Saying I love you is easy, but the language of love is made up of more than those three little — but powerful — words. If only it were that simple! For our relationships to thrive, we have to be able to communicate how we want to be loved and, at the same time, interpret how to give love so that someone else can receive it. Otherwise, the way we feel just gets lost in translation.
Relationships can break down over a love language barrier. We often try to give love in the way we prefer to receive it. We’re following the Golden Rule exactly — treating others the way we want to be treated. But what if they want to be loved differently than we do?
Dr. Gary Chapman introduced us to the concept of the 5 Love Languages over 30 years ago, and it’s still as relevant as ever. These love languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Gifts, and Physical Touch. We might immediately think that we do some or all of these regularly in our relationships, but many relationship conflicts can arise because we fail to show up for our partners in the way they need. Relationships break down when we don’t communicate and get to the bottom of these issues.
Words of Affirmation
As a writer, it’s probably unsurprising that words are an integral part of my love language. I don’t just want them; I need them. Some of this has to do with my personality, but a lot of it has to do with my background and past interpersonal relationships. When the words are absent, I don’t feel loved even if there are other ways love is being communicated.
Words of affirmation don’t stop at I love you. That’s just the beginning. When this is our love language, we also appreciate compliments, appreciation, encouragement, and thoughtfulness.
This might seem obvious and easy, but it’s not for everyone. Many people struggle to express love verbally, finding it easier to show it rather than say it. This is why love languages can be challenging.
Even if it’s not our natural inclination, if we want healthy relationships, we have to learn to talk about the ways we find it easy to express love and the ways we need to receive it. If we can’t be honest about our challenges as well as our preferences, our relationships will suffer. When someone has a hard time communicating, they’re going to struggle most in a relationship with someone whose preferred love language is words of affirmation. One alternative to speaking the words could be writing them down. A sweet note, love letter, thoughtful email, or even an affectionate text could still help them feel loved.
Communication isn’t a one-way street. If we want words of affirmation, we need to learn to ask for it. That could involve asking someone to listen to us without interruption or advice or asking for encouragement. In romantic relationships, it could mean asking our partners to express their love, affection, and appreciation more often. We might think this should be self-explanatory, and yet, it often isn’t. The occasional I love you might seem sufficient, but words of affirmation can also be I miss you or thank you or this made me think of you.
For some people, we can tell them I love you every moment of every day, and it still won’t be enough if we never make time for them. It’s not just time that matters either. Quality time is particularly important.
Conflicts can arise around this love language when we make time but are disengaged or distracted. Quality time can look like turning off our phones and tuning into one another. It can involve listening intently without focusing on what we want to say next. Giving our undivided time and attention is a wonderful way to show someone love.
It’s easy to see how a relationship can fall apart without quality time. Frequent distractions and taking people for granted can lead to breakdowns in communication and intimacy. We see this often in relationships that grow apart. This is one of the reasons why regular date nights are so important for couples. It’s not about forced intimacy but about setting aside time to prioritize the relationship. Even friendships can require regularly scheduled time together to keep these relationships strong.
Communication is essential with this love language as well. When this is our preferred way of receiving love, we need to be able to say so. This could mean requesting those date or friend nights, asking for a conversation free of distractions, or making time for a weekend getaway to reconnect. Quality time is a way of showing love rather than simply saying it. While it can enrich any relationship, it’s especially important to anyone who identifies this as their primary love language.
Acts of Service
This is another love language that’s more about showing than telling. People who prefer Acts of Service feel most loved when they are being helped and supported. This relationship thrives when someone follows through with what they’ve said they’ll do or pitches in to help when it’s needed. To show love to someone in this way, it could mean helping without having to be asked, offering support during a tough time, or simply showing up for them.
We can tell someone all day that we love them, but if they prefer acts of service over words of affirmation, they simply won’t feel loved until we show them. They need to see consistency, a willingness to help, and our presence. These relationships will fall apart if we cannot demonstrate love through service. Imbalanced friendships or partnerships simply won’t work for this language.
