Learn the Love Languages

Do you ever think about all the ways you can show your love to your spouse? In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman examines that concept and illustrates five different ways to show your love:

●      Words of Affirmation

●      Quality Time

●      Gifts

●      Acts of Service

●      Physical Touch[1]

When we learn our Love Languages, we gain a useful tool for understanding ourselves and others.

Gary Chapman spent years working with couples who were trying to save or improve their marriages. As he struggled to help, he discovered, again and again, the deep emotional need for love we all have. As couples shared their secret pain, he would hear things like, “Our love is gone; our relationship is dead,” and “We used to feel close, but not now,” and “We no longer enjoy being with each other,” and “We don’t meet each other’s needs.” Husbands and wives had often tried to meet each other’s emotional needs, but they were not very successful. It sometimes seemed as though one spouse spoke Greek and the other spoke Russian.

Chapman then developed the concept of the five Love Languages. Stated simply, most of us tend to show our love and seek love in one or more of the five ways listed above. One of those ways will be most significant to us—our primary Love Language. Our most intimate relationships (with our spouse, parents, children, close friends, etc.) will be greatly improved if we understand our own and our loved one’s primary love language.

A person whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation seeks verbal affirmation. They need to be told they are appreciated. They need to hear things like, “Thanks for cleaning up the dinner dishes,” or “I really am glad you took the time to come to my ball game.” Complimentary, kind, and loving words matter to a person whose primary Love Language is Words of Affirmation. These words really register and make an impact. Conversely, someone whose lowest Love Language is Words of Affirmation will often disregard such statements or assume the words are said in order to manipulate them. As you can imagine, saying hurtful things to Words of Affirmation people hurts them more than you can imagine.

Quality Time is the primary Love Language of those who measure love in time spent. A person whose primary Love Language is Quality Time simply needs to spend good, focused time with the people they love. The cry for help from these people will sound like, “We never do anything together,” or “You are always too busy with the kids (or your work) to pay attention to me.” A Quality Time person will appreciate a date night sitting together in front of the fireplace. On the other hand, someone for whom Quality Time is their lowest Love Language will think of such an evening as, “Well we didn’t really do anything; we just sat around.”

We all know someone who has giving and receiving Gifts as their primary Love Language. These people are the ones who show up with a present and never miss a gift-giving opportunity. The person with Gifts as their primary Love Language feels special when he or she gives or receives gifts. It is not the size of the gift that matters; the sentiment behind the gift illustrates the love. A person for whom Gifts is the lowest Love Language tends to see gifts as manipulation.

The Love Language of Acts of Service involves doing things for others. Washing the dishes, changing the baby’s diaper or a burned out light bulb, mowing the lawn, or making a special meal are all examples of Acts of Service. Someone with this primary Love Language, feels truly loved when his or her spouse puts forth the effort to perform helpful tasks. On the other hand, a person for whom Acts of Service is the lowest Love Language may tend to see all that activity as avoidance of the real issues.

 Having Physical Touch as your main Love Language means you desire physical contact with a loved one. A Physical Touch person will value holding hands, hugs, playful punches on the arm, and other physical contact. A handshake is significant to this person, as is sexual intercourse (an amped up version of the handshake?). A Physical Touch person will place high value on any type of touch and physical contact. Those for whom Physical Touch as one of their lowest Love Languages tend to see physical contact as insignificant. A Physical Touch person who has suffered past abuse or rape will struggle to trust anyone due to this heightened violation. As I stated before, a skilled counselor can help here.

To illustrate the usefulness of knowing your Love Language, imagine a husband (Bill) and wife (Naomi) who are struggling in their marriage. Bill feels like he puts forth the bulk of the effort to keep the marriage going and resents Naomi for not trying harder. Naomi also believes she puts most of the energy into their relationship and is angry at Bill for not noticing. Bill works all day at a telephone company and then comes home to mow the lawn, pull weeds, pick up the kids’ toys, do the laundry, wash the dishes, and coach a softball team. At the end of one of these busy days, when he feels a little frisky, Naomi rebuffs his romantic advances. Bill lies in bed and seethes, wondering why Naomi appreciates him so little and has become such a selfish witch (or sentiments to that effect).

Naomi, on the other hand, stays home with the three children in the mornings and works as a waitress during lunch and dinner. She tries to be a good mother by reading to each child and spending time with them; she does the bulk of the housework and she waitresses to bring in extra money. Naomi enjoys the waitressing because her regular customers tell her how wonderful she is, which she rarely hears at home any more. She falls into bed at night, physically and emotionally exhausted, and then Bill pouts when she does not feel like having sex. She wonders how she married such an insensitive dolt.

Do you see the Love Language clues in this scenario? They are right out there in the open, just as they are in most relationships. Bill’s primary Love Language is Acts of Service with Physical Touch a close second. Gifts is in third place, while Words of Affirmation and Quality Time are last. Bill does things other women complain their husbands never do. Bill feels that he puts forth so much effort and is not appreciated by Naomi, and he feels particularly upset about this issue at bedtime.

Naomi’s primary Love Languages are Quality Time and Words of Affirmation. Physical Touch, Acts of Service, and Gifts are not especially important to Naomi. When Bill comes home from work and rushes right out to mow the lawn or throws in a load of laundry, Naomi wishes he would just sit down with her and talk about the day. Naomi knows she should appreciate all the work Bill does, but instead she finds herself resenting the work and Bill. Then she feels guilty. She knows they are growing apart, and it scares her.

Like many married couples, Bill and Naomi have different Love Languages. If they don’t address the issue, they will probably continue to drift apart. Perhaps Bill will find temporary comfort in the arms of a co-worker or a softball team mom, and their marriage will go down in flames. Perhaps nothing dramatic will happen, but their sense of love and closeness will just fizzle away to nothing. However, Bill and Naomi could decide to take action and turn their marriage around.

When Bill realizes that time and encouraging words truly matter to Naomi, he will begin to see that sitting and talking with her or giving her a compliment is an act of service and not as a waste of precious time. These efforts on Bill’s part will be emotionally rewarding for both of them. Naomi will hear the Love Language she understands, and Bill will see the effort as an act of service, a Love Language he relates to.

Naomi will strive to do little extra things for Bill that she knows he appreciates. She may still get more compliments as a waitress than she gets at home, but she knows Bill is trying, and that helps her feel loved. Their love-making will improve as their love grows and this aspect of their marriage will motivate Bill more than Naomi can ever imagine. Understanding and using the Love Language concept can help produce strong, happy, enduring relationships.

In reviewing this concept, our niece Wendy became intrigued with the Love Languages and decided to try it. Her husband had a week of vacation during which he planned to get some things done around their house. Wendy correctly guessed that Words of Affirmation was her husband’s primary Love Language, though they were not that important to her. Wendy spoke encouraging words to Steve each day when opportunities presented themselves.

After only a few days, Steve told her how much he appreciated Wendy’s encouraging words. As a couple, they had nourished their love. A strong marriage just grew a little stronger.      

If you want to learn to use the love languages, sit down with the list above and think about what your own Love Languages might be. Write them in order and do the same for your spouse. Try listing the Love Languages of a few other folks as well—kids, parents, siblings, etc. Keep that list. Over the next few days, try to see those people through the lens of Love Languages. Learn to spot instances of high value and low value Love Languages. Try to put this knowledge into action. Keep trying.

Use the Love Languages to continue growing in your marriage.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield Pub., 2010).