Do you have a friend who says they’d take a clean kitchen over flowers any day when you’d prefer a little romance? That right there is a basic example of different love languages.
We all express and receive love differently and those differences could be the reason why feelings and good intentions sometimes get lost in translation.
For example, you spend weeks trying to find a partner the most amazing gift ever, but come their birthday they respond with “I would’ve been happy just ordering in and then snuggling up on the couch together.”
It’s not necessarily that they’re ungrateful or that you messed up. They just communicate their love differently — or have a different love language.
Recognizing how you and a partner like to receive and express love could lead to more thoughtful connections and a healthy relationship — not to mention less explosive birthdays and Valentines.
There are five love languages as first introduced in 1992 by marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman in his book “The 5 Love Languages.”
The five love languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Physical touch
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
FYI, love languages don’t just apply to romantic relationships. They can be helpful in your platonic relationships, too. (We’ll get into that and more in a sec.)
|Love language||Associated with||It might be yours if||If this sounds like a partner|
|Words of affirmation||Verbal expressions of love, appreciation, and encouragement||You like hearing “I love you” often, you thrive when you’re encouraged by others||Say — and mean — more I love you’s, thank you’s, you matter to me’s, and the like|
|Quality time||Giving another person your undivided attention||You make time for others, you feel disconnected when you don’t spend enough time together||Have date nights, turn off your phones when you’re together, sit together and talk about your days|
|Physical touch||Connection through appropriate physical touch (nonsexual or sexual)||You’re a “touchy-feely” person, you feel most loved when embraced or touched||Hold hands, be generous with affection and other types of PDA, prioritize sex if it’s important in the relationship|
|Acts of service||Selfless, thoughtful acts that make a person’s life easier||You’re happy when someone helps without being asked, actions speak louder than words for you||Make them meals, take on a chore or two around the house, draw them baths|
|Receiving gifts||Tangible tokens of love and thoughtfulness||You pride yourself on giving thoughtful gifts, you most appreciate meaningful gifts||Surprise them with gifts outside of special occasions, bring home their favorite treat, buy or make them gifts that are personal|
The first love language is words of affirmation, and it’s all about expressing affection and appreciation through words, be it spoken, written, in texts, or all of the above.
This may be one of your love languages if you thrive on:
- being told that you’re appreciated
- hearing “I love you” often
- receiving words of encouragement
The key to using words of affirmation is to be your authentic self and express them often. If you have trouble expressing yourself out loud, write a note or send a text. What matters is that you acknowledge them through words.
For a partner, it could mean telling them you love them more often or checking in throughout the day to tell them you’re thinking of them. For a friend, words of affirmation could mean a text to say “You’ll be great!” before a job interview or complimenting them on their outfit.
Here are some examples of words of affirmation you can use in romantic or platonic relationships:
- “I love you.”
- “Our friendship is important to me.”
- “You got this.”
- “I’m so proud of you.”
- “Thank you for loving me/doing all that you do/being my friend/etc.”
Quality time is the second love language and it’s precisely what you think: appreciating spending quality time together.
A person whose love language is quality time may feel most loved and appreciated when people they care about make time to be together and give their undivided attention.
Quality time may be one of your love languages if:
- You feel disconnected when you don’t spend enough time with a partner.
- Not spending enough time with your partner(s) affects your libido.
- You work hard at making time to spend with others.
Quality time looks different to everyone. Some people value a few minutes of dedicated time to just sit and relax together at the end of the day. For others, quality time means setting aside time to enjoy activities together.
No matter what you’re doing, quality time requires being completely present and free of distractions.
Here are some examples of expressing your love through quality time:
- Cuddling together in bed for a few minutes every morning before getting up.
- Making a point of having a date night every week.
- Scheduling time to hang with your BFF, no matter how busy you both are.
- Turning off your phone when you’re having a conversation or doing something together.
- Creating a ritual, like meeting for lunch once a week or taking a walk after dinner.
Physical touch is the third love language. Let’s be clear that this is appropriate, consensual physical touch, which looks different depending on the situation and the type of relationship you have with the person.
For people whose love language is physical touch, expressing and receiving love through physical contact is important. Touch is the way they connect and feel connected with others.
Physical contact might be your love language if:
- You feel lonely or disconnected when you don’t get physical affection from your partner(s).
