You’ve probably noticed certain patterns when it comes to your relationship history. For many couples, one very telling sign of compatibility — for better or for worse — is how each partner expresses love and affection. In other words, which of the infamous five love language they fall into. By now you’ve probably at least heard about this theory, but if you’ve yet to ask yourself “what is my love language?” and how the answer may explain certain dynamics in your relationship, you might be surprised at how telling it can be.
Before it was a common term tossed around on dating profiles, the idea of love language was first brought up back in 1992 when relationship expert Gary Chapman penned a book on the subject, theorizing that people mostly fall into one of five categories when it comes to showing love to a romantic partner. "The idea of love languages, simply put, is about our preferences in how we give and receive love and affection in relationships," says Dr. Valeria Chuba, a clinical sexologist, sex educator, and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast. "The Love Language framework can be very useful in helping us understand ourselves and our partners better. But what makes the application of this knowledge possible is compassionate and honest communication with your partner, coupled with a genuine desire to share pleasure and connection together."
So what are these categories and which best describes how you (or your partner, for that matter) approach relationships? Ahead, a few experts break down the identifying characteristics of all five love languages as well as some ways to use that information to connect more deeply with your mate.
What Is My Love Language: Acts Of Service
What it looks like: cooking dinner, picking up coffee, running errands, taking care of the children.
"With acts of service, it’s all about the need to feel like your partner values you and is willing to put in a tangible effort to show his or her appreciation," explains Dr. Chuba. "Doing your partner’s share of chores is a popular expression of acts of service, but you can take that act of service further: For example, don’t just clean the bathroom — afterwards, draw a warm and sensual bath for your partner, or for both of you to share." If your partner notices acts of service, try picking up some of the slack, like doing dishes or an extra load of laundry, if they're having a stressful day — they'll be so appreciative.
What Is My Love Language: Giving And Receiving Gifts
What it looks like: surprises, giving items with sentimental value, "just because" flowers, gift-swapping traditions, showing appreciation for receiving gifts.
No, enjoying gifts from the heart does not make you greedy. "With this love language, it’s often not about the cost of the gift as much as it is about the thought that has been put into it," says Dr. Chuba. "It’s not about buying you or your partner’s love or time; rather, it’s about offering a tangible, physical, and practical expression of love and passion." When it comes to giving your partner presents, consider ones that relate to special memories or show that you've been listening (perhaps those sneakers they've been drooling over?). There's also no better way to show your affection than by surprising them with a treat for no particular reason.
What Is My Love Language: Quality Time
What it looks like: Date nights, eye contact, trying new experiences together, celebrating anniversaries.
"This is a love language that more people need to get comfortable with, because most of us are so rushed and disconnected in our daily lives that we have forgotten how to simply 'be' together," Dr. Chuba points out. "But for people with this love language, it’s especially important to have a partner who is able to offer them time together, and a safe and connected space to spend that time." When it comes to busy schedules, she suggests "it’s helpful to dedicate chunks of time to being together in different ways." So whether you plan a fancy night out or keep it simple with a dinner date at home, "what matters most is that you consistently prioritize your time together."
What Is My Love Language: Physical Touch
What it looks like: cuddling, holding hands, hugs, massages, sitting side-by-side.
First thing's first: Physical touch ins’t limited to goal-oriented sex. "Physical touch sounds simple enough when applied to sex, but many people don’t realize that touch is, in fact, a language, and that it communicates intention," says Dr. Chuba. "First and foremost, it’s important for a person with this love language to understand their own needs and boundaries around touch, and then communicate them to their partner. For this, it helps to think of touch as a spectrum: On the one side you have platonic touch, and on the opposite side you have sexual touch, with varying types and degrees of touch in between."
She goes on to say that touch is all relative to the situation. For instance, a bad day may require a hug; a date night out, holding hands; and on your movie night in, you can definitely take advantage of some cuddling.
What Is My Love Language: Words Of Affirmation
What it looks like: saying "I love you," compliments, praise, words of affection, pet names, love letters/notes/cards.
If you crave compliments from your significant other or relish in their playful pet names for you, this might be your love language. "Just like touch, this type of talk has a spectrum, so make sure you and your partner understand where your particular spectrum lies," clarifies Dr. Chuba. "Does simply hearing how attractive you are turn you on? Or do you enjoy a more explicit type of language?"
If your partner craves words of affirmation, try leaving a thoughtful note in their car or sending sweet texts once or twice a day. And don't forget, when special occasions roll around, it's all about the words you put in the card.
Decoding Your Partner's Love Language
So, how do you determine your other half's love language? One way is to think about how they show their love for you. "Look to how your partner expresses his/her love language," suggests sexologist Stefani Threadgill, PhD, LMFT, and founder of The Sex Therapy Institute. "What and how we express love and desire is often what we want reciprocated." She adds that interactions with friends, family, and even colleagues can unveil clues, pointing out "how you and your partner’s families express love can also offer insight on your love language(s)."
What's more, different perspectives offer different interpretations. Holistic psychiatrist Dr. Alice W. Lee, MD, ABIHM, ABoIM, uses the example of receiving gifts: She says she'd prefer a thoughtfully chosen book over a luxury vacation. "Love languages translate differently for different people," comments Dr. Threadgill. "Ask yourself, 'How does each love language translate for me? My partner?’ Share your insights with one another. This is a great conversation to have together, a break from couples’ usual talks of finances and schedules."
Another thing to remember is that everyone can appreciate gestures that fall into each love language category (after all, who doesn't love a few kind words or a thoughtful gift?). Dr. Lee explains there could be ranking, of sorts, when it comes to love languages. And when it comes to our preferences, "it depends on what we're open to receiving as well as our hierarchy as to what is most important to us," she says. For instance, words of affirmation may not have much of an impact on someone who is uncomfortable receiving compliments. Another theory of Dr. Lee's: "I think that the love languages might be a reflection of what we were missing in childhood, or what we would like to have more of, in terms of filling the [emotional] holes."
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