When relationship problems arise, communication breakdowns are a common cause.
How we express ourselves and listen to each other plays a big role in understanding and relating to one another.
So what are love languages? They’re what we need to feel loved, and the primary language differs for each of us. Receiving a gift may fill one person’s heart, while for another, spending time with their partner is what they need.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel love.
Learning your love language is one way to . It can also help to increase intimacy with your partner, which – in turn – can improve your libido.
According to Consultant Psychologist Dr Bec Jackson, “Understanding and applying the well-researched five love languages can improve how you demonstrate love and care to your partner. It can help you to express your love in a way they can more easily receive.”
What are the 5 love languages?
Originally created by marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman, the five love languages are a system that describes the different ways we express and receive love. The five languages are:
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- quality time
- receiving gifts
- physical touch
Once you know your own love language and your partner’s, it’s easy to use them to improve the quality of your relationship.
Dr Bec explains that, “Using your partner’s love language demonstrates that the other person matters to you.” She says it shows them that you’re making an effort to tailor your communication with them in a way that focuses on them. By going beyond your own preferences (even if you get it a little wonky), you demonstrate that they’re worth the effort.
How to figure out your love language
Most of us can hear “I love you” in more than one way. However, you’ll probably find that as you read the descriptions, one love language will resonate more than the others.
If so, that’s your personal primary language.
Let’s take a look at the meaning of each love language in turn.
1.‘Words of affirmation’ love language
People whose love language is words of affirmation respond best to verbal recognition. Words of affirmation include phrases such as “You’re amazing,” “I’m so lucky to have you,” and “You mean the world to me”.
People with this type are often found sharing inspiring quotes.
For partners with this love language, a small card tucked into their wallet or a surprise voice message are perfect ways to say “I love you.” Regardless, it’s the words and tone that matter most.
2.‘Acts of service’ love language
If you feel deeply appreciated when your partner cooks dinner for you or makes you a cup of coffee, your love language may be acts of service. For you, having someone take an extra step to make your life easier equals love.
If your partner has this love language, you don’t need to perform acts of grand proportions. Simply washing the dishes or filling your partner’s car up are easy ways to show your love for them. For these types, actions speak louder than words.
3.‘Quality time’ love language
Quality time is simply about being present with your partner. If this is your love language, you’re not too fussed about what specific activity you do, as long as you have your partner’s undivided attention.
If this is your partner’s primary love language, try to have meaningful conversations where you actively listen to each other and maintain eye contact. Putting down your phone, switching off the TV and being present with them will help them to feel appreciated and adored.
4.‘Receiving gifts’ love language
Gift-giving appears most early on in dating, but for someone with this love language, giving or receiving a gift at any time truly says “I love you”. These people appreciate the time, thought and effort that goes into choosing a gift that lights them up. So – as with acts of service - the gift’s size or cost isn’t the main factor that will make them smile.
If your partner has this love language, pay attention to what they talk about wanting. Perhaps they’ve been talking about buying a new pair of slippers, or they can’t decide which printer will be best for their home office. Either way, focus on finding what matters most to them.
5.‘Physical touch’ love language
A sensory base love language, ‘physical touch’ is all about the amount and quality of physical contact you share. This doesn’t have to be sexual touch – from holding hands to a foot massage, if this is your love language, every loving touch you receive affirms you.
If this is your partner’s primary language, they’ll crave a sense of intimacy, and touching them builds a deeper connection. So if you’re planning time together, choose activities where you can be physically close.
How do you tell what someone's love language is?
Sometimes it’s hard to get our partners on board when we’re trying something new. Perhaps your loved one isn’t ready to explore the idea of love languages, but you’d like to express your care however they’ll receive it best.
Dr Bec says that, “the best way to figure out which category someone fits into is simply to spend time observing them.” She recommends paying attention to how they react when you whisper your desire in their ear. Or how often they hug you, reach for your hand or give you a loving bottom pat. Notice the patterns:
- If they seem to want a lot of contact, they might be wired towards physical touch.
- If they offer to fix your squeaking office chair, they probably enjoy acts of service.
- If, on the other hand, they surprise you with a new chair, their love language is most likely gifts.
- Or, if all they want to do is hang out with you all day, that’s a good indication that they love quality time.
Dr Bec adds that learning someone’s love language requires a bit of bravery. “It takes some vulnerability, intentionality and commitment, but that's great for building empathy and intimacy. It's worth the odd awkward attempt.”
Using love languages to improve your relationship
Once you understand which love language your partner has, it’s easier to connect with them. Start by grabbing a notebook and pen, or a notebook app on your phone, and write down their love language.
Next, creatively brainstorm all the things you could do for your partner that would fit in this category. Keep the list handy for when you’d like to surprise them.
If you’re a fan of being organised, take it a step further by estimating how long each action would take and allocating a rough cost to it. This lets you see at a glance what you can spontaneously do today or this week, versus which ones need a little more planning.
You can use love languages beyond your primary relationship too
You can also use the concept of love languages to learn how your children or friends like to receive love. As an adult, it can be tricky to build healthy friendships, so noticing how your actions light a person up speeds up the process.
How to talk to your partner about your love language
Knowing your own love language means that you can communicate exactly what your partner can do to boost those love vibes. However, it’s best to frame any requests gently and in a way that doesn’t make them feel like their past efforts have failed.
For example, try saying something like, “When you rub my feet, it makes me feel so good,” or, “I love it when you unpack the shopping.”
Dr Bec comments that this is far more likely to be successful than saying something like, “I don’t care about gifts! I just want the clothes washed.”
Positive, supportive. That means it’s well worth exploring your own love language and your partner’s, and seeing what effect using them has on your relationship.
Want to learn more about the love languages?
If you’d like to understand the deeper aspects of the love languages, we recommend reading Dr Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Or you could take a short quiz for a quick glimpse of yours.
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Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Panel June 2021