Do You Know Your Love Language?
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It takes more than the occasional great date to keep your relationship afloat. In fact, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, says the key to a lasting relationship is learning love languages.
"I look at the love languages as a starting point for couples that point them in a direction for exploring how they can express love in a way that the other person finds meaningful. It all goes back to ways of packing attention," couples therapist and co-founder of Alchemy of Love Angela Amias tells Oprah Daily.
The concept of love languages is actually quite simple. There are five of them, each describing an expression of—you guessed it—love. The key is discovering which love language you and your partner respond to the most, then regularly putting that into practice.
Finally, keep in mind that you may be nodding your head at the description for more than one of these love languages. That's normal. Amias says people tend to express love via a primary and secondary love language—and potentially even more that may not be mentioned here. "There are more than just these love languages," Dr. Erika Evans, PhD, LMFT tells Oprah Daily. "These are just the five overarching themes that came out of Chapman's particular research."
Keep that in mind as you get acquainted with Chapman's method.
What are the Five Love Languages?
Words of Affirmation
These are verbal expressions of care and affection. Think: "Thanks for putting the kids to bed" or "You looked really nice today." Typically, the less generic and more specific the words, the more meaningful they feel to the recipient. Conversely, insults can be particularly upsetting to people who favor words of affirmation.
Tangible and intangible items that make you feel appreciated or noticed. Going to your partner's concert, for example, is as much a gift as flowers or that new wine decanter they want. To individuals who favor this love language, the absence of everyday gestures or a missed special occasion are particularly hurtful.
Acts of Service
Doing something helpful or kind for your partner. Think: Waking up with the baby in the middle of the night or doing the dishes so your partner can relax. For someone who favors acts of service, ambivalence or a lack of support are more damaging than anything else.
Quality time is a part of every relationship—but people who experience this as a love language will feel the benefits more keenly, and crave time where both people are present without distraction. Quality time constitutes engaging in an activity together, particularly one you both enjoy, like a walk after dinner or watching TV with a platter of nachos. If this is your love language, having a distracted or distant partner that makes you feel unseen or unheard is the biggest pitfall.
Physical expressions of love, whether sexual or more platonic, such as holding hands, a back scratch, a hug, a kiss, or intercourse. The absence of such can leave these individuals feeling isolated in a relationship.
Identify your love language:
"Knowing your love language can be one of the single most important things in a relationship," says Robin R. Milhausen, PhD, Associate Chair, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. "Without this knowledge you can miss that your partner is being loving and caring." Unfortunately, this can result in a vicious cycle of resentment that can ultimately lead to divorce or a breakup.
If you really care and respect your partner, take the time to acquaint yourself with your love language and theirs, says Milhausen. With this knowledge, you'll be better equipped to meet your partner's emotional needs.
Start by thinking about how you like to give and receive love, says Milhausen. Ask yourself: When I want to show affection, how do I do it? Do you cook a really nice meal? Or maybe you send an appreciative text or buy concert tickets. Often, the way you express love can provide clues about what kind of love you most appreciate, says Milhausen.
Next, think about what makes you feel most loved and cared for. Do you feel closest to your partner when they do something helpful, or do you crave physical touch? Dig deep by thinking back to all your past relationships—both romantic and otherwise, says Milhausen.
You can also take this 10- to 15-minute quiz to help pinpoint your primary love language. And, once you do, communicate your results to your partner to help them better understand what makes you feel appreciated.
Practice each love language:
While it's important to know your love language, equally important is knowing your partner's. "The way most of us express love is our own love language, which leads to relationship problems. When you understand your partner's love language, your expressions of love don't get lost in translation," Amias says.
Below, find tips for making your love known to someone with a different primary love language than yours.
Words of Affirmation: "Pay attention to the thoughts you have about the person and work on vocalizing them," Amias says. Essentially, leave a paper trail of your love through hand-written notes, spontaneous texts, and meaningful, specific compliments.
Physical Touch: Look for opportunities to physically connect with your loved one, whether that's a hug as you're crossing paths in the morning, or a squeeze on the knee underneath a table during a dinner out with friends.
Quality Time: Work on being fully present with your partner. Amias says that the "biggest barrier" to quality time is the use of cell phones. "People whose love language is quality time will feel hurt if the partner is always checking their phone or half-listening while doing other things," Amias says. Other tips include starting a shared passion or hobby together, or making long walks a staple in the routine.
Acts of Service: Step one? Get into the mindset of wanting to show your partner love non-verbally. That will help reframe tasks that seem like chores, like carpooling and doing the dishes, into expressions of love.
Gift Giving: What to get the expert gift giver? Amias recommends starting small. "These gifts don't have to be extravagant. They're little representations of feelings, and show how much you know your partner and how you pay attention to what they like," she says. Another alternative? You can't go wrong with the usual flowers and chocolate.
Grow beyond this "starting place":
Chapman's 30-year-old system is not the be-all, end-all when it comes to relationship. Amias cautions against relying on the love languages to entirely guide your relationship, "It can become too transactional," Amias says. For example, you shouldn't be thinking "If my love language is quality time and your love language is acts of service, if you spent 30 minutes talking to me then I will rake the leaves."
Exchanges like this shift the focus away from what should be at the core of the relationship: Presence and connection. Instead of becoming myopically focused on speaking your partner's love language (and having them speak yours), think of the love languages as a starting point for tending to your relationship with a sense of generosity and goodwill.
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