The Five Love Languages: Better Love and Understand Those You Love
"Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life." ~ Leo Buscaglia
What Are the Five Love Languages?
The five languages are words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. It may depend on the type of relationship how each language is applied, but the languages are still the same. Though we all give and receive love in all languages, a person may not feel fully loved if others do not speak their primary love language. According to Chapman, the secret to love that lasts is keeping the "love tank" of those we love full. When this is reciprocal, love flourishes. Not doing so causes the tank to empty, and an empty tank can lead to total estrangement or the loss of close feelings. A full love tank makes it easier to overcome personal setbacks that have the power to hinder relationships.
Gary Chapman introduced the concept of the five love languages in his 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. As a marriage counselor, Chapman has been helping heal broken relationships for well over twenty years. He maintains that every individual has a preference for receiving love, called a primary love language and that these love language preferences are established early on in life. Each language speaks to the heart of an individual in ways the others do not. His concept holds true for every kind of relationship, not just marriage. Utilizing them can heal broken relationships and strengthen current ones.
Love is Learned
"Psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists and educators have suggested in countless studies and numerous research papers that love is a "learned response, a learned emotion". . .Most of us continue to behave as though love is not learned but lies dormant in each human being and simply awaits some mystical age of awareness to emerge in full bloom. Many wait for this age forever. We seem to refuse to face the obvious fact that most of us spend our lives trying to find love, trying to live in it and dying without ever truly discovering it."
Why Are the Love Languages So Important?
Think about the people who have impacted your life in positive ways. Particular people will immediately come to mind before others - a parent, spouse, or special friends. Likewise, certain people will come to mind when thinking about specific situations - a teacher or some colleagues that stand out more than others. Chances are, those that made the biggest impact made you feel cared for and important, worth their time and effort. True to Maya Angelou’s quote, you remember the way people made you feel even if you forget some of the things they did for you. Though there may be countless other people that somehow left their mark, many of the people holding special places in your heart somehow touched your heart on a level that goes beyond the surface.
Love sends a powerful message. The presence of love or the lack of it can change the course of a life, or at the very least, the course of a relationship. Chapman points out that no relationship is static and that the average lifespan of the "in love" stage of a romantic relationship (possibly friendships as well) is two years. After that point, a relationship either deepens, or it falls apart. Knowledge of your own primary love language and of those you love will help strengthen relationships even as the actual feelings of love ebb from time to time.
What Happens When the Love Tank Drains?
Sometimes a conflict within a relationship leaves one or both people utterly baffled about what actually happened. It is entirely possible, though, that the real conflict is not being aware of one another's love language. Sometimes we do not recognize the complaints and requests of others for what they truly are, instead taking things as a personal attack because it may be difficult to comprehend the reasons behind the feelings of a loved one well enough. We mistakenly assume and interpret according to our own preferences and desires, forming a subjective perspective of how things should be.
A person who feels loved by quality time may sound demanding when asking for it. A person whose primary love language is affirmations may seem anything from needy to conceited. One whose love language is gifts may come across as materialistic to those who do not understand their significance. Someone who is often touching others or asking for back rubs and holding hands may seem clingy. Moreover, someone requesting assistance with projects or everyday tasks may seem lazy to those who do not understand what motivates the requests. Not understanding why something is requested of someone is just as hurtful to the one being asked as it is to the one asking.
When hurt feelings are more than a petty over-reaction, it causes further complications if those feelings are minimized. Often enough, trying to explain the pain results in further belittling of the feelings; usually unintentionally, but nonetheless more damage occurs. One can only request love, not demand it, and if the person is not paying attention to why another is truly hurt a snowball effect happens instead. The pain multiplies and a relationship is suddenly over, seemingly with no good explanation as to why. The only things remaining are feelings of betrayal and utter confusion. A failed relationship of any kind is one of life’s most profound pains. However, a little understanding may provide revelations about your reactions as well as about the reactions of others. These revelations may be enough to change perspective and perhaps a relationship.
Words of Affirmation
For some people, actions do not always speak louder than words. Sometimes words have more power to express love than do individual actions. They also have the power to hurt those that speak this love language more than those who speak other languages. People whose primary love language is words of affirmation thrive on hearing words of love and encouragement from those they care about. When words hurt, though, it is not a result of low self-esteem; it is the fact that those words came from someone who is loved and who claims to love. Also, when speaking this love language, it is helpful to know that there are different dialects. A person may be partial to one or more of them.
