There are a myriad of ways to express love—from diamond earrings to poetry to a timely pat on the back. Everyone has different ways of showing how they feel, and it’s valuable to know not only your own methods of demonstrating love, but also how others close to you do it.
Dr. Gary Chapman had been counseling couples for 15 years when he realized that he was hearing the same story time and again. “One partner would say some version of, ‘My spouse doesn’t love me,’ ” he says. “The other would say, ‘I do! I don’t know how else to prove it.’ ” When love doesn’t come in the form you’re familiar with (or the form that you desire), it can feel like it’s absent, but Dr. Chapman says that’s often not the case. “Just because you don’t feel it doesn’t meant that the love’s not there and it’s not genuine,” he says.
In combing through years of client notes, Dr. Chapman began asking himself, When someone says, “I don’t feel loved,” what is it that they want? Through that research, he came up with five categories and called them the Five Love Languages, each one being a way in which people express and receive love. His book, "The 5 Love Languages," has sold over seven million copies in English and has been translated in over 40 foreign countries. “We all have a primary love language,” says Dr. Chapman, adding that if one partner doesn’t speak the other’s primary language, there is invariably a miscommunication of love. “You can be sincere in expressing love but still miss each other emotionally if you’re speaking in different primary languages.”
So what’s your native tongue? The Five Languages of Love are:
Words of Affirmation: You use words to affirm your feelings. That doesn’t mean you’re a poet—it can be as simple as being in the habit of telling someone when they look nice, or when you appreciate something they did for you. “You may speak it, write it or sing it, but your love language is one of words,” says Dr. Chapman.
Acts of Service: You cook a meal for your partner. Wash dishes. Vacuum. Walk the dog. Anything you know the other person would like you to do. This is the “actions speak louder than words” language.
Receiving Gifts: This universal expression of love that runs through all cultures is very important to some people. “It’s not about the size of the gift,” says Dr. Chapman. “It really is the thought that counts, as long as the thought results in a tangible gift for your partner.”
Quality Time: Sitting on the couch watching TV together doesn’t count, even if you’re streaming a full season of "Mad Men" and exchanging glances about Don Draper’s hijinks. “Quality time means undivided attention—eye contact, listening, interacting,” says Dr. Chapman. Put the magazine down. Close the laptop. Hide your phone.
Physical Touch: Everything from holding hands to kissing, from an arm around the shoulder to sex, holds big emotional power for people who speak this language. “Affirming touches, like putting a hand on your partner’s leg while driving, are huge signs of love for some people,” says Dr. Chapman.
Maybe you know right away which category you fall into, or maybe you’re not sure. Here are a few ways to figure it out:
“Ask yourself: How do I express love and appreciation to others?” says Dr. Chapman. Is it with a big hug or a pat on the back? With a thank you note? By taking someone out to lunch for a long conversation and catch-up? Each one of these speaks to a different love language.
Another approach is to contemplate what your spouse complains about most often. Maybe they say, “I have to initiate all of our physical intimacy.” Or, “You went on a trip and didn’t bring me a gift!” Or, “We never spend any time together.” Their complaints help identify not only which love language they may primarily speak, but also which ones you don’t. “Our partners give us valuable information when they criticize or complain,” says Dr. Chapman.
Once you identify your love language, communicating it to your partner (and finding out what his or her language is) is key. Then it’s a matter of learning each other’s languages. “That’s a choice you make,” says Dr. Chapman. “And it isn’t always easy.” If you grew up in a home without affirming words and your spouse needs to hear those words to feel loved, for example, there’s a learning curve. But starting small—with simple sentences of appreciation like, “Thank you for getting the oil changed today”— can lead to big rewards in the love department.
Exploring how these languages work isn’t only important in romantic relationships. Think about all of the people you have connections with—siblings, parents, in-laws. Consider their love languages and how you can better translate warm feelings to them and appreciate the way they’re trying to share love with you. “You can identify these languages with everyone in your life,” says Dr. Chapman. “If it feels hard at first, it’s important to remember why you’re doing it: Because you want these people to feel your love.”
Find out if your hair is aging you and learn how to turn back the strands of time.
Highlight your eye color. Flaunt your body shape. Harness your confidence. Take our quizzes to better know yourself and get science-based, individualized advice to embrace your true beauty.
Find out if your hair is aging you and learn how to turn back the strands of time.Take Quiz
See how your BMI and waist-to-hip ratio is affecting your beauty and health.Take Quiz
Great sex does more than blow your mind—it's good for your heart, your head and your beauty.Take Quiz
Define your curves and discover the best ways to eat, exercise and dress for your figure.Take Quiz