Thirty years ago, a book titled The 5 Love Languages introduced its titular concept to society — and since then, it’s become part of the cultural lexicon. Not familiar? The idea is that everyone has a preferred way of expressing and receiving love, and it falls into one of five categories or “languages”: gift giving and receiving, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and quality time. Learning to understand your partner’s love language may help you improve communication and strengthen your relationship. Read on for the scoop on the love language theory, including how to find your language and put it into practice to build a happy relationship.
The History of the 5 Love Languages History The idea that people show and receive love in five different ways was developed in the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, PhD. Dr. Chapman is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The 5 Love Languages hit bookstores in 1992, but since then, there have been updated editions and versions focused on men , singles , military couples , and more. RELATED: Explore the Best Online Couples Counseling Platforms
What Are the 5 Love Languages? What Are They? The five love languages framework aims to help couples hear and say “I love you” by recognizing expressions of love from their romantic partners and showing love themselves in ways the other person in that relationship can appreciate. Even if you can relate to different expressions of love, Chapman’s theory is that we all have a primary language that speaks to us the most. Before delving deeper into love languages, let’s outline each one. 1. Gifts You express love through presents. These can be small tokens or bigger items. 2. Acts of Service Actions speak louder than words. You demonstrate your affection with thoughtful gestures, such as cooking a meal, cleaning the house, or filling the car with gas. When others do the same for you, you feel loved. 3. Words of Affirmation You most appreciate giving and receiving love through kind words, including compliments, praise, cheerleading, and other verbal expressions of support or admiration. For you, words speak louder than actions. 4. Quality Time You feel most loved while spending meaningful, focused time with your partner. This may mean sharing a meal, taking a staycation , or learning a new skill together like painting, pottery, or dancing. 5. Physical Touch You prefer to bond through physical contact. Think hugging, kissing, holding hands, cuddling, and having sex.
How to Determine Your Love Language Finding Yours There are some telltale signs that you favor one love language over the others, suggests The 5 Love Languages . Think about how you express affection and respond to your partner’s displays of affection. See if you recognize yourself or your partner in any of these categories. Gifts You show love and care with gifts, put extra time and effort into finding the perfect gift, and enjoy receiving gifts yourself. Acts of service You look for ways to be helpful, like finishing the chores, making dinner, or running important errands — and you appreciate when your partner does the same for you. Words of affirmation You value sharing your emotions and hearing your partner talk about theirs. You make an effort to offer reassurance to your partner, and compliments are a key to your heart. Quality time You come up with a bunch of ideas about what you and your partner can do when you’re together. You appreciate spending quality time with your partner, and when they give you their full attention without distractions. Physical touch You like physical intimacy — to cuddle, touch, and kiss. When you’re upset or having a bad day, a hug calms you down more than words. Another great way to figure out which love language you and your partner prefer is to take Chapman’s love language quiz . “This quiz is highly effective, and I recommend it to all my couples,” says Richard Heller , a trained mediator and relationship counselor in New York City.
Advantages of the Love Languages Advantages There’s not a lot of high-quality evidence-based research to support the use of love languages in a relationship. Anecdotally, though, some people have found it boosts relationship health and satisfaction. e60dc2a1-f33c-4a05-9b50-8e3e8e597629c0d92f1e-7c56-4136-a4e8-d403eb59017dA past study, for example, found that couples who followed Chapman’s principles tended to establish “relational maintenance” behaviors, such as openly communicating their feelings, sharing tasks and responsibilities, and maintaining mutual friendships, all of which have been linked to healthier relationships.e60dc2a1-f33c-4a05-9b50-8e3e8e597629cb133125-f44f-4463-a39b-c9e3095d4c8e What’s more, a 2020 survey of nearly 1,000 men and women found that people who felt their partner was using their love language well had greater levels of relationship satisfaction than those who didn’t. Participants were all cisgender, and identified as either heterosexual, lesbian, or gay.e60dc2a1-f33c-4a05-9b50-8e3e8e5976290f3b79b6-3e87-4298-8274-a87e2fe10f91 “Love languages are a great tool to supplement the health of a relationship,” says Jessica Small , a marriage and family counselor with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver. “Speaking to your partner in their love language ensures that they feel loved, cared for, and important. It also creates increased opportunities for positive interactions.”
