The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts is a book by Gary Chapman with an invaluable message: that humans communicate love using five distinct “languages”. We each have a different primary love language, and we feel most loved when love is expressed to us in that language. Conversely, relationships falter not necessarily due to lack of love, but due to difficulties in communicating this love in another’s love language. This model can help to foster mutually enriching relationships.
The 5 Love Languages opens with an argument that the feeling of being “in love” is comparatively shortlived. The average duration for the “in love” feeling is, we are told, two years. As this feeling fades one encounters frustrations and grievances previously unnoticed or considered unimportant. This shift requires one to begin working at communicating love by making a concerted effort to convey love in a lover’s primary love language.
This is a second sort of love, writes Chapman, which “requires effort and discipline. It is the choice to expend energy to benefit the other person, knowing that if his or her life is enriched by your effort, you too will find a sense of satisfaction.” Chapman thus establishes a dichotomy between being “in love”, “not an act of the will or a conscious choice”, and “real love”, a willful commitment to benefit another. This contrast facilitates his subsequent exposition of the love languages, the how of living out and expressing his “real love”.
The 5 Love Languages is a useful model
The 5 Love Languages‘ model allows you to determine your partner’s love language and endeavour to express your love in the way most intelligible to them. Expressing your love in your own language (if it’s not your lover’s language) is like trying to find a bus station in Tanzania using English. You’re much better off matching your language to the language of your audience. So you gotta know their language. Similarly, it helps to know your own so you can make sure to have your emotional needs met.
And what are these five languages?
- Words of Affirmation. This means encouragement (“you’ll be great”) and compliments (“you are great”). If this is your primary language, you’ll find slurs or insults particularly hurtful.
- Quality Time – “giving someone your undivided attention”. This can include doing an activity together, or “quality conversation”, in which “two individuals are sharing their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires in a friendly, uninterrupted context.” Here, inattentiveness, interrupting, or rushed encounters might be hurtful.
- Receiving Gifts. This could be material gifts or the gift of one’s presence in a time of need – either is a symbol of love. An absence of gifts or one’s lover might be painful in this language.
- Acts of Service – “doing things you know your spouse [sic] would like you to do”. Mainly this means chores, errands, or simple tasks. If you feel unloved particularly when your partner doesn’t do the dishes or pick you up from the airport, this could be your language.
- Physical Touch – “Running the hand through the hair, giving a back rub, holding hands, embracing sexual intercourse”. This is an emotional need, not simply sexual. If your lover doesn’t spontaneously display physical affection, in this language they are expressing a lack of feeling.
If none has jumped out at you as your own love language, or if you aren’t quite sure, Chapman gives a few ideas on how to figure out your own (or somebody else’s…) love language. Consider:
- How do you express love? People tend to express love in their own primary love language. If you think about the ways that you’ve tried to indicate affection, they are a hint to your primary love language.
- What makes you feel most loved? Consider what has made you feel truly loved, what things people have done or said that warmed you to the core.
- What makes you feel least loved? Chapman also gives examples where people have known they feel truly awful because, for example, their spouse spends no time with them, or belittles them, or doesn’t touch them. If you can think about times you’ve felt unloved, these also point to what your primary love language is – it’s also the most powerful language for expressing unlove.
My Love Languages
The 5 Love Languages includes a test to find out your own love languages (you can do it yourself online). So now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: my score, in ranked order. (12 is the maximum for any one language, there are 30 points to be allocated)
- Quality Time: 12
- Physical Touch: 9
- Words of Affirmation: 5
- Acts of Service: 4
- Receiving Gifts: 0
This makes sense.
Even before I’d done the test, encountering the concept and then reading the book made it clear to me how much I value quality time, in particular “quality conversation”. Quality time is my primary love language: what makes me feel most loved is having deep, committed, quality conversations. And this is how I like to express my love: by listening, by giving others the opportunity to have such conversations. It’s also a lack of quality time that makes me feel underloved: when people don’t seem to want to spend time with me, or offer divided attention (such as checking their Facebook notifications f.f.s.). Curiously, but maybe not coincidentally, most of the times I’ve felt intense love for someone it has arisen out of a specific episode (typically overnight at some sort of sleepover) of intense, mutual conversation.
Knowing this also helps me to understand other things about myself. For example I am challenged when somebody I’m conversing with answers a trivial phone call or breaks the conversation to check Facebook etc.. I myself would avoid such behaviours. But now I get it – as quality time is my primary love language, doing such a thing would be hateful. So it makes me feel snubbed. For those for whom quality time isn’t their primary language, they don’t see what all the fuss is about.
I also noticed that “receiving gifts” scored nothing at all. Which is interesting. I enjoy receiving gifts and understand that they are symbols of love, but I think the reality is that they don’t touch me that much emotionally. I can see the trails of this in my history: in my family I had a reputation as being terrible at giving gifts (I have 7 siblings and it can be hard keeping track of all the birthdays, let alone coming up with gifts). Now I see why – I didn’t think gifts communicated love well. There have also been times where I have received quite loving gifts and perhaps failed to show enough appreciation, or to feel the love that was imbued in the gift. It’s useful to recognise this about myself. It will help me to interpret expressions of love offered as gifts, as well as to be proactive about offering love in the form of gifts to the suitable people.
Lost in Translation
The 5 Love Languages joins a mere handful of books that have significantly influenced how I experience relationships. Its simple model for thinking about how we communicate love and how we interpret love from others is useful and elegant. While any and every model has its limitations, this one is an excellent way of making sense of your emotional needs and improving your ability to meet the needs of others. Do read it.
Find out your own love language by doing the online quiz. If you do, please comment with – if not your results – at least some thoughts about them!