The 5 Love Languages and Their Influence on Relationships


The following is an excerpt from The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman (©2015), used with permission by Northfield Publishing.

What is love?

Love is the most important word in the English language—and the most confusing. Both secular and religious thinkers agree that love plays a central role in life. Love has a prominent role in thousands of books, songs, magazines, and movies. Numerous philosophical and theological systems have made a prominent place for love.

Psychologists have concluded that the need to feel loved is a primary human emotional need. For love, we will climb mountains, cross seas, traverse desert sands, and endure untold hardships. Without love, mountains become unclimbable, seas uncrossable, deserts unbearable, and hardship our lot in life.

If we can agree that the word love permeates human society, both historically and in the present, we must also agree that it is a most confusing word. We use it in a thousand ways. We say, “I love hot dogs,” and in the next breath, “I love my mother.” We speak of loving activities: swimming, skiing, hunting. We love objects: food, cars, houses. We love animals: dogs, cats, even pet snails. We love nature: trees, grass, flowers, and weather. We love people: mother, father, son, daughter, parents, wives, husbands, friends. We even fall in love with love.

The desire for romantic love is deeply rooted in our psychological makeup. Books abound on the subject. Television and radio talk shows deal with it. The Internet is full of advice. So are our parents and friends and churches. Keeping love alive in our relationships is serious business.

With all the help available from media experts, why is it that so few couples seem to have found the secret to keeping love alive? Why is it that a couple can attend a communication workshop, hear wonderful ideas on how to enhance communication, return home, and find themselves unable to implement the communication patterns demonstrated? How is it that we read something online on “101 Ways to Express Love to Your Spouse,” select two or three ways that seem especially helpful, try them, and our spouse doesn’t even acknowledge our effort? We give up on the other 98 ways and go back to life as usual.

The answer to those questions is the purpose of the book I wrote called The 5 Love Languages®. It is not that the books and articles already published are not helpful. The problem is that we have overlooked one fundamental truth: People speak different love languages.

What are the 5 love languages?

The five love languages are:

WORD OF AFFIRMATION: Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten. You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words that build you up.

ACTS OF SERVICE: Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes. Laziness, broken commitments, and making more work for them tell speakers of this language their feelings don’t matter. When others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.

RECEIVING GIFTS: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. A missed birthday or a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous—so would the absence of everyday gestures. Gifts are heartfelt symbols of someone else’s love and affection for you.

QUALITY TIME: Quality Time requires a person’s undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, with the TV off, fork and knife down, and work and tasks on standby—makes them feel truly special and loved. Distractions, postponed activities, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful. Whether it’s spending uninterrupted time talking or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.

PHYSICAL TOUCH: Physical Touch is hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial, while neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and destructive. Appropriate and timely touches communicate warmth, safety, and love to you.

The impact of love languages on your relationships

My academic training is in the area of anthropology. Therefore, I have studied in the area of linguistics, which identifies many major language groups: Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Arabic, Greek, German, French, and so on. Most of us grow up learning the language of our parents and siblings, which becomes our primary or native tongue. Later, we may learn additional languages—but usually with much more effort. These become our secondary languages. We speak and understand our native language best. We feel most comfortable speaking that language. The more we use a secondary language, the more comfortable we become conversing in it.

If we speak only our primary language and encounter someone else who speaks only his or her primary language, which is different from ours, our communication will be limited. We must rely on pointing, grunting, drawing pictures, or acting out our ideas. We can communicate, but it is awkward. Language differences are part and parcel of human culture. If we are to communicate effectively across cultural lines, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate.

In the area of love, it is similar. Your emotional love language and the language of your partner may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your partner understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other. We must be willing to learn our partner’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.

My conclusion after many years of marriage and family counseling is that there are five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics, a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects. The number of ways to express love within a love language is limited only by one’s imagination.

What to do when you have a different love language to your partner

Seldom do partners have the same primary emotional love language. We tend to speak our primary love language, and we become confused when our partner does not understand what we are communicating. We are expressing our love, but the message does not come through because we are speaking what, to them, is a foreign language. Therein lies the fundamental problem, and it is the purpose of learning the love languages to offer a solution. That is why I dared to write another book on love.

Once we discover the five basic love languages and understand our own primary love language, as well as the primary love language of our partner, we will then have the needed information to apply the ideas in the books and articles. Once you identify and learn to speak your partner’s primary love language, I believe that you will have discovered the key to a long-lasting, loving relationship. Love need not evaporate after a few years, but to keep it alive, most of us will have to put forth the effort to learn a secondary love language.

