It’s important to show the people you love how much you truly care—but how can you be sure that your expressions of affection are landing the way you want them to? The key to ensuring that your love (romantic, familial, or friendly) isn’t being lost in translation, is to learn their love language.
What are the love languages?
Gary Chapman, Ph.D., developed the concept of the five love languages, which are as follows: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. The idea behind the love languages is that everyone has a preferred way of communicating and receiving love and to help us navigate these distinct styles, Chapman authored the book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, which was informed by his experience in marriage counseling and linguistics.
“We all may relate to most of these languages, but each of us has one that speaks to us the most,” says marriage and family therapist Sunny Motamedi, Psy.D. “Discovering you and your partner’s primary love language and speaking that language regularly may [create] a better understanding of each other’s needs and support each other’s growth.”
Words of affirmation
Individuals who value words of affirmation the most respond best to verbal acknowledgments of affections, like frequent “I love you’s,” compliments, words of appreciation, verbal encouragement, and often like lots of digital communication like texting and social media engagement.
“Written and spoken shows of affection matter the most to these people,” explains couples’ psychotherapist Fariha Mahmud-Syed, MFT, CFLE. “These expressions make them feel understood and appreciated.”
Showing a person whose love language is quality time that you love them will involve demonstrating an active desire to spend time with them. This can be emphasized with active listening, lots of eye contact, and being fully present.
“This love language is all about giving your undivided attention to that one special person, without the distraction of television, phone screens, or any other outside interference,” says Mahmud-Syed. “They have a strong desire to actively spend time with their significant other, having meaningful conversations or sharing recreational activities.”
Acts of service
This love language is all about action. If you notice that your loved one is constantly going out of their way to make your life easier by doing things like making your coffee in the morning, or doing extra chores around the house when they know you’re having a stressful time at work, then their love language might be acts of service.
“This love language is for people who believe that actions speak louder than words. Unlike those who prefer to hear how much they’re cared for, people on this list like to be shown how they’re appreciated,” states Mahmud-Syed.
People whose love language are gifts really value being given “visual symbols of love,” as Chapman puts it. This does not mean they necessarily need anything expensive or fancy—what’s more important is the symbolic thought behind the gift. This is because those in this category recognize everything that the gift-giving process entails, like the careful reflection required and the deliberate choice of an item that represents the relationship.
“The key is to give meaningful things that matter to them and reflect their values, not necessarily yours,” advises Mahmud-Syed.
Acts of physical intimacy like hugging, kissing, cuddling, holding hands, and sex, are very powerful and affirming emotional connectors for people whose love language is physical touch. Sometimes, valuing physical touch above all goes all the way back to childhood, notes Motamedi, as some people only felt deep affection and love from their parents when they were being held, kissed, or touched.
“People who communicate their appreciation through this language… value the feeling of warmth and comfort that comes with physical touch,” says Mahmud-Syed.