Whether you are currently in a romantic/intimate relationship or not, everyone can benefit from increased insight about how we communicate in relationships. The 5 Love Languages concept was originally written within the context of romantic relationships, but application has been made for many other types of relationships. Friendships. Co-workers and supervisors. Professional relationships. Family members. The idea is simple and straightforward. Basically, we give and receive (or interpret the actions of ourselves and others) within the lenses of 5 different styles called love languages. When we communicate with someone else who speaks our ‘language’ things tend to go smoothly and not much extra effort is required. However, if our ‘languages’ are different, then potential for misinterpretations and misunderstandings occurs, just as when an English speaker is in a Spanish speaking country and has very little comprehension of the Spanish language. This does not prohibit communication, but makes it more complicated and extra effort is needed for a positive relationship. To complicate matters a bit more, some people have 2 or 3 (or 4) love languages that are equally accessible. These people are bilingual or multilingual and may easily get along with a greater number of other people as they switch from one language to another depending on whom they are speaking with.
If you have ever wondered what your love language(s) is/are or that of someone else in your life, online free quizzes are available at: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/. Below is a brief summary of the 5 love languages. In working with clients (especially couples), I encourage people to practice different languages with focus on the language of their significant other (or with someone else to whom they are desiring an improved relationship) and assess the results. This includes not only speaking the other person’s language, but also interpreting their behavior from the perspective of their language. Languages can be learned with awareness, practice, and effort; so don’t give up if you have language differences.
1. Acts of Service
Actions speak louder than words. When you do a favor for someone, you are engaging in the love language of Acts of Service. This might including taking someone’s chore or errand for them while they are sick or overwhelmed with other demands. It might be going out of your way to do something that benefits them such as buying them their favorite comfort food when they are stressed. Taking your time to teach something to someone is an act of service. Acts of service is the most behavioral of the 5 love languages and may involve an action away from the other individual, and therefore go unnoticed if that other person speaks a different love language. If you have ever been on a committee, the Acts of Service people are easy to spot because they tend to jump right in and volunteer when something needs to be done. People with Acts of Service as their primary love language tend to be upset when others do not offer to help with a task.
Gifts are tangible, concrete items that have a lot of sentimental or emotional meaning to the receiver. We all know those people who are able to think of the perfect birthday gift for other people in their life. People with this love language pay attention to what others have and what they might benefit from receiving. Gifts is the most tangible of the 5 love languages. People with this love language put a lot of thought into the gifts they purchase or make for someone and tend to expect the same consideration for gifts they receive themselves.
3. Physical Touch
Physical Touch is the most physical of the 5 love languages and involves affectionate touching above and beyond sexual relations. This includes hand holding, hugs, a pat on the back, shoulder rubs, etc. A person with physical touch as their primary love language is typically not shy about public displays of physical affection. Also, the reduction in stress and feelings of comfort are almost visible when a physical touch person receives the appropriate physical affection, like a long hug at the end of a hard day at work. However, unwanted or inappropriate touch can be very off-putting to a person with this love language (as it is with most people). And, lack of physical touch can feel like a neglected need. Physical touch is the trickiest of the 5 love languages to translate to professional or work relationships because appropriate boundaries can limit the type or amount of touch, so you might refrain from engaging in too much touch at work unless you know the other person is completely comfortable with it.
4. Quality Time
Quality Time is the most interpersonal of the 5 love languages and involves spending moments of engaged togetherness with one another. This does not mean sitting on the same couch and watching the same television show while both people scroll through social media feeds separately. Quality time is more about giving thoughtful attention to another person and being emotionally present. It might involve an activity of mutual interest like cooking dinner together or playing a sport or video game together or taking walks, etc. Quality time people tend to want more time with their loved ones and can become offended when some barrier gets in the way of that type of engaged togetherness.
5. Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation involves compliments and praise. This is the most verbal of the 5 love languages. Some people need to hear that they have done a good job with some job or task. This reinforces their desire to do the same thing in the future and helps them feel valued when someone provides praise. This can also help with connection in relationship. However, the opposites of affirmative words, either in the forms of negative criticism, insults, or simply lack of positive praise can be experienced as extremely hurtful to people with this as a primary love language. One might wonder why they have worked so hard on something if only to be criticized or at least not recognized by verbal positivity.
Remember that love languages (just like other languages) can be learned at any age. Pay attention to how you interpret your actions and the actions of other people with special attention to what things help you feel most closely connected with others and what hurts when it is turned into a negative or area of neglect. Also, keep in mind how others tend to fall back into their natural languages and try to appreciate their attempts at connecting rather than assuming that they do not desire or know how to connect in relationships. A lot of relationships are characterized by two people making effort in different ways with their attempts going unnoticed due to language differences.
If you or someone you know is struggling with relationship issues whether this is a romantic relationship or other types of relationships (friendships, working relationships, etc.), feel free to give me a call to schedule an appointment or for a quick telephone consultation.
Chapman, G. (2010). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.