- You feel especially loved when a partner randomly kisses you or holds you.
- You consider yourself a “touchy-feely” person and enjoy PDA.
Obviously, the way you can and should touch others really comes down to the relationship you share. Expressing affection through physical touch can happen through small physical gestures, like a hug or snuggling. If appropriate, it can also involve more intimate contact like kissing, and yes, sexual activities.
Here are some examples of expressing love through physical touch:
- Kissing a partner hello and goodbye.
- Being generous with your affection, including in public.
- Spending some time cuddling in bed before and after sleep.
- Prioritizing sex, even if you have to schedule it.
- Using touch when comforting them, such as placing your hand on theirs or holding them.
Again, consent is a must. Only touch someone or use these examples if they’ve conveyed they’re wanted and welcome.
Acts of service is the fourth love language, and this one will resonate if you believe with your heart of hearts that actions always speak louder than words.
By actions, this means doing selfless, thoughtful things for the other person. Remember that these don’t need to be romantic in nature; friends and family relationships can benefit from these acts, too.
These are some signs that acts of service may be your love language:
- You’re over the moon when a partner helps you with a chore without having to be asked.
- You’re the person who shows up for a friend having a bad day.
- You’re always ready to jump in and do things for the people you care about.
Acts of service aren’t about grand gestures, but rather thoughtful gestures that serve them, like pouring them a coffee in the morning, or running an errand for your busy friend or loved one.
Here are examples of ways you can use acts of service to love on others:
- Taking them to dinner without it being a special occasion or asked for.
- Drawing a partner a bubble bath without any sexpectations.
- Offering to babysit for a friend so they can enjoy a much-deserved break.
- Letting them choose which movie to watch, even if it’s “Star Wars” and you hate “Star Wars.”
- Picking up their favorite flowers/soap/wine/chocolate/whatever, just because.
Receiving gifts is the final love language. It needs to be said that this love language is not reserved for the greedy or so-called “gold diggers.”
For someone whose love language is gifts, it goes way beyond just wanting stuff. For this person, it’s all about the meaning behind the gift and the thought that went into it. No diamonds or luxury cars are required.
Signs that receiving gifts is your love language:
- When it comes to gift-giving, you put in the time to choose the most thoughtful gift.
- You treasure everything a partner gives you, no matter how small.
- You’re hurt when someone you love doesn’t commemorate an event with a thoughtful token.
Showing love through gifts isn’t about extravagance. A small memento will be just as appreciated because big or small, a gift is a tangible reminder that they were thought of and are loved.
Here are some ways to show love to someone whose love language is receiving gifts:
- Picking up their favorite pastry or candy on your way home.
- Surprising them with flowers — whether store-bought or picked from the side of the road.
- Giving them a thoughtful greeting card just because.
- Bringing your BFF a keepsake from your early friendship, like a picture from your first road trip.
- Choosing gifts that are personal to your relationship. (Think: an inside joke or shared memory or event.)
The five love languages provide a great framework for understanding your relationship(s) and each other, but they don’t necessarily represent exactly how everyone wants to give and show love.
Chances are that you resonate strongly with more than one of the love languages and your partner(s) and other loved ones do, too.
Gender and cultural norms have also shifted quite a bit since the love languages were first introduced, and how we express love and how we want to be loved has shifted right alongside.
While we all have our own ways of expressing love, they don’t necessarily fit neatly into one of the five presets laid out in a time when women were historically more likely to serve and men were better equipped — financially speaking — to give gifts.
If you’re looking for better understanding and communication in a relationship, the original love languages can be a good start, but there are other tools you can use.
A survey by Truity, a company offering personality tests, recently shared their finding of seven love styles based on a survey of over 500,000 people. Consider it an updated framework of the original love languages, plus two extras. You can fill out their online quiz to figure out your styles.
There’s also the Routes of Safety model created by Jake Ernst, MSW, RSW, a Toronto-based psychotherapist, that’s in his words, “trauma-informed” love languages.
Connecting with a relationship counselor is another way to go. You might find it helpful to look into online counseling or in-person therapy.
Everyone has a different way of communicating their love. While you shouldn’t take it as gospel, the love languages could be a helpful starting point on your way to understanding each other better.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.