The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts is a book written by Gary Chapman that explores the ways people give and receive love. In the book, Chapman suggests that everyone receives love in at least one of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. The way we receive love is usually the way we naturally express it, but if our loved one does not receive love in the same way we do, he or she can feel unloved. The 5 Love Languages became a New York Times #1 bestseller in the early 1990s and has remained popular for its timeless wisdom and practical help.
The five categories in which people give and receive love greatly affect relationships. When we understand the love language of another person, we can more effectively communicate our respect and affection to him or her. Most people have a primary love language and a secondary language as well. Free quizzes are available on The 5 Love Languages website so that anyone can determine his or her own love language as well as the languages of the people in their lives.
The following is a brief explanation of each of the five love languages:
1. Words of affirmation. Some people are more attuned than others to hear both positive and negative words from those whose opinions they cherish. While negative, critical words can tear them down, positive, encouraging words make them flourish. People who need verbal affirmation also tend to be freer with their own encouraging words. They assume that, because they so need verbal praise, the loved ones in their lives also need it. While most people enjoy hearing words of praise, those whose primary love language is words of affirmation crave it. They will often structure their lives around the possibility of receiving praise, even neglecting to speak negative truth when necessary.
Spouses and others who wish to communicate affirmation to someone with this love language must train themselves to express their feelings verbally. For someone lacking this love language, it may be awkward at first to speak what he or she assumes the other person already knows. But simple affirmations such as “You did a good job!” or “I’m proud of you!” go a long way in building the confidence and “filling the love tank” of someone who needs words of affirmation.
2. Acts of service. When acts of service is a person’s primary language, he or she interprets the help as a sign of someone’s love. For example, when a spouse does household chores, his or her efforts are interpreted as love by the other spouse, even though no actual words of love are spoken. However, if acts of service is not the love language of the helping spouse, that spouse may be unaware of what their actions mean to their wife or husband. For example, a husband may be doing the dishes because they were dirty. But to the wife, who usually does the dishes, his act of service sounds like a love song.
People with this love language are often found behind the scenes, doing what no one else volunteered to do. It is their gift to the people they care about. They assume that the recipients of their service will understand the reasons behind it, but they become frustrated when they feel taken for granted. For example, a wife with this love language feels loved when her husband does things around the house, but when she reciprocates and does something for him, he does not receive it as a gesture of love. His love language might be words of affirmation, so her attempts to show him love through acts of service go unappreciated, and his “love tank” may remain empty.
3. Gifts. We all know people who brings gifts everywhere they go. They might always be “picking up a little something” for the people in their life. These people thrive on gift-giving, and, when they are given a gift, it fills their love tank. Sometimes people misunderstand this need to express love through gift-giving and interpret the constant offerings as bribes or the expectation of something in return. When gifts is a person’s primary love language, he or she usually places a great deal of weight on the quality of the gift and the effort that went into obtaining it. The gifts need not be expensive, but they are sometimes given more meaning than the giver intended. For example, if this is a woman’s primary love language, she may read more into her boyfriend’s gift of a bracelet than he intended. He found it on sale and knew her birthday was coming up, so, on impulse, he bought it. She, on the other hand, interprets the gift as his declaration of love and may assume that the relationship is moving in a deeper direction.
It is important to understand the people in our lives who give and receive love through gift-giving. When this is the primary love language, those who care about this person can learn to offer thoughtful tokens in order to express their affection. A single rosebud, a candle, or a funny card can go a long way toward filling the love tank of someone who understands love as giving gifts.
4. Quality time. Quality time is usually linked to meaningful conversation for the people with this primary love language. Hours of deep conversation create an emotional connection for them. “If this person cares enough about me to spend all this time with me, then they really love me,” goes the reasoning.
The best way to communicate love to a person whose primary language is quality time is to remove distractions such as cell phones and TV and really tune in to what he or she is saying. We can train ourselves to give verbal feedback to indicate we are listening. A distracted audience communicates more to this person than we may realize if this is not our primary language. Continual interruptions say to this person, “You’re not important enough for me to think about only you.” Those who want to communicate affection to someone with this primary language can set aside specific times to spend together without interruptions. Joint experiences, laughing together, and talking about things that matter fill the love tank of someone who needs quality time.
5. Physical touch. Physical touch is crucial for the health and well-being of every human being. Babies who do not receive enough loving touch in infancy do not thrive and can have lifelong difficulties. But for some people the need for physical touch is greater than it is for others. Loving hugs, backrubs, holding hands, or a simple shoulder squeeze all communicate love to these people. Those actions spell love to those with this primary language. While sex can be part of this love language, this need for physical touch is non-sexual. Touching, stroking, hugging, and simple pecks on the cheek fill the love tank of those with this need.
However, when this person tries to express affection physically to someone who does not have this as a primary language, the situation is ripe for miscommunication. Sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed against innocent people who thought their non-sexual touch communicated respect and affection when it was in fact interpreted as a sexual overture. People with this primary love language need to remember that touch can mean a variety of things, and their intent is not always clearly communicated. This need can also create tension in marriage when one simply wants to cuddle, but the other interprets the physical touch as a sexual invitation. Clearly communicating with each other about what kinds of touches are needed can help both spouses learn to fill the love tank of the other.
There are many ways to communicate love, and, as followers of Christ, we are to employ them all. But in relationships it is helpful to understand how we are wired and how those we care about receive our love. Educating ourselves about the complexities of human nature helps us respond to those God places in our lives, and The 5 Love Languages is a good starting place.