Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language? It can be very frustrating. Some people start talking louder and more distinctly as if that will help communicate the message better. Others just become irritated and walk away.
The Five Love Languages
By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE
Oddly enough, there are many marriage relationships in which couples don’t speak the same language, which subsequently creates tension in their marriage. Don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t or couldn’t be you. Many people who fall hopelessly in love, convinced they have found their “soul mate,” often feel later that they have married the wrong person.
Early in his counseling career, Dr. Gary Chapman, author of “The Five Love Languages,” encountered many couples who experienced this. One or both spouses said they felt unloved, yet in many instances they both felt like they did things everyday that expressed love to their spouse. Dr. Chapman heard this so often that he decided to conduct research to determine what was happening in these marriages. His findings over the last 30 years have transformed hundreds of thousands of marriages across the globe, including my own.
If you are not familiar with “The Five Love Languages,” the basic premise is that most of us go through life expressing love to others in ways that would make us feel energized and excited. For example, I have a friend who loves presents. She loves to give gifts and she loves to receive them even more. It doesn’t matter if the gift is small or large; she goes bananas when she gets a present. When she gives me a gift, she expects the same reaction from me and is frustrated and hurt if I don’t respond in what she considers an appropriate manner. What she is missing is that receiving gifts isn’t what fuels my love tank.
Dr. Chapman found that we all speak a love language, and whatever that language is fuels our love tank. The five love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Chapman believes that we need all of them, but our primary love language is the language that speaks loudest to us. Its results are quicker and deeper than the other languages.
My husband figured out early in our marriage that my primary love languages are acts of service and quality time — in that order. He totally gets that he can bring home flowers and score some points with me, but if he really wants to score a TON of points, he can vacuum the house. And he hates vacuuming. Knowing that, he gets more points because I know he does it because he loves me. On the other hand, my husband’s primary love language is words of affirmation. Recognizing this and being intentional about encouraging him in his work and as a father speaks love to him more than a spotless house or spending lots of time with him.
What does it look like to speak your spouse’s love language?
1. Words of Affirmation: Instead of just thinking that your spouse looks great in that outfit, tell her so. If your husband cooked a great dinner, acknowledge that and say thank you. When your spouse does something neat with your kids, say how much you like it when they do that. These words will build your mate’s self image and confidence.
2. Quality Time: Some spouses believe that doing things together and focusing in on one another is the best way to show love. If quality time is your partner’s love language, be intentional about giving them your undivided attention regularly.
3. Gifts: If your spouse speaks this love language, it is important to remember that she doesn’t always care how big or expensive the gift is. It’s the fact that you gave her a gift or that you remembered a birthday or anniversary. A true gift is an expression of love for the individual, and it is freely given. If you never give gifts to someone who truly enjoys gift giving and receiving, you will find yourself with a spouse who feels neglected and unloved.
4. Acts of Service: This love language seems to resonate with women especially, but it certainly isn’t limited to them. If your spouse speaks this language, keep your eyes wide open for opportunities to serve. Spouses may say they hate doing laundry, the dishes or vacuuming. That’s the point. Speaking someone’s love language doesn’t mean you necessarily enjoy the task; you do it because you know it speaks love to your spouse.
5. Physical Touch: Sometimes, stroking your spouse’s back, holding his hand or giving him a peck on the cheek will fulfill this need. When this is your spouse’s primary love language, physical touch can make or break your relationship.
Do you know your spouse’s love language?
The statements below can help you determine your spouse’s love language as well as your own. Which of these statements reach out and grab you?
• I feel especially loved when people express how grateful they are for me and for the simple, everyday things I do.
• I feel especially loved when a person gives me undivided attention and spends time alone with me.
• I feel especially loved by someone who brings me gifts and other tangible expressions of love.
• I feel especially loved when someone pitches in to help me, such as running errands or taking on my household chores.
• I feel especially loved when a person expresses feelings for me through physical contact.
There are a million ways to express your spouse’s love language. When you know your spouse’s love language and you are intentional about keeping the tank full, it will be much easier to communicate. When people feel loved, they can typically handle tough conversations or challenging situations because their hearts are open and they don’t feel threatened.
If you can’t figure out my love language…
More times than I can count, I have overheard a spouse say something like, “Well, if you have to ask what my love language is, you clearly aren’t paying attention.” That’s a great come back if you want to add fuel to the fire and get a good fight going. Truth be told, if your spouse is trying to figure out your love language and he or she asks that question, you should make it easy and tell the answer! If we want to be loved well, we should be willing to teach people how to love us, instead of sabotaging their efforts.
What difference does speaking my spouse’s love language really make?
TONS! If you don’t believe me, try it and see. Before proceeding, here are a few words of caution. Respect is foundational to the success of any relationship. Speaking your spouse’s love language is not meant to be manipulative or self-serving. If you are seeking to learn someone’s love language so you can get something in return, you have wrong motives.
Consider this: Which way do you best take in information? Through hearing it or seeing it? Neither way is better; it has to do with the way you are wired to learn. If you are a visual learner, it isn’t that you can’t take in information by hearing it, but you retain it better if you see it and hear it. We experience the same thing with love languages. Most people speak a little of all five languages, but there is usually one or two that really speak to you as a person.
Far Reaching Results
One of the things I love most about the love languages is that it doesn’t have to be limited to your spouse. Children, teens, friends, extended family and co-workers can benefit from you understanding their love language.
Dr. Chapman says that when parents learn how to speak their child’s primary love language, they can fill the emotional fuel tank of their child more effectively. Chapman is careful to say that parents need to speak all five love languages to their child, but there is usually one language that speaks louder than any other. Once a parent has discovered the child’s primary love language, a parent can use this language to more effectively motivate, discipline and teach their child.
For example, Mark Eklund’s middle school teacher understood the power of an encouraging word, and she used it to make a difference in the life of her students. She asked Mark’s class to write the name of each classmate on a piece of paper. Then, she had her students write the nicest thing they could think of about that person next to his or her name. The next day she handed each person his or her list. Years later Mark was killed in Vietnam. When his body was returned to the states, many of those classmates attended his funeral. At a luncheon following the funeral, the father of the student said to the teacher, “I want to show you something. They found this on Mark’s body when he was killed.” Opening the billfold, he removed two worn sheets of notebook paper that had been taped, folded and refolded many times. It was the words of affirmation that Mark’s classmates had said about him. Many of Mark’s classmates who were at the funeral shared that they still had their sheets and read them often.
Recently, Dr. Chapman has been examining the role of the five love languages in the workplace. The concepts in his book, “The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” have the potential to transform an underperforming work team to a unified group that is productive and feels valued. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place where they felt valued and appreciated for their contributions?
I have made it a point to try and learn the love languages of those around me, because I think it allows me to meaningfully contribute to their lives. My work allows me to spend time around a lot of people. Many of the stories I hear are about people trying to figure out how to be loved and to love well. The love language concept is one of the simplest concepts I have seen make a positive difference in relationships.
Learning and understanding the love languages of those you love is a journey well worth taking, but so is learning and understanding your own. It can take the relationship of a marriage, parent or friend to a whole new level. It can further cement the bond between you, your spouse and ultimately your family, making it difficult to break. Enjoy the journey!
To take the Love Language Assessment, visit www.5lovelanguages.com.
Julie Baumgardner is the President and Executive Director of First Things First, an organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.