People across the Earth speak different languages. Whether it’s Spanish, French, Japanese, Arabic, Mandarin, Navajo, Swahili, English, or another of the over 7,100 spoken languages used around the world, we learn to communicate in the language in which we are raised. But what about love languages? How do we communicate love to each other?
Ultimately, there are more ways to talk than with words. And love is often shared through what we do as much as by what we say. Namely, we can express and receive love with our body language, our expressions, our actions, our touch, and, of course, with our words.
The specific ways in which we communicate love are unique. However, there are similar patterns that people tend to follow. In fact, there are five love languages. Many people believe that learning to recognize and speak these love languages is key to forming and maintaining romantic relationships—and flourishing as a happy couple.
In this comprehensive guide to the five love languages, learn what the five love languages are, why they’re important, how to speak them, and which one is right for you.
Generally, love languages are the ways in which we experience, express, and reciprocate love between ourselves and our partners. The idea can also be extended to non-romantic relationships, too. The idea is that each person is more receptive to and prefers love to be shown in certain ways. Ultimately, if a couple communicates their love effectively to each other, they will both be happier. When their love languages don’t align, they each may feel the other isn’t showing them the love they crave, and their relationship may suffer.
History of love languages
Even if it wasn’t called or known as love languages, the general concept of love languages is nothing new. Certainly for hundreds of years, if not millenia, couples have thought about (and likely complained about) the way their partner (or potential partner) relates to them and how it makes them feel. They may have asked or silently willed their partner to do the things that would make them feel special.
Sometimes, this works, other times not. Often, both partners may just not be communicating effectively or “translating” the other person’s attempts to show affection properly. They may not even understand what the other person is asking for. Because what shows love to one person may look entirely different for another.
The Five Love Languages book
This phenomenon was popularized by the 1992 bestseller The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, PhD. This hugely influential book, which has sold millions of copies, is thought by many to hold the secret to improving your intimate relationships. Interestingly, people on dating sites often post their love language, in the hopes that they will find a partner who also speaks (and yearns for) love in that language.
Do they remember your birthday or anniversaries? Do they notice your haircut or new jacket? Do they surprise you with a thoughtful gift? Do they make time for date night? Do they take out the trash or take on the weekly grocery run? Do they give you back rubs? Do they want to get busy? Do they kiss you goodnight? These are common concerns and fodder for discussion over drinks with friends, probably since humans lived in caves.
Yes, the details are quite different, but likely the larger concerns are the same. Does my partner care for me? How can I tell? How do I show them my love? Do they feel loved by me? How would I like to receive their love so that I feel loved as well? And sometimes, why do they just not seem to get it at all?
“Love can be expressed and received in all five languages,” explains Dr. Chapman. “However, if you don’t speak a person’s primary love language, that person will not feel loved, even though you may be speaking the other four.” The love language framework explained by the author, radio host, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based pastor offers a way to learn to communicate love more effectively with your partner.
What Are the Five Love Languages?
The five long languages described in The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate are affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. The theory is that everyone appreciates, wants, and expresses each of these types of love in different ways. And that each person has a favored one or two way to give and receive love. If you and your partner align (that is, express love to each other in the way that speaks to the other person), you will each feel more connected, appreciated, and loved.
So, what are these love languages, exactly?
Some people like their love served up in words or affirmations. This might be compliments, words of encouragement, love quotes, love notes, or simply just having a conversation. For example, some people feel really appreciated if their partner tells them they are beautiful, special, sweet, funny, sexy, smart, kind, or brave. They might like getting texts or emails or other messages of love or appreciation. They might show their love by offering words of praise or motivation or simply by noticing what the other person is doing or working on. The key is that the words expressed should be heartfelt and be something that the recipient feels good about hearing.
Spending time together is another way people share their love. Whether it’s date night, a hike through the woods, or simply snuggling on the couch watching a movie, quality time matters to a lot of couples. Others ideas are cooking together, playing board games, or even doing household chores as a team. Taking a trip or going on a road trip also count as quality time.
It’s important to note the difference between time and quality time, with the distinction being that quality time is about connecting and enjoying being together. Time spent on phones or when other distractions or stressors are present do not fill this need.
