In my early years as a marriage counselor, time and time again I noticed that couples would often voice similar complaints regarding their marriage. One spouse would say something to the effect of, “I feel like he doesn’t love me,” as the other spouse would retort, “I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing everything I can.”
Realizing there was a pattern, I read through twelve years of notes that I made while counseling couples, and asked myself the question “When someone said, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what do they want? What are they complaining about?” Remarkably, I found their answers fell into five categories, revealing a unique approach in how to effectively love another person. I later called them the 5 Love Languages.
Many years later, this revolutionary concept has improved millions of relationships and continues to do so across the globe. The premise is simple: Different people with different personalities express love in different ways. These ways of expressing and receiving love are called love languages—there are five, and every individual has one they prefer above the others.
These five love languages are:
Words of Affirmation: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words, “I love you,” is important—hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.
Acts of Service: Can helping with homework really be an expression of love? Absolutely! Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. The words he or she most wants to hear: “Let me do that for you.” Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. When others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.
Receiving Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are heartfelt symbols to you of someone else’s love and affection for you.
Quality Time: In Quality Time, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there—with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby—makes you feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether it’s spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.
Physical Touch: A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Appropriate and timely touches communicate warmth, safety, and love to you. Discovering and learning to speak the primary love language of someone you love can radically strengthen and improve your relationship with them.