What are the five love languages and can they transform your relationship?

Arielle Tchiprout
·5-min read
Photo credit: Kelvin Murray
Photo credit: Kelvin Murray

For most of us, all we really want in a relationship is to feel loved and cared for. However, we might have different ideas about what that actually looks like. One person might feel loved when their partner cooks dinner, or even when they take the bins out. Another might feel most loved when their partner gives them their full attention in a conversation. And another might feel most cared for when enveloped in a big, warm hug. These different ways we all like to give and receive love are known as 'love languages' and the more you know about them, the better your romantic relationship will be. Here's all you need to know...

What are the five love languages?

The five love languages were created by American marriage counsellor and author Gary Chapman, whose 1992 book The 5 Love Languages became a global bestseller, with more than 11 million copies sold. In the book, he outlines the five main ways people give and receive love. They are...

WORDS OF AFFIRMATION: Showing love by using kind, encouraging and positive words - like saying "I love you", "you look beautiful" or "I'm proud of you".

PHYSICAL TOUCH: This doesn't always mean sexual contact - it can simply mean showing you love someone by hugging, holding hands and thoughtfully touching their arm or back.

QUALITY TIME: Really being there for the other person; giving them your undivided attention, free from distractions like phones or television. Quality time can mean having meaningful conversations, or even just sitting quietly together.

ACTS OF SERVICE: This is all about lending a helping hand, whether that's offering to pick the kids up when you know your partner is busy, or even something as small as washing up or putting the bins out.

RECEIVING GIFTS: They don't have to be big extravagant gestures, but can be little tokens to show appreciation - from picking up their favourite bar of chocolate on the way home, to leaving a lovely message on a post-it note.

According to Chapman, we all have a primary love language, which is the main way we like to give and receive love. Often, this can be shaped by our upbringings. For example, if your parents showered you with praise as a child, you may come to rely on words of affirmation as a way of feeling loved, and therefore, this is how you're most likely to express love. However, it can also work the opposite way - if you were raised with very few hugs and little affection, you may crave physical touch and this can become your primary love language.

Work out what your primary love language is, by taking the quiz here.

Why are the five love languages important in relationships?

In all romantic relationships, it's so important that both people feel loved. But if you have different love languages, this can cause miscommunications and resentment.

"Understanding our differing love languages can really help to break through communication barriers," says psychosexual and relationship expert Kate Moyle, who regularly encourages her clients to find out their love language. For example, if your love language is acts of service, you might think that you're showing your partner you love them through your actions, so you don't need to tell them. But if their love language is words of affirmation, they might not feel loved unless you tell them explicitly. Equally, they may shower you with praise, but because they don't help you enough with household chores, you feel unloved. Effectively, both of you are showing your desire and love in your own ways, yet you might both feel upset or resentful you're not getting what you need. "It really can be like you're speaking different languages," Kate says.

So, according to Kate, the biggest thing we can gain from knowing our love languages is understanding. "It's really difficult for us to understand each other sometimes," she says. "When we don't have understanding, we make assumptions, and assumptions are really dangerous for relationships. We try to mind-read and we think we know what the other person is thinking. But actually, even in long-term relationships, it's important to continually try to understand one another."

And, ultimately, the more you understand one another, the happier you'll be. "It's about feeling cared for, feeling seen, feeling recognised," says Kate. "There are many different vehicles for this, so you just have to find out which vehicles are most important to you, and which are most important to your partner. We can be more conscious of all of them."

Photo credit: EyeWolf - Getty Images
Photo credit: EyeWolf - Getty Images

What should you do if your primary love language is different to your partner's?

So yours is acts of service and your partner's is physical touch - where do you go from there?

"Most people's love languages aren't the same," assures Kate. "It doesn't mean you're incompatible - it just means you need to put in some extra effort. Have very open, honest conversations where you say, 'this is important to me' or 'I feel loved when you do X'. We can't force our partner to act and behave in the way we want them to, and it's important to acknowledge it might not come naturally to them. It's a bit like learning an actual language, so it will take navigating and learning, trial and error, and a bit of patience."

Kate recommends taking the love languages quiz at the same time - that way you can discuss them as you go along. "It's a really fertile ground for meaningful conversations about where your sensitivities and values lie," she says. Both commit to attempting to learn the other person's love language, even if it doesn't feel natural to you. Eventually, you can both become fluent, and you can both feel loved.

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is available here.

Kate Moyle is the host of The Sexual Wellness Sessions, available on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.

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