Gary Chapman is a marriage counselor who, over years of helping couples work toward healthier relationships, has found that one consistent problem in unhappy relationships is miscommunication. Not just failing to talk to each other, but failing to express love in the same language. If one partner expects to be loved through quality time but the other expects gifts, neither are going to feel fully loved, no matter what the other partner does for them.
In his book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, Chapman identifies five different ways people express love for their partners, and explains that learning to speak your partner’s love language (and vice versa) is paramount for building a healthy relationship with them that will last for life.
The five love languages
Chapman explains in his book that everyone has both a primary love language and a secondary one. While both expressions of love are pleasant, the primary love language is the one that most powerfully dictates how we will both give love and how we expect to receive it.
These different expressions of love fill what Chapman calls our “love tank,” much like a fuel tank of a car. When our love tank is full, we’re secure and overjoyed in our relationship, but when it’s empty, we are withdrawn, unsatisfied, and hurt.
These are the love languages Chapman has identified
Words of affirmation. People of this language feel most loved when its expressed with words. Compliments, words of encouragement, or even just a simple “I was thinking about you” make their hearts swell.
Quality time. Spending time with their partners, their attention undivided, is how people of this love language express themselves. Being able to fully engage with their partner during activities like going for a walk, playing games, or even just coffee and conversation, is what brings them the most joy.
Receiving gifts. For people of this love language, nothing says “I love you” more than gifts. The time, effort, and money that goes into picking the perfect gifts mean the world to them, and serves as undeniable proof that their partner was thinking about them.
Acts of service. People of this love language feel most appreciated when their partners do things for them. Offering to watch the kids, running an inconvenient errand, or helping with household chores take time, effort, and resources, and these acts of service rarely go unnoticed.
Physical touch. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, and cuddling all fall under the umbrella of physical touch, and all are fair game for people of this love language. They enjoy the security that comes from physical contact and relish in the closeness of their partners and the connection that comes with that proximity.
Learn the languages of you and your partner
Discovering your love languages and your partner’s can help make it easier for the two of you to communicate and express affection for one another in a way that is appropriate and meaningful. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- What makes me feel most loved by my partner? What do I want most from them?
- What does my partner fail to do or say that hurts me the most?
- How do I express my love for my partner?
Once you and your partner know your primary love languages, work toward finding ways to express love in a way your partner will understand and appreciate. One way to do this, especially when starting out, is to play the “Tank Game.” Every evening, ask your partner “On a scale of zero to ten, how full is your love tank?” Zero is empty, and ten is completely full. Next, ask, “How can I help fill it?” Then, reverse the roles, and have your partner ask you the same questions.
The Tank Game keeps you and your partner honest and open about your needs while also giving your partner the insight they need to ensure you feel loved.
Finally, remember that each love language has its own dialects. Even if you and your partner speak the same love language, you may speak different dialects. For example, you may both love physical touch, but you might prefer cuddling and hand-holding while your partner likes kissing and more intimate touching.