Love is a complex emotion that shapes our relationships, influences our well-being, and profoundly impacts our overall happiness. Each individual has their own unique experience with love. The ways in which love is expressed and received varies from person to person. How love is expressed can highly impact the dynamics of a relationship, as well as the sense of safety and security within a relationship. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman illustrates different patterns of communicating love. The five love languages he identified include Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, and Physical Touch. This blog will focus on these different patterns including examples and providing guidance to identify your love language(s) and how to tune into those of loved ones.
Acts of Service refers to actions that require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy, that you know your partner would like you to do. These actions are genuine expressions of love. Examples of Acts of Service include cooking a meal, setting a table, washing dishes, vacuuming, and cleaning. It’s important to keep in mind that requests give direction to love, while demands can damper the flow of love. In other words, if there is a specific act of service you would like your partner to do, gently requesting it be done can go a long way.
Gifts are a visual symbol of love that need not be reserved exclusively for special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. Gifts can be bought, found, or made. Examples of gifts include candy, flowers, clothes, books, and handmade crafts (e.g., ceramics, paintings). Gifts aren’t necessarily always physical objects. In fact, physical presence can be a powerful gift for someone who’s primary love language is receiving gifts.
Quality Time is undivided attention spent with a loved one. It can come in the form of a quality conversation, a sympathetic dialogue where partners share their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context. Quality time can also be spent doing an activity that at least one partner wants to do, the other is willing to do, and both partners know why they are doing it, namely, to express love by being together. Examples of such activities include playing board games, going for a walk, going on a picnic, going out for a meal, or going on vacation.
Words of Affirmation refers to verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation. This can be in the form of encouraging words (to inspire courage in areas in which we feel insecure), which conveys an empathetic understanding of the world from your partner’s perspective. Examples of words of affirmation include “You look sharp in that suit”, “You must be the best cook in the world”, “I really appreciate you washing the dishes tonight”, and “Thank you for taking the garbage out.”
Physical Touch can sometimes convey messages louder than words alone. From a developmental perspective, research indicates that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed have a healthier emotional development than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact. While physical touch can include sex and intercourse, there are other forms of physical touch. Additional examples of physical touch include holding hands, putting an arm around a loved one’s shoulder, hugging, kissing, embracing, holding while crying, and massaging. Of course, it is important that consent is given before engaging in any type of physical touch.
While there’s no right or wrong way to express love (as long as it is done in a respectful manner), it can be common to feel that needs aren’t being met when love isn’t received according to one’s preferences. In fact, people often express love in the way they hope to receive it themselves (rather than the way their partner wants to receive it). Just like people have different tastes for food and fashion, people also have different preferences for receiving love. It's a common misconception that partners need to have the same preferences in order to have a healthy and successful relationship. If we tune into our own needs, pay attention to cues from loved ones, and have open dialogues about preferences, we can grow together and connect profoundly. Learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones is important in order to identify unmet needs, connect on a deeper level, and foster healthy relationships.