When sharing living space with someone of this communication style, it’s important to have an equitable distribution of household labor. But it won’t just stop at divvying up the chores. They’ll also feel loved when we step in to help them out with their work if they’re struggling. Doing something small to make their day a little better is one of the best ways to say I love you without having to say a word.
Not sure what to do? Simply ask How can I help/support you? It’s okay not to know what they need. Asking what help they would prefer and then doing that can be just as impactful. It still shows that we’re paying attention and are willing to jump in, roll up our sleeves, and put in some effort.
For some reason, this love language is often mistaken for being materialistic or greedy. That’s not it at all. These gifts don’t need to be expensive. It’s the thought rather than the price tag that matters. Even the small things we pick up during the day to show we were thinking of them can make them feel loved and cherished.
If Gifts are someone’s love language, birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are especially meaningful to them. Again, the gifts don’t need to cost much. Thoughtfulness is key. While they’ll appreciate gifts for no reason at all, they still feel valued when they receive gifts for special occasions. This love language loves to be considered and surprised.
This can come up in conflict when one person values gifts and the other doesn’t see the point of them. This is why it’s so important to know our own love language and take the time to discover how other people want to be loved. If we don’t care for gifts, we may not think it’s important. Yet, for someone who receives love through the giving of gifts, they could feel incredibly hurt if we skip a holiday or give a present that was more about convenience for us than thoughtfulness to them.
It helps to remember that this love language really believes it’s the thought that counts — as long as the thought is followed through with a gift that shows it. See their favorite chocolate? Pick it up for them. Know they have a busy day ahead of them? Surprise them with coffee. Even a small souvenir picked up on a trip could mean the world to them. What might seem like a silly refrigerator magnet to you could seem like a declaration of love to them.
Physical touch is more than just intimacy in the bedroom — although that’s certainly one aspect of it. People who prefer physical touch need it with all their relationships. They’re often the people in our lives who gives the best hugs. Physical touch can be holding hands, hugging, kissing, or even just sitting side by side. They need that tactile connection to feel loved.
In romantic relationships, someone who desires physical touch to feel loved will certainly be impacted by an absence of sex in a relationship. Because they interpret it as a way of showing love, they will feel the absence keenly. Even a change in frequency could be interpreted as a change in affections. Talking through this will be essential to the health of the relationship.
Physical intimacy in their romantic relationships shouldn’t just be limited to sex either. It’s important to remember that love languages are about how they feel loved. When someone experiences love through touch, sex isn’t just sexual. It’s loving. It’s their way of connecting, and they need all the ways — not just sex.
This love language wants to hold hands and may even be eager for public displays of affection. They may want more cuddle time and even to sleep as close as possible. A forehead kiss or simple hug can go a long way to letting them know they are valued and cherished. Without regular touch, they’ll be unlikely to feel loved, and intimacy could suffer.
Becoming Fluent in Love Languages
Every relationship in our lives involves love languages. If we’re paying attention, we can likely see how people give and receive love. We may even have more than one love language, although one may take precedence over another.
Learning to be fluent in the language of love isn’t just about telling others how to love us. It also helps us love other people well. There’s little more heartbreaking than watching a relationship break down when there’s plenty of love but an inability to speak each other’s love language.
You’ll often hear two people who shared a relationship have very different stories about how it ended. It’s tempting to think one person is oblivious or even lying, but sometimes, the truth is that love language styles can be incompatible. Someone who was constantly making time or giving gifts could have felt like they were loving someone who simply wanted words of affirmation. With effort, consistency, and perhaps even the professional intervention of counseling, it’s possible to learn to speak each other’s love language and reconnect.
Love languages impact all our relationships — often in ways we don’t even realize. Learning how to communicate our own is just as important as learning how other people want to be loved. If we take the time to ask a few questions and care enough to make the effort, any relationship can thrive.
Article originally published on The Truly Charming