One dialect is encouragement. Encouragement goes a long way toward making those who speak this dialect feel loved. It is a powerful motivator to know that someone else believes in their abilities and appreciates their goals. But a casual dismissal of an expressed desire to do something can be just as defeating as outright discouragement. A word of praise is another dialect of this language. Praise for accomplishing something or a sincere expression of happiness over the achievements of someone else is a form of recognition; something everyone needs once in awhile but has even more meaning to those who speak this dialect. Lastly, a kind word speaks a particular dialect of this language. A kind word can be anything from a simple "I love you" to a sincere compliment or words of appreciation. In fact, words of appreciation might even be a dialect all its own. To those who thrive on this dialect, they feel particularly cared about by hearing the things appreciated about themselves.
However, one must also be careful about the feelings of someone whose love language is affirmations. Criticism can be particularly hurtful, as can harsh words. Sometimes it is not even what is said; rather the way something is said is what hurts. A compliment laden with sarcasm, for instance, or a blame-filled apology minimizes feelings. Conversely, an expression of disappointment or hurt can be seen as a kind word of love if expressed in a loving manner. The one expressing the disappointment desires to be known, and the admission of disappointment is an effort to bring authenticity and honesty to a relationship. Be careful not to take offense by this if the one who speaks this language expresses disappointment or hurt and be careful not to express your negative emotions to that person in an angry manner.
To heal wounds of someone speaking this love language, however, words are just as powerful in apology form as when expressing love. A heartfelt apology that sincerely indicates this person's feelings matter is an act of love. Listen to the reasons behind someone's hurt feelings or anger and try to see things from that person's perspective. If you feel you did possibly wrong that person a gentle and sincere apology will likely quickly smooth things over again. If, on the other hand, you feel you have not done anything wrong, kindly explaining your point of view will help build further understanding so that reconciliation can ensue. The emphasis here is on kindly explaining. Keep in mind the goal is not to prove there is only one right interpretation of a conflict. The goal is reaffirming that this person is cared about.
The most important thing to remember about people whose primary love language is gifts is that these people are not materialistic nor are they hoarders. They may collect certain objects of interest, but they can tell you who gave them each and every one. To them, these things have more sentimental value than any perceived clutter they may create.
A thoughtful gift is to be cherished by these individuals. The gifts are proof that someone else cares enough about them to think of them for no particular reason as well as on special occasions. A real gift, however, is never given in exchange for services or something tangible. A present seen as payment or a trade, it is not an act of love. Rather, the best show of love through gifts is one offered "just because" with no strings attached.
These gifts do not have to be extravagant and do not even have to be store bought. Something as simple as a handwritten note or a hand-picked flower from a field can be considered a gift. If it comes from the heart and shows some thought was put into it, the gift will particularly be appreciated long after it is received. The smallest of gestures may become lifelong keepsakes for these individuals.
Even though a gift does not have to be big to be appreciated, forgetting a gift on a birthday or another special day means feelings are likely to get hurt. And if someone who used to do thoughtful things goes a long time without giving these small tokens of love, one who speaks this language might wonder if feelings have changed. Gifts do not have to be offered up every time these people are seen, but the consideration behind them is always appreciated.
One last word of caution, do not expect gift-giving to be a form of apology to people who speak this language. Giving a gift as an apology might be seen as a bribe rather than a sincere show of contriteness. If a gift is offered while apologizing, make sure the person receiving it is aware of the sincerity of love behind the offering.
Acts of Servrice
Anything you can do to make the life or a particular task easier for those who speak this love language is appreciated. These people especially appreciate those willing to lend a helping hand. However, it has to come from a sincere desire to assist out of love and not because of mere obligation to do so. Any act of service done purely out of coercion will cause resentment. Both the one doing the service and likely the one receiving will feel it.
Something important to keep in mind about those who speak the acts of service love language is that they are not lazy people. They do not expect others to do things for them. In fact, this is the very reason the act is so appreciated - because it is done out of love. It is a thoughtful show of love to want to ease a burden for someone else through service. However, when offering service to those with a fierce sense of independence and who are used to doing things for themselves, it might be wise to ask first before proceeding.