We cannot rely on our native tongue if our partner does not understand it. If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.

If your partner’s love language is “Words of Affirmation”

  1. To remind yourself that “Words of Affirmation” is your spouse’s primary love language, print the following on a card and put it on a mirror or other place where you will see it daily:
    • Words are important!
    • Words are important!
    • Words are important!
  2. For one week, keep a written record of all the words of affirmation you give your spouse each day. You might be surprised how well (or how poorly) you are speaking words of affirmation.
  3. Set a goal to give your spouse a different compliment each day for one month. If “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” maybe a compliment a day will keep the counselor away. (You may want to record these compliments also, so you will not duplicate the statements.)
  4. Learn to say “I love you” or other expressions of affirmation in a couple of different languages.
  5. Compliment your spouse in the presence of his parents or friends. You will get double credit: Your spouse will feel loved and the parents will feel lucky to have such a great son-in-law or daughter-in-law.
  6. Look for your spouse’s strengths and tell her how much you appreciate those strengths. Be specific: “I like how you reach out to people at church who don’t seem to have anyone to talk to.” Or: “You’re really keeping up with the job search. I know it’ll pay off.”
  7. Occasionally email or text a note of affirmation during the day or when one of you is traveling. Or if you know your spouse is having a hard day, send a link to a funny website.
  8. Thank your mate for something they do routinely and wouldn’t expect to be complimented for.

If your partner’s love language is “Quality Time”

  1. Some couples are together a lot more than others. If that’s the case for you, don’t try to make all your time together “quality time.” Designate specific times and places for planned togetherness.
  2. Ask your spouse for a list of five activities that he would enjoy doing with you—don’t assume you know. Make plans to do one of them each month for the next five months. If money is an issue, space the freebies between the “we can’t afford this” events.
  3. One way to share quality time at a distance is to include your spouse in your day as it is happening. Send a photo of something you saw on your walk to the office or relay a funny incident that happened in a meeting. One woman said, “My husband sent a photo of him, my daughter, and the dog sitting on our front porch. I was at work and it made me feel like I was hanging out with them.”
  4. Think of an activity your spouse enjoys, but which brings little pleasure to you: SEC football, crafting, nature photography. “Tell your spouse that you are trying to broaden your horizons and would like to join them in this activity sometime this month. Set a date and give it your best effort.
  5. Plan a weekend getaway just for the two of you sometime within the next six months. Be sure it is a weekend when you won’t have to be in touch with the office or have a family commitment. Focus on relaxing together doing what one or both of you enjoy.
  6. Make time every day to share with each other some of the events of the day. When you spend more time watching the news than you do listening to each other, you end up more concerned about the Middle East than about your spouse. Or: When you spend more time on Facebook than you do listening to each other, you end up more concerned about your hundred “friends” than about your spouse.
  7. You have to do chores anyway, so talk as you dust, declutter, and do laundry. It will make the work go much faster!”
  8. Read the travel section in the Sunday paper together and dream out loud about places you’d like to go. Whether you actually go to these places or not, it’s fun to imagine together.

If your partner’s love language is “Receiving Gifts”

  1. You’ve heard of the twelve days of Christmas. How about twelve days of gifts for your spouse’s birthday or your wedding anniversary?
  2. Let nature be your guide: The next time you take a walk through the neighborhood, keep your eyes open for a gift for your spouse. It may be a stone, a stick, or a feather. You may even attach special meaning to your natural gift. For example, a smooth stone may symbolize your marriage with many of the rough places now polished. A feather may symbolize how your spouse is the “wind beneath your wings.”
  3. Discover the value of “handmade originals.” Make a gift for your spouse. This may require you to enroll in an art or crafts class: ceramics, scrapbooking, painting, wood carving. Your main purpose for enrolling is to make your spouse a gift. A handmade gift often becomes a family heirloom.
  4. When money is tight, think of appropriate symbolic gifts. Look at pictures of beautiful “houses and daydream about what kind of house you would have if money were no object. Instead of plane tickets, go on a “flight of fancy” to Dubai or Sydney.
  5. Keep a “Gift Idea Notebook.” Every time you hear your spouse say: “I really like that,” or “Oh, I would really like to have one of those!” write it down in your notebook. (How many of us have the experience of asking someone what they want for their birthday or Christmas and getting the response, “Oh, I don’t know … “) Listen carefully and you will get quite a list. This will serve as a guide when you get ready to select a gift. To prime the pump, you may look through a favorite online shopping site together.
  6. Enlist a “personal shopper.” If you really don’t have a clue as to how to select a gift for your spouse, ask a friend or family member who knows your wife or husband well to help you. Most people enjoy making a friend happy by getting them a gift, especially if it is with your money.
  7. Offer the gift of presence during an especially hard time in your spouse’s life—perhaps if he’s caring for an elderly parent or she’s dealing with a job crisis.
  8. Give your spouse a book and agree to read it yourself. Then offer to discuss together a chapter each week. Don’t choose a book that you want him or her to read. Choose a book on a topic in which you know your spouse has an interest: sex, football, gourmet cuisine, investing, childrearing, religion, history.
  9. Give a lasting tribute. Give a gift to your spouse’s favorite charity in honor of her birthday, your anniversary, or another occasion. Ask the charity to send a card informing your spouse of what you have done. The church or charity will be excited and so will your spouse.

