Do You Know Your Love Language?

love languages
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By now, you’ve probably heard of love languages—those infamous five categories every person supposedly falls into when it comes to showing (and receiving) love. The framework was invented by Gary Chapman, PhD, in his 1992 book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. In it, Chapman says that learning and making use of your love language(s) is the key to a lasting relationship.

However, love languages are not the be-all and end-all of a perfect relationship. “I look at the love languages as a starting point for couples,” says Angela Amias, couples therapist and cofounder of Alchemy of Love. “It all goes back to paying attention. Love languages can help couples explore how to express love in a way that the other person finds meaningful.”

Keep in mind, too, that you may connect with more than one love language. That’s normal. Amias says people tend to express love via a primary and a secondary love language—and potentially others that aren’t included in the original five. “There are more than just these love languages,” says Erika Evans, PhD, a marriage and family therapist based in Pennsylvania. “These are just the five overarching themes that came out of Chapman’s particular research.”

If you’re interested in trying love languages as a way to strengthen your relationship (or attract a new one), we’ve laid out everything you need to know below. Each love language is straightforward—the key is discovering which you and your partner respond to the most, then regularly putting them into practice.

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.

Gifts

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 the 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 even when it’s not your turn, 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

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 touch

Physical expressions of love, whether sexual or more platonic—holding hands, a back scratch, a hug, a kiss, intercourse. The absence of such can leave these individuals feeling isolated in a relationship.

Identify your love language (and your partner’s)

It’s important to know both, because you’ll be better equipped to meet your partner’s emotional needs and recognize when they’re trying to show you love, as well as help them understand how to show you love. “Without this knowledge, you can miss that your partner is being loving and caring,” says Robin R. Milhausen, PhD, associate chair, department of family relations and applied nutrition at the University of Guelph. For example, your partner might think getting you flowers is a gesture of love, when in reality, all you want is a compliment about how nice you look.

Rather than letting this lack of communication lead to a vicious cycle of resentment, start 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. Once you do, communicate your results to your partner to help them better understand what makes you feel appreciated. (Bonus points if they take the quiz, too.)

Practice each love language

Here are easy ways to make 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 handwritten notes, spontaneous texts, and meaningful, specific compliments.

Gifts

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.

Acts of service

Step one? Get into the mindset of wanting to show your partner love nonverbally. That will help reframe tasks that seem like chores, carpooling, and doing the dishes into expressions of love.

Quality time

Work on being fully present with your partner. Amias says that the biggest barrier to quality time is the use of cellphones. “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.

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.

Grow beyond this “starting place”

Amias cautions against relying on the love languages to entirely guide your relationship: “It can become too transactional.” 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.

Also, remember that the ways you give and want to receive love can shift over time (and on the other person). If your heart is saying you want quality time with someone but the love languages quiz told you your primary language is physical touch, don’t get too caught up on it. You—and your love—contain multitudes.

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