Valentines Day is coming up and that day has always been a favorite of mine, because I’ve always found joy in having a day where we are all (well, a lot of us) are extra intentional about communicating the love that we share to others. With that in mind, I thought that it would be helpful to revisit the topic of love languages, especially if you are already thinking about and planning for how you may show up for your loved ones this year.
An important influence on our ability to build healthy relationships is our ability to give and receive love. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, who is credited with establishing the concept of love languages, there are 5 languages through which we express love. It is also commonly understood that the way that we express love tends to be the way in which we best receive love.
The 5 languages through which we often communicate love, according to Dr. Chapman, are as follows:
Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Physical Touch, and Gifts.
Let’s talk about the many ways in which these languages can be communicated, to support the loving dynamics that we desire in relationship.
Our first language,
Words of Affirmation: is described as Communicating love and appreciation by using words that build the other person up.
We can provide words of affirmation through the expression of verbal compliments, encouraging words, kind words, words of forgiveness, and by using what I’ve seen referred to as “humble” words – which are words that make requests and not demands.
Some examples of behavior that support effective communication of love through Words of Affirmation include: saying things like, “You did a great job with the children today” and, “I appreciate you finishing the laundry before I made it home.”
Letting someone express themselves without agreeing or disagreeing, telling them that you like what they’re wearing, saying “sorry,” and sharing your intimate thoughts and feelings can also be effective ways of expressing love through words of affirmation.
The second love language is known as Acts of Service.
Acts of Service: is described as Doing something that you know the other person would like.
I want to be clear in saying that it is important to understand that requests for service are not healthy in the forms of demands and manipulation.
It is also important to understand that a loved one’s complaints about what we do or don’t do can be clues to what their love language is, and to the emotional needs that they have.
Here are some examples of what communicating love through acts of service can look like: completing a house chore that the other person typically completes, washing their car, and being more intentional in grooming yourself.
A willingness to challenge stereotypes related to gender roles and relationships can also be impactful on one’s ability to be effective in communicating love through acts of service. For example, a woman identifying person who believes that it is ‘a man’s job to take out the trash,’ may benefit from challenging and reframing this belief, in order to be effective in communicating love to a male identifying family member, partner, or roommate who could use their support in completing the task effectively. Challenging and unlearning our beliefs can be difficult; However the reward of meeting the emotional needs of the people we love, often outweighs the cost of of being challenged.
The third love language is quality time.
Quality Time: The marker of quality time is giving your undivided attention.
Engaging in “togetherness,” which is giving our full attention while engaging in activity together, is one way that we can communicate love through quality time. Engaging in quality conversation which involves talking about shared experiences, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and demonstrating a genuine desire to understand, is another way to communicate quality time. Quality conversation also presents opportunity to work our active listening skills muscle, because to be effective it is important to be mindful of making eye contact, not interrupting, paying attention to body language, and listening to and empathizing with the other person’s feelings.
Learning how to talk about our own experiences, thoughts and feelings can also strengthen the muscles needed to be effective in communicating love through quality time. Our ability to be vulnerable allows opportunity for intimacy building, learning, and building trust, and the weekly #CulitvativeConversation questions shared on this podcast provide good practice of this skill.
Some other examples of behavior that support effective practice of quality time: having dinner together, taking a walk together without being in/on your phone, asking questions for clarification, and restating what was said to show understanding (or a desire to understand).
The fourth love language, is physical touch.
Physical Touch: Is a fundamental expression of love that meets a biological need that we all have. Touch receptors are located throughout the body and this provides us with many options for communicating love through touch in all types of relationships.
Some of my most connected moments with my mom as a kid involved physical touch: like when she washed and combed my hair, and when she gave me massages. Taking care of me in those ways was important to my mom, and they met that biological need that I had for physical connection with her that was gentle and safe.
I’m also thinking about a time that I worked with a child whose understanding of physical boundaries was limited. They often wanted to hug me (and classmates, and other adults, and really anyone that they shared space with); and Because of the dynamics of our relationship (and the nature of their trauma), it became very important in my role as their therapist, that I used our time together as a safe space for them to learn how to get their need for touch met in safer and more appropriate ways. I started by redirecting their attempts to hug by encouraging a high five. They got a high five when we greeted each other, they got high fives for being on green in school, they got high fives for following directions, and when we said our see you laters. I also encouraged high fives when they were sad, upset or disappointed, because their need for connection was significant when they were uncomfortable. With time and consistent practice, there was a significant decrease in reports that we got from their school, and in the child’s need for redirection at home, because they were successful with learning how to effectively meet their biological need for physical touch.
Some other examples of physical touch that can communicate love: Holding hands, hugging, placing a hand on one’s shoulder, consensual sexual touch, a pat on the back, and putting a hand on one’s knee.
I want to take an opportunity to stress that Loving touch does not always need to be sexual in nature or intent in romantic or sexual relationships, and it does not always have to lead to sex to be intimate. Offering love through touch to someone in crisis can be an impactful way to support and comfort someone that we care about.
The fifth love language is gifts.
Gifts: Giving a gift that says “I was thinking about you,” “I appreciate you,” or “I am grateful for what you did,” all reflect a communication of love through gift.
For many people, a gift’s reflection of the fact that they were thought of, makes them feel special; and the follow through of actually securing a gift is an expression of love.
In addition to tangible gifts, the gift of self is an intangible gift that can be very effective in communicating love. Being there when a loved one needs you is priceless, and for some may be more impactful than a gift that they can touch.
Gift giving is a skill that does not come easy to all, so here are some tips for being effective with gifts: 1. Don’t wait for a special occasion, think ‘just because’ 2. gift within your means (remember not all gifts have a monetary cost), 3. ask for help when needed (there may be a friend or family member who can provide insight that you find helpful, or who can help with making plans come together), and 4. make a list of things that your loved one mentions wanting so that you allow yourself options that you know they’d be excited about.
Before wrapping up I’d like to share some thoughts on Love Languages in general.
Dr. Chapman initially described the languages in terms of love in romantic relationships; however I believe that they can be (and are best) applied in our development of relationship with everyone in our lives. I hope that I did well in demonstrating what that can look like.
Since I was introduced to Dr. Chapman’s love languages ten years ago, their scope has grown to include love language exploration in parent-child relationships, and for different age groups. The 5 Love Languages website has quizzes available for couples, teens, children and singles, and I will link the site in the show’s notes.
I do believe that being familiar with your love language can be helpful with setting boundaries and with explaining the expectations you have for your loving relationships; however I do not believe that any of us has just one love language. I am of the belief that while we may have a primary language, the dynamics of our relationships can influence the needs that we seek to meet through them. Therefore, the language that one needs spoken in one relationship may be different from what’s needed in another.
I also believe that components of each of these languages have a place in every relationship, so the idea that someone may have a need for them all in a single relationship resonates with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
I do hope that this information is helpful to you, and that it provides some motivation to actively engage in developing the dynamics you desire in the relationships that are important to you. At the very least I hope that it supports you having a wonderful, loving valentines day.
Podcast audio version of this article is available HERE on 2/9/23.