If your partner’s love language is “Acts of Service”

  1. Consider serving someone (or something) your spouse loves: an older relative, caring attentively for a pet, a favorite cause.
  2. Print note cards with the following: “Today I will show my love for you by …” Complete the sentence with a task you know your spouse would love you to do: picking up the clutter, taking old clothes to a thrift store, fixing something that’s been broken a long time, weeding the garden. (Bonus points if it’s a chore that’s been put off.)
  3. Ask your spouse to make a list of ten things he or she would like for you to do during the next month. Then ask your spouse to prioritize those by numbering them 1–10, with 1 being the most important and 10 being least important. Use this list to plan your strategy for a month of love. (Get ready to live with a happy spouse.)
  4. While your spouse is away, get the children to help you with some act of service for him. When he walks in the door, join the children in shouting, “Surprise! We love you!” Then share your act of service.
  5. This can also work when your spouse is away for a long period of time, such as a military deployment. Recruit the kids to help you with some act of service for him. Take a picture of the results and send it—or, even better, show it to him via Skype and yell, “Surprise! We love you!”
  6. If your requests to your mate come across as nags or putdowns, try writing them in words that would be less offensive to them. Share this revised wording with your spouse. For example, “The yard always looks so nice, and I really appreciate your work. I’d love to thank you in advance for mowing the lawn this week before Paul and Amy come over for dinner.” Your husband might even respond, “Where’s the lawnmower, I can’t wait!” Try it and see.
  7. If you have more money than time, hire someone to do the acts of service that neither of you wants to do, such as the yard work or a once-a-month deep cleaning of your home.”
  8. Run interference for your spouse during his or her favorite TV show or important sports event. Take care of all the phone calls, kid emergencies, and so on. “

If your partner’s love language is “Physical Touch”

  1. As you walk from the car to go shopping, reach out and hold your spouse’s hand.
  2. When you shop for your spouse, look for things that will appeal to their tactile nature—a cashmere sweater, a plush throw pillow, soft slippers.
  3. Walk up to your spouse and say, “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Take her in your arms and hug her while you rub her back and continue. “You’re the best!” Untangle yourself and move on to the next thing.
  4. When you sit together in church, reach over and hold your spouse’s hand during times of prayer.
  5. Initiate sex by giving your spouse a foot massage. Continue to other parts of the body as long as it brings pleasure to your spouse.
  6. When family or friends are visiting, touch your spouse in their presence. A hug, running your hand along his or her arm, putting your arm around him as you stand talking, or simply placing your hand on her shoulder can earn double emotional points. It says, “Even with all these people in our house, I still see you.”
  7. Couples separated by circumstances such as deployment use a variety of strategies to “touch” when they cannot be physically together, says author and former military wife Jocelyn Green. For example, a handwritten letter feels more tangible than an email. Some wives will wear an old shirt of their husband’s around the house—one wife said, “I feel like he’s hugging me when I wear his shirt.” Sending a photo of yourself gives your spouse something of you to touch.

Discovering your partner’s love language

Discovering and learning to speak the primary love language of someone you love can radically strengthen and improve your relationship with them. My files are filled with letters from people I have never met, saying, “A friend of mine gave me a copy of The 5 Love Languages® and it has revolutionized my marriage. We had struggled for years trying to love each other, but our efforts had missed each other emotionally. Now that we are speaking the appropriate love languages, the emotional climate of our marriage has greatly improved.”

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Adapted from The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman (©2015). Published by Northfield Publishing. Used with permission.

Last updated or reviewed on April 24, 2024


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