Disadvantages of the Love Languages Disadvantages The love languages framework has its share of drawbacks. For one thing, The 5 Love Languages was written through a Christian lens, which may be off-putting for people who aren’t religious or who follow another faith.e60dc2a1-f33c-4a05-9b50-8e3e8e597629c4a61fbb-60cf-4267-a778-5ce21a5bbf91 The book also focuses on monogamous, cisgender, heterosexual couples, so it may feel alienating to people in other types of relationships. Also, while Chapman calls himself a “marriage counselor,” he is not a licensed marriage or individual counselor. He holds a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in adult education from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Finally, while it may be tempting to believe that love languages will fix a broken relationship, they are not the solution to all relationship issues. “When a couple has a basic communication problem, showing that you love them is helpful, but it will not resolve differences that are central in the relationship,” Heller says.
How to Use Love Languages in Your Romantic Relationship Romantic Relationships Once you and your partner know each other’s love languages, you can find ways to practice it to express heartfelt commitment. And don’t worry if you and your partner or spouse have different love languages, says Small: “Most partners in a couple have different love languages; the key is to focus on giving love in the way your partner receives it, not the way you do.” Here are some suggestions from Heller and Small to get you started. Gifts Pick up their favorite snack or treat when you’re at the store. Make them a personalized playlist. Present your partner with a framed photo from a trip you took together. Surprise them with coffee or breakfast in bed. Acts of Service Brew them some fresh coffee in the morning. Make a dinner reservation. Pick up groceries and cook a meal. Schedule a massage for them. Words of Affirmation Give a sincere compliment. Express gratitude and appreciation for your partner, unprompted. Share a poem or quote. Send a text message thanking them for something they did for you. Quality Time Turn off notifications or put your cell phone away when you spend time together. Plan a date night or weekend away. Go for a walk together after dinner. Physical Touch Hold their hand. Greet them with a hug the next time you see them. Cuddle when you watch a movie. Offer a massage.
How to Use Love Languages in Your Nonromantic Relationships Nonromantic Relationships The love languages apply to all relationships, not just romantic ones. “The fact is, everyone likes to be loved,” Heller says. To use the love languages framework in a nonromantic relationship, first observe how someone shows that they care for you. This will tell you their love language and what forms of affection will resonate most. For example, does your friend typically coordinate your get-togethers? Reciprocate with an act of service, like making the dinner reservations the next time you meet up. Does your coworker pick up coffee for you without being asked? Take them out to lunch to return the gift and show them they’re appreciated.
How to Use Love Languages for Self-Care Self-Care It’s just as important to show yourself some love as it is to show love to your loved ones — and Heller and Small both note that the love languages framework can apply to your self-care routine . “Human beings literally cannot love others without loving themselves first,” says Heller. “In order to love qualities in others, we first recognize what those qualities are somewhere else. Guess where? In ourselves!” Once we identify our love language, he adds, it becomes much easier to take time to love and care for ourselves. When we take time to engage in self-care practices that are specific to our needs, we reap health benefits, too. A study published in April 2019 in the BMJ suggested that people who followed self-care practices were more likely to make informed decisions about their health and healthcare, and had increased choice, accessibility, and affordability in these areas. To reap the self-care benefits of the five love languages, Small recommends exploring how each might translate to expressions of self-love. For example, if your love language is acts of service, she suggests outsourcing household tasks that bog you down (like cleaning or cooking). Or, if you need to spend some quality time by yourself, consider treating yourself to a spa day. Read on for some more inspiration for applying the love languages to self-care . Gifts Treat yourself to your favorite coffee drink from your local coffee shop instead of your usual home-brewed cup. Reward yourself with a professional massage or facial after a long week at work. Make room in your budget for a special treat or experience you’ve been wanting for a long time. Acts of Service Organize your work or living space. Create a to-do list to help yourself stay on top of your responsibilities. Cook yourself a nice meal. Words of Affirmation Write yourself a love letter. Make a list of positive affirmations to tell yourself daily. Spend time journaling about positive experiences and things you’re looking forward to. Quality Time Take yourself on a date to a museum, a movie, or a park. Start a meditation practice you enjoy. Find and practice a new hobby. Physical Touch Give yourself a facial or foot massage . Put on your softest, coziest PJs and curl up under a blanket when you need to relax. Take a bubble bath.
Summary Summary While there’s little scientific evidence behind Chapman’s five love languages theory, many people use their love languages to benefit their relationship — and you can apply the same principles to other, nonromantic relationships in your life. The online 5 Love Languages quiz can be a helpful starting point in finding your preferred love language.