Other than that, those that truly utilize this love language do even the smallest acts with a sense of love. These people are not thinking about what is in it for them or what they may receive in return, because it is indeed not a trade but a gift of love and often a gift of time, too. Even something as simple as helping a child with homework or bringing a person a cup of coffee in the morning is a loving act of service.
How to Listen Sympathetically
1. Maintain eye contact. This keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that you are fully listening.
2. Do not multi-task by engaging in other activities at the same time.
3. Listen for feelings and confirm them to show understanding. Ask questions if something needs to be clarified. "I noticed you hesitated when you said that. Does that mean you're still a little ambivalent?" "I'm not sure what you mean by that."
4. Observe body language. It often is the greatest cue to what a person may not say but is feeling. It may also indicate the opposite of what is said, as in stating "I'm okay" when you are really hurting inside.
5. Refrain from interrupting. Even if you are excited to share your own ideas and perspectives. Interrupting before someone else finishes sharing is the same thing as saying you do not really care about what they have to say. Their ideas are less important than your own.
6. Express your understanding.
7. Ask if there is anything you can do to help, but refrain from telling another person what they should or should not do. The focus is on being supportive of the current feelings and not on trying to solve the entire problem.
8. Offer advice only if solicited.
Quality time is another love language with several dialects, but the most important thing about this love language is that the focus is on togetherness. Those who speak this love language do not believe that the world revolves around them. Instead, they treasure the time spent with loved ones precisely because they view the time spent together as a gift. Focused, undivided attention means the world to these people. Virtually any activity done together is enjoyable, so long as the focus is on the spending time together and the other person's attention is not on something else.
One dialect of quality time is quality conversation. People have conversations all day long, but quality conversations go beyond just the small talk (though that can also be considered quality time if the emphasis is on enjoying one another's company). Quality conversations involve mutual sharing and listening. To share thoughts, experiences, and feelings in a friendly and uninterrupted context is especially meaningful. Those who speak this love language feel especially loved by those who take the time to listen to what they have to say, particularly when their interest is genuine. Those who understand these people well tend to draw the one who speaks this language out by asking questions with true intent to understand. They genuinely want to know these people better. However, sharing your own personal thoughts, feelings, and desires with these people is just as important as listening to theirs. It is a sign of mutual caring and trust, a true gift of love.
Another dialect of this language is quality listening. To those who speak this particular dialect, the emphasis is more on listening than mutual discussion. However, the catch is that listening is all that is needed. The person sharing does not need the one listening to jump into "fix it" mode with suggestions for how to solve a problem. Chances are, the person speaking already has an idea of how to solve the problem and is merely seeking understanding and perhaps sympathy for their perspective. An honest question such as, "What do you think?" might be the request for suggestions or advice. Otherwise, never offer advice unless you are sure that this person is going to be receptive of it. Instead, listen with empathy and try to understand.
Lastly, yet another dialect of quality time is quality activities. For this dialect, the emphasis is not on the activity itself, but rather it is on the reason for doing the activity. Any activity one or the other enjoys is perfect for spending quality time together. It can be as simple as going to a cafe for a cup of coffee and a conversation. A picnic by the lake or a walk through the park can be quality time well spent. Even a mundane task such as going to the gym can be turned into quality time. Have a quality chat while running on the treadmill. It is that easy, so long as it provides a context for sharing on a deeper level.
Physical touch is a language that may be hard for many to express if unaccustomed to it. All love languages can be difficult to master if they are not second nature, but this one is difficult for many due to fear of misinterpretation. Physical touch is a sign of love, but it has to be an appropriate contact. The kinds of touches people consider to be appropriate vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Touching someone else even appropriately is often difficult for someone who prefers not to be touched.
That said, if someone you know always seems to be patting people on the shoulder, giving hugs or asking for hugs, or gently touching others using something like a gentle poke, this person's primary love language is likely physical touch. To this person, nothing communicates affection more than shared touches. They also particularly enjoy cuddling with a spouse or with their children. Their personal space bubble is usually not as large as some people around them, so if they violate your space, it is not meant to make you uncomfortable.
