Let’s say you want to do things to make your partner feel loved. So whenever you get the chance, you pick him up a little gift.
It may not be anything big; maybe it’s picking up his favorite brand of bagels, or the new book from his favorite novelist. The point is, it’s something to show you’re thinking of him. It’s something to make him feel loved.
You know it should make him feel loved because that’s how you feel when he picks up little things for you. The problem is, he doesn’t do that much anymore. He did when you started dating, but it seems that lately, he hasn’t been thinking much about you. He says all the right things, how he loves you, how you’re so beautiful and funny and good at your job. But the words just feel empty now.
What’s going on here?
It might be that you speak completely different love languages, according to Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Chapman says the biggest cause of problems in relationships is that people tend to express love in the way they themselves feel loved. And that doesn’t work because most couples speak different languages of love.
According to Chapman, there are five different love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.
Have you figured out the primary language of love in the above example? It’s clearly “receiving gifts.” And the boyfriend who says all the nice things? There’s a good chance his primary language of love is “words of affirmation.”
Chapman says that if you and your partner can figure out each other’s love languages and learn to speak them fluently, your relationship will flourish.
Here’s what’s important to each group:
Words of Affirmation. These are people who need compliments and recognition of things they do well, along with romantic words like “I love you,” “I care about you,” “you’re beautiful,” and “you matter to me.”
Acts of Service. This group feels loved when other people go out of their way to do something for them. Sometimes this means showing you care by pulling your weight with chores around the house. Or it could mean getting up early with the kids so your partner can sleep in or go for a run.
Receiving Gifts. This category feels loved when their partners provide gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re materialistic. The gifts could be homemade, symbolic or donations to charity.
Quality Time. These people feel loved when people choose to spend time with them. Sometimes it’s enough just to be together. But it’s even better when their partners do something they don’t necessarily like to do, like joining them at a baseball game, or watching all six hours of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice series.
Physical Touch. This group feels loved when their partners are physically close to them. It isn’t necessarily about sex. Often it’s about hugs, cuddles and caresses.
The book includes some detailed surveys to identify your love language, but Chapman says there’s an easier way to identify your category:
- What does your spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply? The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love language.
- What have you most often requested of your spouse? The thing you have most often requested is likely the thing that would make you feel most loved.
- In what way do you regularly express love to your spouse? Your method of expressing love may be an indication that that would also make you feel loved.
My wife Laura and I took the test and it seems we have different love languages. Mine is “quality time” which explains why I get so easily hurt when she keeps me waiting. Hers is “words of affirmation” which explains why it’s so painful to her when I go quiet because I’m tired or preoccupied.
This book has its flaws. It’s somewhat outdated (first published in 1992), with gender stereotypes (separate surveys for men and women), and is heavily grounded in the author’s Christian faith. But Chapman does provide a helpful model for explaining how different people feel and express love in different ways.
What about you? Do you recognize yourself or your partner in one of these categories? I’m especially curious about readers from outside of North America. Do these love languages hold up in other cultures?