Acts of Service
Another way people express love is through acts of service. This can be the act of doing anything that benefits the other person, such as picking up the drycleaning, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, fixing dinner, proofreading a work document, or walking the dog. Really, it can be anything that the other person does to lessen the load of the other person. Or it might be something that simply brightens the other person’s day.
Giving and receiving gifts is another way couples communicate their feelings for each other. These might be gifts given on holidays like birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Valentine’s Day. Presents are also appreciated when given for no reason at all besides just showing that you are thinking of the other person. So, occasionally picking up a bouquet of flowers, a new book, or a special smoothie is one way to really brighten someone’s day who values receiving gifts.
Hugs, kisses, holding hands, intimate touch, and any other forms of enjoyable physical touch make many people feel loved. The key is that some people are very handsy and love to be touched and touch their partner often, while others may enjoy only more specific types of touch and/or only under certain circumstances. As a couple, it’s helpful to recognize any difference in the amount and types of touch each person prefers. Then, if there is a discrepancy, aim to find a solid middle ground where both people can be happy.
The Most Common Love Languages
While there may or may not be just five love languages, the five articulated by Dr. Chapman in his book seem to be the most pervasive—and many people feel one or two of them resonate the most with them.
However, people may also respond to (or crave) love shown in any combination or all of these languages. It’s just that one or more tend to feel the most powerful to each person. Interestingly, by far the most common love language is quality time, with nearly 40% of people calling that their number one way to give and receive affection. For men, second place is a near tie between physical touch and words of affirmation. For women, words of affirmation seem to be the most common second favorite way to receive love.
Interestingly, according to the dating app Hinge, sharing your love language preferences tends to increase a person’s likelihood of getting “likes” from potential suitors. And they find that women who select “acts of service” as their preferred mode of love, get by far the best response in terms of “likes” compared with preferring the other love languages.
Are Love Languages Real?
Dr. Chapman’s theory is not evidence-based. In other words, scientific studies were not set up to discover exactly how humans communicate love and in which love languages they speak it. However, it is rooted in his own community-based, social research and experience as a marriage counselor at his church.
And many psychologists now use the concept of love languages in their work with clients. In fact, many report that it is often a disconnect on how love is expressed and received that sends clients to their offices in the first place.
What Is My Love Language?
Many people might be able to glance over the list of the five love languages and immediately know which one or two resonate the most with them. Other people may be a bit less self-reflective. Either way, you can take the love language quiz to be sure.
You can also consider how it makes you feel when your partner does things for you in each category. For example, do you love it when they pull you into a hug or are you more thrilled when they sweep the floor or surprise you with a new scarf or planting box? Do you feel appreciated when they compliment your body or talents or do you long for them to just spend a solid couple of hours with you uninterrupted?
Does My Love Language Match My Partner’s?
Think about how you tend to communicate love in your everyday life. For instance, when you run an errand for your partner or help them out in some way, does it feel like expressing love—and do you hope they see it that way? When you want to feel loved, are you getting the type of love back from your partner that you need? And vice versa? Are you both seeing and appreciating the way you each communicate love?
In other words, what is your own love language compared with your partner’s love language. And do they feel compatible? The key here is not that you need to only be with someone who shares your preferred love language, but to aim to learn to speak each other’s language if they are different.
So, if you express love through physical touch and your partner prefers words of affirmation, they should aim for more physical affection and you can be intentional about offering compliments and other words of appreciation. In this same scenario, your partner can view your touch as a way of showing your love and you should note that when they throw kudos your way, they are also saying “I love you.”
When to get help for your relationship
If you and your partner have different love languages and your efforts to connect don’t seem to translate, you may want to get the help of a marriage therapist. Ask yourself if you need help getting our love languages to align. If so, counselors can help you see the ways in which you each process and share love, encourage you to speak each other’s love languages, and help you cultivate a healthier relationship.
Understanding the five love languages of physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gift giving can help you give and receive love more intentionally and effectively. No matter what your primary love language is, you can also learn to communicate in your partner’s favorite love language. It’s worth the effort, as when you and your partner speak each other’s love languages, you both will feel connected, loved, and appreciated.