Love is an essential part of a happy relationship. It helps build trust, it cements companionship and there is nothing quite like the warm, golden glow of knowing that the person who you love, loves you. Yet, love can also be one of the hardest emotions to communicate, particularly as we all show affection in different ways.
Therefore, a vital part of a successful relationship is knowing how you and your partner prefer to express love. And that’s where Gary Chapman’s theory of the Five Love Languages can help.
What are the Five Love Languages?
‘The Five Love Languages’ are a communication tool devised by experienced relationship counsellor Gary Chapman and first explained in his 1995 book ‘The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.’ 1
Chapman’s theory is really quite straightforward: he believes that the many, many ways in which people express emotional love can be condensed down into five broad categories or ‘languages’ (receiving gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time). Each language involves a particular set of actions, thoughts and words that, when added together, constitute a way of demonstrating and receiving love.
Chapman suggests that everyone has their own ‘primary’ language, which essentially means that everyone has a way of communicating love that speaks to them the most. The problem is, as Chapman puts it, ‘’seldom do a [couple] have the same primary emotional love language.’’2 And this sets the stage for all sorts of miscommunication: moments where a couple try to express their love to one another but end up missing the signals that mean ‘‘I love you.’’
Why are they useful?
When someone is important to us, we naturally want to let them know how much they matter – and it can be frustrating when they don’t appreciate our efforts in the ways in which we expect. In a similar vein, when someone who loves us demonstrates that fact in a way we find personally moving it means the world; even if the gesture itself is a small one.
This is where the love languages can be a useful tool. By knowing which language you relate to the most you will have a better idea of what you need from a partner in order to feel cherished. And, by also learning how to ‘speak’ your partner’s love language, you’ll have a better idea of how to demonstrate your feelings in a way that really makes an impact.
Read more: need help showing your feelings? Try these 15 little ways to say ‘I love you.’
What’s my Love Language?
Before identifying your love language, it’s important to know two things: one, no one language is any better than the others. All are equally valid ways to give and receive affection. Two, your love language can change over time. For instance, someone with a busy career may crave the solace of quality time. Later on, after retirement, say, they may find that has changed into a desire for words of affection or physical touch. Your language relates to your needs at the time.
So how do you know what your (current) love language is? For a definitive answer, Chapman offers a 30 question test on his website (take it here). This test even breaks down the weight you give to each language – helping to point out not only the ways in which you like to give/receive love but the areas which you should be aware may need work!
Of course, you may not even need the test, as finding out your language is a fairly intuitive process. Simply think about how you would treat someone special and about how you’d like to be treated. Chances are, your choices will align more strongly with one or two of the following:
Those with quality time as their primary love language thrive on time spent alone with their partner. This could mean an elaborate date night or a simple night in; the main thing is that it’s time spent truly in each other’s company – so no checking of emails/cell phones allowed!
If this is your love language, you’re in good company! A recent EliteSingles survey of 500 Kiwi men and women showed that 48% of New Zealanders see one-on-one time as the clearest way to demonstrate love.3
If your primary language is physical touch you are most likely associate physical closeness with love. It doesn’t have to be sexual touch; people who speak this language will also demonstrate it with the likes of hand-holding in public, back rubs and snuggling up in front of the TV.
Our survey revealed that physical touch is a language more popular with Kiwi men than with Kiwi women. 40% of the men surveyed picked this as their preferred way to show to love, compared with just 16% of women.
Words of Affirmation
When the language that speaks to you is words of affection, you like verbal confirmations of love. It’s not just saying ‘’I love you’’ (although that’s sure to be valued); it’s also being told that the work you do is appreciated or that you make someone proud to be by your side.
Kiwis are not famous for verbally expressing their feelings – and the survey confirmed this stereotype. Only 15% of the men and women polled chose affirming words as their top way to give and receive affection.
Acts of Service
Light up like a firefly when someone cooks you dinner after a long day? Swoon when you exit the airport to find that particular someone waiting with a ride (particularly when it’s unasked)? You may well have Acts of Service as your primary love language.
According to the survey, women are more likely than men to see acts of service as an expression of love. 15% of women chose this as their ideal way to have someone show love – just 4% of men felt the same.
It would be easy to think of Receiving Gifts as a shallow language, but really it is is anything but. For those whose language is gift giving, the joy comes from the thought and effort behind the present. Even the smallest token is a tangible reminder that someone appreciates them.
It would seem, however, that Kiwis are shy about expressing affection with presents. Just 1% of those surveyed saw gift giving as the best way for someone to demonstrate their love.
The Five Love Languages may not be the only way to communicate clearly, but they provide a great jumping-off point to help you and your partner express affection in a way that will truly make an impact. And that will help build the bonds of a strong, happy, lasting relationship; one where the love doesn’t just stay alive, it grows, year after year.
Want to find a partner who speaks your language? Try EliteSingles – click here to register.
EliteSingles editorial February 2016
If you have questions or comments about the Five Love Languages, please let us know below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Gary Chapman (1995). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Northfield Publishing. ISBN 1881273156.
2 Excerpt taken from Gary Chapman (1995). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Found online at http://www.any-read.net/read/3814/Pages_2.html
3 This (all all following) statistics taken from the EliteSingles survey ‘Love in 2016.’ Sample size: 500 New Zealand participants aged 18-80; average age 41. Numbers may not equal 100% due to rounding.