As a therapist, one of the best parts of my job is learning about resources, tools, and theories that can help strengthen my client’s lives and relationships.
One of the most popular tools I’ve stumbled across in recent years is the concept of The 5 Love Languages.
To learn more about what this is and how you can apply it in your own relationship, keep reading.
What Exactly Are The 5 Love Languages?
The 5 Love Languages are a popular social psychology theory put forth by Gary Chapman, PhD in his best-selling book (and quiz!) of the same name which posits that there are distinct and separate ways in which we as individuals feel loved and cared for.
The 5 Love Languages are, in summary, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, and Quality Time.
Physical Touch is where appropriate touch makes some people feel the most loved. Think hugs, hand-holding, kisses, cuddles, consensual sex.
Words of affirmation, on the other hand, is where compliments, appreciation, praise, and sincere verbal acknowledgment makes another person feel most loved. Think, “I love you”, “I appreciate you”, “You’re just so amazing at [fill in the blank].”
Acts of service is the idea that some of us will feel most loved when someone does a practical favor for us. Think taking out the garbage, proactively doing the dishes, running that errand we were dreading.
Quality time means that time spent together with your partner present and available for you makes you feel most loved. Think phone down, TV off, full presence, eye contact, togetherness.
Gifts are the love languages where thoughtful, intentional, meaningful gifts (even if they’re small) really makes someone feel care for. Think little tokens, mementos, or flowers where the recipient clearly had you in mind.
The language (or pair of languages since we may have two dominant preferences) that we most strongly identify with are the ones which will help us feel loved and the languages through which we likely naturally express love.
So why is this concept so helpful for your relationship?
It can be helpful because you and your partner likely have different love languages.
How The 5 Love Languages Can Help Strengthen Your Relationship
As most of us discover in a long-term romantic relationship, we are usually wonderfully, sometimes maddeningly different from the partner we chose.
Habits, preferences, triggers, and baggage aside, the way one of you expresses and feels most loved may be different from the way your partner experiences and expresses love.
So what this can look like is a sometimes-frustrating series of attempts to express your care for one another, only to have it fall flat.
For instance, think about the husband who showers words of affirmation and loving praise on his wife who couldn’t care less about this and instead just wants him to do the dinner dishes or give the toilet a scrub.
Or the woman who picks flowers from the yard and leaves them on her girlfriend’s pillow with a note, thinking she hit it out of the park only to be confused and hurt when her partner expresses frustration that they haven’t made love in two weeks and she’s feeling unfulfilled.
Obviously, the context behind these two scenarios is simplified and generic and we don’t know what’s going on for these couples, but you get my drift about how differing love languages can cause communication disconnects.
Sound familiar in your own life?
If it does, then you and your partner might benefit from each taking The 5 Love Languages Quiz (it’s a free online quiz – I’m not affiliated with it, just a fan of it) to determine what your most dominant Love Languages are.
Of course, you may have known right away when you read my summary of the love languages which one or two are most you, which is totally fine!, but it can be fun to see how much that love language gets “weighted” by the quiz against the others.
When you both know your love languages, you can practice giving your partner more of what helps them feel especially loved (even and particularly if this differs from how you experience love) and hopefully they can do the same for you.
By learning to “speak” our partner’s love language in the way that they can best hear it, we can better ensure that the affection and love we have for them lands more effectively with them. We increase the odds of feeling connected to our partner.
So check out The 5 Love Languages quiz (it’s short, free, and fun!) and, if you can, get your partner to complete it as well.
Then compare notes and see what you guys might be able to tweak based on this new information to help create more closeness in your relationship.
When It’s More Than A Disconnect In Languages
Now, obviously, simply discovering our partner’s Love Language and implementing it more often isn’t always so simple and I don’t mean to imply that by sharing this tool.
Being in a romantic relationship can often be hard, complex, and filled with and fueled by the unconscious and challenging dynamics that makes learning and expressing your partner’s love language feel impossible.
For example, maybe there’s “relational scar tissue” – old resentments, disappointments, and hurts built up over time – that blocks you from even wanting to learn about or express your partner’s Love Language.
Or maybe one or both of you have shame, resistance, or anxiety that gets triggered when you think about expressing affection in each other’s’ Love Language.
Maybe there’s been a betrayal and breakdown of trust between you two that’s created an impasse so large no amount of strategic love language expressions can seem to bridge.
If this is the case, please know that you’re not alone.
Relationship tools are great, but they often presuppose a firm(ish) foundation between you two. And yet many, many couples find themselves with shaky and unsound foundations over the course of a relationship.
If this is the case for you, seeking out couples counseling can be a great support in exploring the proverbial cracks in your foundation and doing the critical work to get you two back to a solid baseline. Please do reach out if you’d like some support with this.
A Final Word…
The 5 Love Languages were originally oriented to romantic relationships but I personally think the theory can extend to other relationships in our lives like with our kids, co-workers, or family members.
When we know more of how the important people in our life are wired, we can, hopefully, and maybe not without some practice, appreciate that and give them more of what helps them feel loved.
All of which can lead to more connection between you.