When expressing love to your friends who speak this love language, you can do things like return a hug. It may be difficult if you are not a touchy person, but those who speak this language sense your resistance and might interpret that as a hurtful insult, particularly if the one resisting is an intimate friend. Try to relax into a hug once in awhile. It does not have to be often or a prolonged hug, but one that communicates genuine caring. High fives are another way to communicate enthusiasm for friendship through touch. So is an arm around the shoulder. In this way, it may be like a hug. High fives can deliver some of the things hugs communicate, such as happiness to see someone.
Hand holding, on the other hand, may only be appropriate for significant others or close friendships. It depends on the individual. Some people may not see it as such an intimate act. Additionally, some individuals who like to touch will touch the faces of those they care about. Not in a caressing manner necessarily (unless it is a spouse or a child), but in a way that communicates affection. A pat on the cheek or on the head, for instance.
In times of pain or crisis, a warm touch communicates more than words ever could. But things that truly hurt those with this primary love language are forms of physical abuse. Hitting and slapping are especially painful to those with this primary love language. It causes emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Also, never physically push someone who speaks this love language away from you. It leaves a lasting emotional impact. And never force a touch on someone who is not receptive to it, even if this is the primary love language. Remember, it has to be considered appropriate contact. A touch from a stranger or someone unliked will likely be an unwelcome touch.
Now that you know more, what makes YOU feel the most loved? Take the profile quiz below the poll if you are still uncertain what your primary love language is.
Things to Remember. . .
Be careful not to misinterpret another simply because their language is different from your own, which is not that hard to do since we tend to show love to others in ways that mean the most to us and misunderstand attempts that are not natural to us. For instance, one who seeks quality time is not clingy or incapable of being happy and whole without the love of particular people. One who seeks words of affirmation is not dependent upon the opinions of others as a source of self-definition and self-worth. One who particularly appreciates gifts is not materialistic. One who enjoys physical touch is not emotionally needy. And one who often requests assistance is not incompetent or incapable. Judging according to what we understand and are comfortable with builds barriers. Try to let the walls down long enough to see when perceptions might be skewed. Just because one love language is foreign and does not come naturally to you does not make it less valid.
It is a basic human need to feel loved and accepted in one's own right, to be accepted as is - without the need for pretense, without the need to impress, and without the fear of losing someone held dear due to inevitable flaws and mistakes. There is a desire just to be enough, contributing in meaningful ways to the lives of loved ones, regardless of all the ways in which failure happens. To be human is to be imperfect, yet people judge according to their preferences. We also tend to love and leave according to our preferences. We put up walls, all in the name of protecting ourselves. As a result, love is not necessarily felt by others, but love is there nonetheless. Somewhere. Understanding the five love languages enables us to better give and receive love. It paves the road to love so that it can build the bridges for us.
What love can do. . .
“The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.”
― Leo Buscaglia
Author's Final Thoughts
Despite the world's insistence to the opposite, love still exists, but it is like people are conditioned to see love as it is in romance novels and movies - either there or not. Moreover, if it is present, always unconditional and unending. When that illusion is busted - as it will always eventually be - people teach themselves just to accept it as human nature, and that is the way it has to be. People think that something accepted as truth is easier to let go of.
However, what if adults loved like a child? What if adults forgave like a child? Do not put up with purposeful physical or emotional abuse. Do not be a doormat, but do not forget that there are people who are honestly contrite and trying to make adjustments for the benefit of the another. Compromise is part of love, yet it does not mean compromising oneself. What if people worked through their pain and suffering, still choosing to love someone else simply because everyone deserves to be loved? What if people gave love the chance to heal and make things right again? What if people actively chose to love. Loving action fuels love the feeling. The one loving learns to feel love again, and the one receiving feels loved again and therefore loves in return. It is a cycle that should perpetually be kept in motion if it is to last.
Think of all that could be gained instead of lost if people actively love through, or at least after, all the negative feelings and things that happen. Intellectually knowing of someone's love often has less value than feeling it. The feelings of affection ebb and flow, but consistency in showing it keeps it healthy. If love the noun works in conjunction with love the verb, we come one step closer to the elusive Love that we all seek. It is not asking too much. It does not require making yourself less of a priority or making someone else so much of a priority that it consumes all of your time. It does not require changing who you are. It just requires being alert and thoughtful.
The Least That We Can Do Is Care
In the words of Kid Rock and Martina McBride, the least that I can do is care. How about you?
Share Your Love Language
Don't forget to take part in the poll at the top of the page! And feel free to share your answer in the comments, too.