What are love languages?

Chances are by now you've heard someone talking about love languages. But do you know what they are, where they come from, and how important they are in your relationships? Here's our guide to all things love languages.

After many years of being together, once the honeymoon period is over, many people find themselves not communicating well or understanding each other. One of the most common reasons our therapists see people for relationship counselling is because someone isn't feeling loved or appreciated.

American author and counsellor Dr Gary Chapman tackled this issue in a best-selling book called 'The Five Love Languages’, which explores the way people prefer to give and receive love.

Dr Chapman’s central idea is that everyone has one primary and one secondary love language. You feel most loved and appreciated when others use your love language towards you, and it’s also the way that you naturally tend to express love to others.

What are the five love languages?

There are five main love languages, and the ones we fall into tend to develop from the way that we learned to give and receive love in childhood. They are:

Words of affirmation

If this is your love language, kind and encouraging words mean a lot to you. Hearing compliments like ‘you look incredible’ or finding a note to say ‘I love you’ goes a long way. Equally, insulting comments can be especially hurtful and take longer to forgive.

Receiving gifts

This love language is sometimes misjudged as being materialistic, but it’s really about someone letting you know they’ve thought of you with a token of their appreciation. This could be something extravagant, or as simple as picking you up a chocolate bar from the corner shop.

Quality time

People with this love language value one-on-one time where they are made to feel important and comfortable, without the pull of distractions. Undivided attention is the best thing they can give or receive.

Physical touch

This love language is often confused with sex, and while that's a part of it, it also includes all the intimate gestures you might make with someone you love, like holding their hand or leaning up against them on the sofa.

Acts of service

If this is your love language, actions speak louder than words. Acts of service refers to anything your loved one does to make your life easier, whether that’s making you breakfast in bed, taking care of a child or relative, or taking the bins out.

Where do we learn our ‘love language’?

How we express affection is often heavily influenced by what we learnt growing up. If your family liked spending lots of quality time together, for instance, you might value the same things in a partner. If there was embarrassment at expressing feelings verbally or physically, this may continue into adulthood. But there are no real hard and fast rules – we may make a choice to do things differently in our adult relationships. In the end, we express affection the way we do because that’s what makes the most sense to us.

Finding out your love language

So how do you find out your own love language? To get started, there’s a free online quiz that anyone can take, whether you’re in a relationship or not, to find out your love language. 

But that's only step one. Next comes actually talking about your love languages with your current or potential partners. And then there's the hard work of putting this knowledge into action. It will take practice and patience, and you might not always get it right, but the end result of loving someone in the way that feels best to them is definitely worth it.

Speaking different love languages

Many of our therapists use the idea of love languages regularly in their work. Often people seek out relationship counselling because they feel unappreciated. A lot of the time this isn't deliberate, it's simply a mismatch in love languages.

For example, if one person’s love language is quality time, and their partner who’s busy at work buys them flowers to make up for not seeing them, they may still feel their needs aren’t met and show an underwhelmed reaction. The partner may then feel annoyed as they’ve done a nice thing that isn’t being acknowledged, leading to resentment on both sides.

However, once people in a relationship like this becomes aware of each other’s love languages, they become more attuned to each other’s needs and can adapt how they show their love.

These expressions of love don’t just impact your romantic relationships, but they can also be helpful for thinking about how you give and receive love with everyone who’s important in your life - including friends, family, and colleagues.

How we can help

If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.

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