Sometimes love seems like an overcomplicated machine. Doing the “right thing” for your partner can feel a little like pushing buttons and pulling levers at random, praying something works. Fear not, there’s a concept called love languages to help make sense of it all. No, it isn’t the end-all manual to understanding relationships, but it will give you a tool to crack this cryptic (yet beautiful) code. Let’s discuss the types of love languages and why they are important in all relationships.
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So What Are Love Languages?
The term “love languages” refers to the concept that people give and receive love in different ways. There are five love languages and though everyone appreciates each of them at some level, we usually find ourselves drawn to one or two more strongly. Occasionally, someone may enjoy expressing one love language to their partner, but would rather receive a different kind of love. Here’s a breakdown of the five:
Words Of Affirmation
Words of Affirmation is the act of expressing appreciation, gratitude, encouragement or reassurance to show love (either verbally or written). If this is your love language, chances are you take the time to send thoughtful texts or letters to your partner — and are delighted when you receive them in return. You find it deeply meaningful when your significant other tells you they love you, then explains why. You would light up if your partner told you “my life is better because you’re in it.”
Acts Of Service
Acts of Service expresses love by allowing actions to do the talking. If you know your partner is exhausted, you take on extra chores around the house — and when they look out for you in the same way, you feel well taken care of. Be it picking something up across town to save them the trip or assembling that IKEA bookshelf they’ve been scratching their head over, making life easier for your partner is an honor. And when your partner is attuned with your burdens and helps lift that load (or tries to find little ways to make you smile), you feel deeply supported in kind.
Quality Time shows love by spending intentional time with your significant other. If this is most important to you, you find deep fulfillment enjoying the company and conversation of your partner. You find it meaningful when they make you a priority in their calendar because it reassures you that they value the relationship. Regular date nights are a big deal! When they put down the phone and are present with you, you feel seen.
Gift Giving includes giving and receiving presents as an act of love. Finding items that you know will get your significant other excited brings you joy as well. And when your partner gives you an unexpected gift, it lets you know they were thinking of you during the day. It also makes you feel like a priority to them. You melt a little when they bring you flowers or your favorite candy on a whim. Even small meaningful tokens or trinkets are a romantic gesture.
Physical Touch shows love through tangible interactions. It’s not just sex — though of course, that’s one fantastic way to express it. But it’s also a back massage or a hug. You’re a total snuggler and express affection and closeness through intimate gestures of all kinds. If they hold your hand in public, you feel like they are proud to be seen with you. And when they wrap their arm around you or draw you in for a kiss, it reassures you that they are attracted to you.
Why Love Languages Matter
Knowing your and your partner’s love languages helps strengthen the bond you share. It helps you better understand each other’s unique needs and it gives you insight into how to express love in the ways that are most meaningful to you both. Discussing love languages can be a perfect opportunity to open a discussion about those needs with your significant other to better support each other.
Love languages can also be applied to platonic relationships such as friends, family, and coworkers. For instance, if your sister is big on quality time, she’s bound to appreciate a “thinking of you” call or a lunch date to catch up on life. If you suspect the new hire is motivated by words of affirmation, give him a confidence boost and send him an email praising the way he handled that new client. And if your best friend’s love language is touch, go ahead and wrap her up in an extra-long hug.
Having Different Love Languages
If you and your partner share the same love language… Rejoice! If not, don’t start planning the breakup. Having different love languages doesn’t mean the two of you aren’t compatible. It just means you’ll have to put in a little extra work. Compromise is key to healthy relationships — as is generous love. Care for each other’s needs by intentionally loving the other in the ways you know will make them feel most loved. And learn to appreciate it when they try to show their love for you in ways you might not be “fluent.” If you both bring a giving mindset to the table, you’re both bound to experience deeper fulfillment.
Don’t Box Yourself In
Love languages are a term first coined by a family counselor named Dr. Gary Chapman. But Gary doesn’t get to have all the answers. Why should any one person corner the conversation on love?
Plenty of people have suggested additional categories. Some have suggested humor is their love language, while the dating service Seeking suggests shared travel, healthy debate, and goal sharing. eHarmony advocates for two more: shared experiences and emotional security. I’ve also heard people joke that food is their love language. What’s more romantic than someone cooking a meal for you?
As a creative soul, storytelling feels like one way I express love. I’ll prescribe films and shows to loved ones based on their past favorites. I’ve written short stories as Christmas presents. And when my brother was bedridden for a week, I made sure he had some good audiobooks to keep him company. Maybe that falls into the gift giving category, but to me, it seems like a special niche under that larger umbrella. It feels like a more meaningful way for me to categorize and understand this part of myself.
Johanna Harlow is an arts and culture journalist for several publications. She enjoys dipping her toes into worlds different from her own by interviewing everyone from cinematographers to photographers, architects to actors, lyricists to muralists. She is also a screenwriter and lives in California’s sunny Bay Area.