You’ve probably heard of Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.
Chapman, a relationship therapist, came up with his “5 Love Languages” by asking himself, “What do people who don’t believe their partners really love them want?” Then he went searching in his session notes for answers.
What he found was that people—or at least, his clients—express their love, and want to receive expressions of love, in five different ways.
The 5 Love Languages Are…
- Physical Touch: As Chapman put it, “Physical touch fosters a sense of security and belonging in any relationship.” And that touch doesn’t need to be sexual. A hug, holding hands, even a pat on the back can demonstrate care, concern, friendship, or love.
- Quality Time: This means being fully present for the other person; giving them your complete attention. Since most of us didn’t get enough of it as kids, uninterrupted quality time is a powerful gift you can give for free. It includes quality activities and quality conversations.
- Acts of Service: When you lift a tangible burden (like washing dishes or paying the bills) off your partner’s shoulders, you’re performing an act of service. “Let me do that for you” are true words of love for people who prefer this love language.
- Words of Affirmation: “Actions don’t always speak louder than words,” according to Chapman. And kind, encouraging, or positive words show caring—particularly when they’re specific and tailored to the person who receives them.
- Receiving Gifts: “If you speak this love language, the perfect gift or gestures shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.” (In other words, it really is the thought that counts, even when gifts are your Love Language.)
Why Do Love Languages Matter?
Love languages aren’t just for romantic relationships.
They can also help us speak more effectively to friends, roommates, colleagues, our children, maybe even our dogs (OK, maybe not the dogs! :-))
To see how this might apply to your workplace, ask yourself:
- Which of the people you work with, or supervise, or report to, loves to receive thoughtful compliments?
- Which of them lights up when you offer to do a task for them?
- Who wants to spend time with you outside the office?
And most importantly, which of the 5 Love Languages best communicates caring or respect TO YOU?
When I studied the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a language that describes how you prefer to gather data, make decisions, and use your energy, I learned the expression
Better self-awareness for better self-mastery.
Setting aside the word “mastery”—or substituting “self-management” or even “self-love”—the idea here is simple: The more you understand yourself and how you like to be in the world, the more easily you’ll navigate it.
And the more you understand about how other people like to operate, the more easily you’ll be able to bridge the inevitable gaps between you.
We Can Get Better at Speaking Love Languages
When my husband and I first got together, my primary love language was physical touch; his was acts of service.
What did that look like? Either me grabbing him for a hug at the most inopportune moments (because I wanted one!), or him feeling hurt when I didn’t notice a thoughtful little thing he’d done (because how was I supposed to know that mailing my package showed love?!)
You might think that was the end of the story—that we were doomed to miscommunicate around love for the rest of our lives together—but I recently discovered that it’s not.
As research for this blog post, we both took The 5 Love Languages Quiz, and—surprise!—we both have roughly equal preferences for the same four languages, and couldn’t care less about the fifth.
Does this have anything to do with decades of trying to adjust to each other? Is it kind of like the way that long-term partners start looking the same?
I have no idea!
I’m just glad to reap the benefits, and happy that, unlike when we first met, I can express love in a way that will be heard.
In love, as in public speaking, it’s all about making yourself easy to hear.
And if a Love Language can help me do that…I’m down!