In 1995, Gary D. Chapman unleashed a secret weapon upon the world of relationships: his book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Sometimes relationships feel like they’re taking place on a battlefield and, as with so many conflicts, the resolution is hidden behind a language barrier. Partners might be saying all the right things to each other, but if they aren’t speaking the same dialect neither will be able to really hear the meaning behind what the other is trying to say.
Chapman’s work gives us a comprehensive course in the five different ways people understand love.
• Words of Affirmation: verbally expressing affection, compliments, and gratitude.
• Acts of Service: actively attending to needs and desires.
• Gifts: giving tokens thoughtfully and frequently.
• Quality Time: offering intervals of undivided attention.
• Physical Touch: incorporating physical contact into all interactions.
The best advice ever given has been around for millennia: “Know thyself.” The surest way to get the love you need out of a relationship is knowing to which type of loving you respond best. If you don’t know then you can’t tell anyone else. A lot of people understand expressions of love in more than one language, which can make it hard to pinpoint the best one for you.
Start by examining how you demonstrate affection. Do verbal expressions of love come out easily and often? Is touching a natural part of your interactions? Maybe you frequently give trinkets because you knew a certain someone would get a kick out of it. Most likely, the way you naturally say I love you is the language to which you have the strongest reaction.
Another good starting point is this quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. If you’re still at a loss, try asking yourself which language you could do without. Perhaps words mean little, but actions speak volumes. You’ve now narrowed your list to just four languages. Work your way through the list. Even if you don’t hit on the language in which you are most fluent, you will be given love in the ways you understand it.
Healthy relationships are reciprocal, but not all couples love each other the same way. Instead of following a “like for like” model, think “different, but equal.” Learn your partner’s language the opposite way you discover yours. What acts of love does he offer with ease? Your partner may make a conscious effort to speak your language, but you should still be able to pick out his natural way of showing affection — the expressions of love he gives without even thinking about it.
Multi-lingual partners pose a challenge, so you may have to experiment a little. Devote one full week to each language. Make an effort to compliment, praise, and thank your better half multiple times a day for seven days. Then concentrate on making physical contact each time you are in a room together for another seven days. Experiment with acts of service, gifts, and quality time for each of the next three weeks. Which ones prompted a smile and which led to a raised eyebrow or look of confusion?
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. — eden ahbez, 1947
Give It Away: Suggestions for Saying “I Love You”
Words of Affirmation (hint: written is just as powerful as spoken)
I really appreciate the way you…
I’m lucky to be with someone so… (witty, smart, fun, etc.)
You make me happy.
Acts of Service
Performing maintenance on a partner’s car, bike, lawn, etc.
Household chores (especially the ones she hates).
Helping on a task without being asked.
Gifts (hint: those who respond to gifts don’t care how much you spend)
Bouquets that are fresh-picked, bought at the grocery store, or from the florist.
Random trinkets that made you think of him.
That thing he wants but won’t get for himself.
Working on a project together.
A drive down a scenic road.
Not multi-tasking while having a conversation.
Physical Touch (hint: physical contact isn’t limited to sensual touching)
Touch your partner’s hand or fingers during conversations.
Lightly place your fingers on the small of your partner’s back while walking together.
Give a shoulder squeeze when passing through a room.
In love, and all relationships, communication is key. Once you learn the basic lingo you’ll continue to grow in fluency. Then, the only thing left will be fielding all the questions about the secret to your success.
Photo credits: author, Moyan Brenn, lilivanili, and Burlesque movie still.