love language, they will feel most loved if those close to them make a concerted effort to spend time together. Sitting side by side in silence looking at your respective screens won’t cut it. Quality time should be spending doing fun activities, making new memories, and giving each other your undivided attention.
3) Gifts. Receiving gifts is another way that many people experience as a show of love. In this case, it is not the cost or the size of the gift that’s most important. Rather, buying a gift for someone shows that you were thinking of them, even when they were out of your sight. Also, selecting a meaningful gift requires using your knowledge of your partner and his/her likes and dislikes. Receiving that perfect gift from a loved one can make you feel truly known.
4) Acts of Service. The fourth love language is acts of service, which pertains to the favors or good deeds partners do for one another. This may mean cooking your partner’s favorite meal, driving the kids to soccer practice even though it was not your day, folding the laundry, etc. These tasks may require time, effort, and energy and are not necessarily fun, but they demonstrate love to someone who speaks this language. Remember, your intention in doing an act of service must be to show love, not to earn brownie points or get a thank-you!
5) Physical Touch. Research has long shown that physical touch is a crucial element of human development. A famous study by Harry Harlow in the 1950s showed that monkeys preferred a pseudo-mother made of wire that was covered with a soft terrycloth to a wire mother who offered food but not a soft touch. Infants who are held, rocked, and get skin-to-skin contact are more likely to thrive physically and emotionally. Partners whose primary love language is touch typically love to cuddle, hold hands, hug, and kiss. A quick squeeze on the shoulder or kiss on the cheek as you’re passing through the room will make them feel loved.
Most people speak more than one love language, but everyone has one or two that are primary. Make sure to communicate about your preferences in order to convey your feelings in a way that is most likely to be received and appreciated by your partner.
Ashley Kaplan, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist