After more than 35 years as a marriage counsellor and pastor, Gary Chapman, developed a theory about why some people may not feel loved in loving relationships. Were they not showing each other how they felt, or did they not understand their partner’s gestures of love?

How do you express love? How do you want to receive it? While there are surely infinite ways to love, Chapman found that they could be generally divided into five categories, which he dubbed the Love Languages:

  1. Acts of Service
  2. Physical Touch
  3. Quality Time
  4. Receiving Gifts
  5. Words of Affirmation

According to Chapman everyone has one primary love language, but most people have a top two or three. These are the love languages that come naturally to us, and that we express most readily.

Give and Take

Typically, the love language you prefer to receive love in is the way you naturally express love, so if you feel most loved when experiencing physical touch, that’s typically how you’ll show affection yourself, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

Finding your love language comes down to three basic questions: how you express love, what you complain about not having, and what you regularly ask for. There’s also an official quiz (among many, many others) which can be a good way to open up the conversation with a partner, family member, or friend.

And while all of the love languages can be learned, Chapman notes that we develop our primary love language early, and that it remains consistent throughout our lives.

Relationship Benefits

The old adage of treating others the way you want to be treated isn’t always right when it comes to love languages. While you might prefer spending quality time, your partner might prefer words of affirmation. Actively engaging in their love language allows you to show them how you feel in the way they most like to feel loved.

Taking the time to ask your loved one how they prefer to receive affection, and putting effort into expressing love that way will show them how much you care.

If you’re a words-of-affirmation person, but your partner’s big on physical touch, try accompanying a compliment with a hug or holding their hand when they tell you about their day. If you take into account your partner’s love language, any already nice gesture will have an even bigger impact.

Figuring out your love languages can also be a great jumping off point for deeper conversation and connection with your loved ones. Why does your love language make you feel the most loved? Which language affects you the least? Someone’s love language can also give us a clue as to the way they react when they feel unloved, when they’re emotional, or even how they apologize.

When they’re angry or upset, someone who’s big on words of affirmation may be quiet while someone who’s love language is physical touch might be more physically distant. Asking your partner about their love language can open the door for more questions, and knowing each other’s trigger points will make all kinds of communication easier.

This can also help both of you see where the potential blind spots in your relationship are and give you the chance to remedy them together. And, as a result of more openness and empathy, you’ll grow to know and understand each other better.

Love Language Barriers

Is your relationship automatically doomed if you don’t speak the same love language? Chapman emphasizes that, while some languages will come more easily to us, all of the love languages can be learned. If you find yourself speaking a different love language than your loved ones, communication and compromise are going to be your best tools.

Inherently, none of the love languages actually conflict with each other, and even if your preferred love languages are different, they may complement each other. For example, the love languages of receiving gifts and acts of service are actually similar in that they both show appreciation via physical gestures beyond affection.

However, while acts of service are typically about practical help, like having household chores done for them, gifts are seen as material reminders that someone was thinking about them. So someone who likes performing acts of service who is in a relationship with someone who likes receiving gifts could pick up groceries for their partner but also grab their favourite snack food as a small gift, combining these two languages.

Whether you and your loved one speak the same love language is not, by any stretch, what the success of your relationship hinges on. With the right attitude, and a willingness to commit to each other, the love languages can be a wonderful tool to better all kinds of relationships.

Ultimately, what’s going to make the difference is how willing you are to be vulnerable with each other, to listen to each other, and to step out of your comfort zones to try new things.

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