Originally published on February 8, 2022
“Love me, love me… say you love me.”
As far as I’m concerned, this classic ’90s song from The Cardigans encapsulates exactly how I prefer to be loved – through verbal affirmations. But how does one define the experience of expressing and receiving love? Fortunately, there is a book dedicated to this very topic.
Written by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., and published in 1992, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts It identifies five ways in which we modern humans express and receive love. After first hearing about Chapman’s book from an ex-friend, I felt compelled to purchase a copy myself. Pleasantly surprised to find that it reads like a novel, rather than some dull self-help book, I soon realize that not everyone communicates love the same way and that people have different ways they prefer receiving love.
So what are the five love languages and what are some concrete examples to help illustrate them in our real-life romantic relationships? Let’s dig deeper.
Words of affirmation
Ah words of love. Personally, I’m a voracious person and don’t pretend otherwise – I’m a writer after all. Whether it’s an “I love you” poem, a touching poem, or verbal encouragement, these gestures make me feel seen and, perhaps most of all, appreciated.
If you or your partner speak this love language, it simply means that you value words that convey love, appreciation, and respect. Other than the gold standard “I love you,” there are other ways to show your partner you care including verbally acknowledging them when they achieve something or perhaps openly expressing how you feel about them and what qualities you admire most.
Just as unkind words and criticism can be very annoying to someone with this love language, so can insincerity. Make sure that if you say something nice to your partner, it comes straight from the heart, and not from a random book of compliments.
To quote the incomparable Bob Dylan, the lyrics to his song “To Be Alone With You” happily sum up this love language:
To be alone with you
At the end of the day
With your offer only you
As the evening slips away
It just goes for show
This while the pleasures of life are few
The only one I know
When I’m alone with you.”
For those of you who light up when your partner suggests spending time with you and always seems to be set on hanging out, you view Quality Time as a love language. As the name suggests, this love language means that you want to spend meaningful time with your partner, not to mention active listening and constant eye contact.
Those with this love language place a great value on being in the same space with their partner—physically, emotionally, and mentally. So whether it’s starting a new TV series together on Netflix or taking a vacation together, it’s all about being actively involved and being present in the moment as a couple.
(Writer’s tip: Don’t take your phone out with Quality Timers. They are often affected by outside distractions, especially phones, that can cancel the connection.)
Raise your hand if you love when your partner brings you breakfast in the morning, makes tea when you’re sick, or does laundry without asking.
If you raise your hand, you probably view “acts of service” as your primary love language. This means that you fully value a partner who just wants to make your life easier.
For those who identify with this love language, it means that you firmly believe that actions speak louder than words. Forget about empty promises – you need someone who will come for you and show you that you can count on them. Here it’s all about showing, not telling. This can range from washing dishes to picking them up at the airport. It doesn’t have to be a big deal either – remember that your partner just wants to feel appreciated and helped.
It’s also worth noting that the business of service does not mean that you literally serve your partner. If you feel like your partner expects too much from you or that you simply don’t have the bandwidth in your daily schedule to “speak” in that language, talk to him or her about it. Open dialogue is the key to anything healthy relationship.
Although the name itself might suggest an overly materialistic person, people who use this love language see gifts as representations of love. For them, receiving a gift signifies that their partner sees them, cares about them, and ultimately appreciates them.
Here, the price doesn’t matter so much – it’s the level of thinking behind it. A handmade card means more than, say, a Hallmark card. If your partner values the gift-giving process, they’ll be the first to say, “It’s the idea that counts.” The gifts you give them act as things to help them remember that you were thinking of them, which instantly fills them with joy and love.
So what are some ways to show your gift-loving partner you care? On your next date or trip together, be sure to take a special souvenir home with you (say, a seashell from your beach vacation). When your partner sees this item, they will be reminded of those special moments you shared together. It goes without saying that birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are extra special, so use those days as a reminder to show your love and commitment.
While some might cringe at the idea of a PDA, others are (ahem, really) raving about it.
Learn about physical touch, whose endearing language revolves around physical signs of affection, including kissing, holding hands, hugging, and, perhaps not surprisingly, sex.
When it is consensual, those who speak this language feel warmth, appreciation, and relief from various forms of physical touch. Not sure if your partner has physical contact? You would know if they were. Those who always tend to be close to you, physically, are often sitting next to you rather than facing you. For them, the closer you are, the better.
Small gestures like a back rub when they’re having a rough day or making time for physical intimacy in the evening say a lot. For them, a seemingly insignificant touch goes a long way.
If you realize that you and your partner speak different love languages, don’t worry — see this as your chance to learn how to “speak” each other’s language. Not only does this help you better understand each other’s needs, but it also helps promote growth within the relationship.
And remember, you may only show your love and receive your love in different ways. For example, you may enjoy giving your partner gifts, but you actually prefer your partner to give you their undivided attention (fun time).
Ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to let our partners know what makes us feel loved and vice versa. You might just be surprised at how empowering it feels to share your needs, and how helpful it can be for your loved one to hear those needs out loud.
As an American born and raised and now living in Germany, Erin is a freelance writer with over 10 years of copywriting experience from her time in Stockholm, Sweden and New York City. A self-proclaimed narrator with a serious case of wanderlust, she has a penchant for all things fashion, movies, food, and travel.