The concept was coined by marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman.
Even in the best, most loving relationships, there are times when you can feel under-appreciated. You come down the stairs all dressed up for a night out and your partner barely acknowledges your efforts. They fill up their schedule for the weekend and neglect to pencil you in. They tell you they’re going to do something for you, then put it off or forget. It’s probably not malicious on their part, but it hurts. You need them to show you they care – but what it is you want them to do? What makes you feel truly loved and appreciated?
To figure that out, we can look to the ‘love languages’, a concept coined by US marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman and explained in his 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How To Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. After years of helping couples through rough spots in their relationships, he began to notice patterns in their concerns and complaints.
“In my early years as a marriage counsellor, time and time again I noticed that couples would voice similar complaints regarding their marriage. One spouse would say something to the effect of, ‘I feel like he doesn’t love me,’ and the other spouse would retort ‘I don’t know what else to do. I’m doing everything I can to make my spouse feel loved’,” Dr Chapman tells me.
Realising there was a pattern, I scoured through 12 years of notes that I made when counselling couples, and asked myself ‘When someone said, ‘I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,’ what do they want? What are they complaining about?’ Remarkably, I found their answers fell into five categories revealing a unique approach in how to effectively love another person.
Put simply, different people with different personalities express love in different ways. Dr Chapman calls these different ways of expressing and receiving love ‘love languages’ – there are five, and everyone has a particular language they prefer above the others.
Understanding your love language, as well as that of your significant other, can help you really hone in on what you need from your relationship – what makes your ‘love tank’ (yep, it’s cheesy but that’s how we operate) feel nice and full. The languages are as follows:
You might already have an inkling of which of these fits you the most, but if you’re not sure, Dr Chapman has devised a quiz (try it here) to determine what your primary love language is and how the other four rank in importance. “We all speak and want to receive all five love languages, but one stands out from all the rest. at’s why I label it as your primary love language,” Dr Chapman clarifies.
Once you know your love language, what happens next? Well, once you’re sure of what you want, it’s easier to ask for it. I score the highest in Quality Time, followed by Physical Touch, which makes sense to me. I like to be close to my boyfriend, and the first thing I want to do when I see him a er a long day of work is give him a big hug.
We’ve never been a big gift-giving couple – of course we do Christmas and birthdays, but usually we gift each other with experiences we can have together. My boyfriend also scored the highest in Quality Time and Physical Touch, meaning (surprisingly to me) we’re already on the same page. I always believed I was the more ‘touchy’ and attention-seeking one in our relationship, but apparently he is too.
We just so happen to match, but can a couple with different love languages make it work? Well, of course. Like anything in relationships, getting your partner to understand your love language is all about communication. Dr Chapman believes that you can learn to speak each other’s languages, but both of you have to make the effort to do so. If your partner’s love language is Words of Affirmation, surprise them every so often with a soppy text or unexpected note. If they love Acts of Service, clean the bathroom and make dinner once in a while. And if gifts make them feel cared for, present them with their favourite snack at the end of a long day.
It all seems very simple on the outside, if you’ve ever been in a relationship in which you gave more than you got, you’ll remember how unsatisfying and sometimes downright lonely that feels. Being able to tell your partner how they can make you feel loved and appreciated, and seeing them make the effort to do it for you? That’s not to be sniffed at.
“I’m convinced that the love languages can be learned and expressed in all relationships but it does take time, patience, and a desire to make another person feel loved,” Dr Chapman tells us.
I don’t mean loving them in your love language – instead, when you make the effort to speak your partner’s language even when it doesn’t come naturally to you, it speaks to the fact that you care and are willing to invest the time to make that person feel loved. It can be similar to learning a foreign language. But discovering and learning to speak the primary love language of someone you love can radically strengthen and improve your relationship with them.