Whether it’s classic horoscopes or a Myers-Briggs test, we humans love a framework for understanding ourselves better. Case in point: love languages. Established by Gary Chapman in the 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, it’s all about different ways you need and give love. The concept provides a great starting point for understanding yourself and how you behave in relationships — both romantic and platonic. Here, with expert input, we dive deep into everything you need to know about the language of love.
The Benefits of Love Languages
Knowledge is power and the more we know ourselves and our needs, the happier we become. “When we know our own love language, we can ask for more of what we need and we can also start to recognize them in others too,” says Nicola Skorko, a coach and neuroscience expert. This is mutually beneficial for both parties in the relationship. While the original book was written with romantic partnerships in mind, Skorko pointed out that love languages can help us across all aspects of our lives. “It helps to improve relationships at work and home and with family and children. It creates understanding and empathy. At its heart, you can improve your relationship with yourself.” Understanding yourself also builds confidence. “From a neuroscience perspective, knowing your love language helps to create prediction and response. Essentially creating security in our own identity, by knowing what we want, and also how to support people we care about,” Skorko adds.
Meet the Experts
The Five Love Languages
Acts of service: This is about doing things for the other person to make their life easier and show that you care about them and their well-being. It can be small things like making coffee in the morning or running a bath at night.
Receiving gifts: This is about giving gifts. It doesn’t necessarily mean large gifts but simply showing that you were thinking about someone when they weren’t there.
Quality time: This is about dedicating your time to that special person in your life. It’s all about giving undivided attention and being totally present.
Words of affirmation: This means using words of affection, encouragement, and reassurance. This can be face-to-face or online communication like texting, too.
Physical touch: This isn’t just about sex but any type of physical intimacy. For example, holding hands, hugs, or simply a reassuring touch.
How Love Languages Form
Like so many aspects of our behavior in relation to others, our chosen love languages are normally learned in childhood. “We often have a definition of what we think love looks like, and this will usually have been molded by our parents’ examples, our upbringing and our early experiences,” explains Hannah Paskin, a cognitive behavioral therapist. We will have a default mode, but we can change how we behave in relationships. By understanding love languages, we can make more conscious choices about what we need and communicate this clearly to the people in our lives.
Understand Your Love Language
If you are new to the concept and unsure what love language you are, you can take a quiz. However, you may find that by just reading about the languages that one or two immediately stand out to you. You also may find that what you need changes from person to person and is generally in flux — this is totally normal. “You can have more than one top love language; you might even have two or three. They’re not mutually exclusive and these will change, grow and evolve as you do,” Skorko notes.
Communicate Your Love Language
When it comes to discussing love languages with your partner or another person that you are close with, remember it’s a two-way process. “It’s not just about a partner understanding how you would prefer them to show their love to you, it’s also about understanding how they would prefer you show your love to them,” Paskin highlights. Remember no language is more important than others and respect your partner’s needs. As always, clear communication is key here. If you have an open discussion with someone about what you both need and want, you are much more able to provide that support and love. “Conflict in relationships often arises when we don’t recognize our partner’s signs of love because it doesn’t fit our preferred receiving love language or assume that if they aren’t operating under our preferred receiving love language it means they don’t love us,” Paskin adds.
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