Expressions of love diverge from one individual to another, and can change according to the specific relationship, experience, or mood you are in. A globally recognized emotion, love has been extensively studied, written about, and revered throughout history. As part of humanity’s fascination with love, the different ways to express one’s affections have also been explored, with the idea of different love languages proposed and considered for the past several decades. Read on to learn about the five love languages, and see which ones you tend to gravitate toward.
In 1992, author and radio host Gary Chapman published a self-help book aimed at highlighting the most common ways individuals tend to express love to others. The premise of the book was that while falling in love may often be experienced as more of an all-consuming rush, maintaining a relationship over an extended period of time requires a greater deal of effort. More specifically, in order for a relationship to last — and continue to meet the emotional needs of its participants — it is crucial to learn to communicate clearly. And to do so, it is necessary to recognize each other’s primary love languages.
So, what are the five languages of love, and how do they feature in our interactions? A love language is defined as a form of communication used to convey one’s emotion to a chosen partner.
The following love languages are viewed as the five main forms of emotional expression:
Also defined as compliment giving, words of affirmation verbalize what you appreciate in one another. This love language can include a common sense of humor, the mention of intimate, shared moments, and the general use of verbal communication to express that you see the other individual for who they are and admire them for it.
Words of affirmation can take on an almost poetic form, as the ones selected to express how one feels paint a unique picture of how they experience the other individual and the relationship they have built.
Telling someone you love them is considered an example of words of affirmation, as is emphasizing your physical attraction to them, writing them a heartfelt email or letter, or verbally recognizing a meaningful experience in your relationship.
Spending time with one another in a meaningful way is another common love language. It is defined as taking the time not just to disconnect from one’s work or routine, but to connect over a shared interest.
Quality time can tie into other love languages, as a shared experience may raise new opportunities to engage physically. This love language may appeal to those who prefer actively going through an experience over verbally acknowledging how they feel about one another.
Investing in a joint passion for travel, enrolling in a cooking class together, or even staying in and watching a movie – as long as you are doing it with each other with the intention to share more of your day — can be considered quality time.
Acts of service include voluntarily carrying out behavior that is necessary for or appreciated by the other individual.
Acts of service are similar to quality time in that they often involve setting aside a part of one’s schedule to invest in a specific relationship. However, whereas quality time emphasizes spending that time on enjoyable, shared experiences, acts of service tend to focus more on chores, unpleasant tasks, or at the very least actions that do not directly benefit the individual performing them. As such, this love language may appeal to those who associate love with sacrifice and may be appreciated by those who feel somewhat overwhelmed with the needs and assignments in their daily life.
Doing chores around the house so the other individual does not have to, taking the time to pay the bills (out of a joint account, otherwise it may be considered gift giving), or planning your next joint vacation are all examples of acts of service.
Gift-giving works through symbolism to offer the other individual a token of your affection. Selecting an item you feel they would like helps show you have come to know them, their areas of interests, and what they find to be aesthetic, enjoyable, useful, or exciting.
The thought behind gift-giving has to do with the tangible aspect of this love language, as it helps draw focus on whatever present has been granted, solidifying (even if only during the moment it is given) the existence of the relationship itself.
Relying on gift giving as a primary love language does not require having an intimate knowledge of someone’s private wishlist: Giving them a gift certificate, or even money, is still considered gift-giving, and in some cases, it can be preferable to a specific item.
Nonverbal behavior, such as physical touch, is a visceral, primal form of communication that has existed long before verbal expression, or the written word.
Those who value physical touch above other love languages may wish to bypass the use of words, as they feel verbal expression does not fully encompass their internal experiences. Alternatively, their preference for physical touch may stem from anxiety, and the need to confirm their proximity to a loved one.
Communicating through physical touch can be intimate and sexual, or platonic and tender, and it can be included in different types of relationships. Comforting an infant, playing a physical sport, performing a massage, and intimately touching one another are included in physical touch. As it involves direct contact with each other’s body, consent and open communication over both partners’ needs, desires, and boundaries should be sensitively addressed when it comes to this love language.
It is important to note that an individual can have a preference for more than one love language at any given moment, with Chapman claiming everyone has one main love language and one secondary love language. In order to sustain a relationship and help it thrive, each partner needs to pay close attention to what their counterpart values in regard to their own connection, their relationships with others, and the world in general. This information is mainly accessible by observing how they express love.
As an example, a man may splurge on an expensive gift for his partner, only to be surprised at the relatively reserved response he receives. After looking into the way their partner celebrates the birthday of a close friend, he notices his partner made sure to schedule a one-on-one lunch with their friend to catch up. He then deduces that his husband values quality time over gift giving and schedules a weekend getaway for the two of them for the next weekend.
As mentioned above, preferring a particular love language over another is not set in stone. By exposing yourself to the preferences of your partner, you can learn to see the value in a love language you had previously left unexplored—not just for them, but your own benefit as well. Discussing each other’s love language preferences in therapy can also help bridge the communication gap between partners, as can relying on one another to help become better acquainted with the love language that speaks most to them.
Whatever love language you feel is right for you, remember that at the base of all communication lies the wish for understanding: A love language can successfully represent why a certain relationship is important to you, while failing to express its importance to the other individual who is in it. It is therefore crucial to touch base with each other, see how your chosen love language has been interpreted, and whether a new form of communication may better serve both of you when looking to convey how much they mean to you.