Have you ever been asked “What’s your love language?”
Chances are, you have. Because the concept — first created by Gary Chapman, unpacked in a series of books, and picked up by many others — has spread far and wide. The five love languages refer to the five simple ways that we want love to be shown to us and the ways that we show others love.
While there are plenty of online quizzes to tell you what your love language is, it’s easy to figure out yours and what your loved ones’ are by looking at what lights them up, what presents they give you (since many of us bestow on others what we would most like), and what their perfect day would look and feel like.
Here’s a look at the five languages and how they can be applied and optimized.
Love language #1: Words of affirmation
Those of us whose love language is words of affirmation prize verbal connection. They want to hear you say precisely what you appreciate or admire about them. For example: “I really loved it when you made dinner last night”; “Wow, it was so nice of you to organize that neighborhood bonfire”; or just “I love you.”
For the people in your life that you’re not seeing in person, you could film a short video to send them. My kindergarten-aged goddaughter and I haven’t been together in 7+ months, but we text each other silly videos of us saying — or even singing — what we miss most about each other.
And for the people you are seeing all of the time, remember that even making tiny gestures matters. This is my primary love language, and my husband of 29 years knows it. I’ll often wake up and go into the kitchen to find a sweet post-it note next to a glass of ice water on the counter (which is another love language — an act of service).
Love language #2: Acts of service
Some of us feel most loved when others lend a helping hand or do something kind for us. A friend of mine is currently going through chemotherapy and radiation, putting her at high risk for other infections. Knowing that her love language is acts of service, a group of neighbor friends snuck over under the cover of darkness in December and filled her flower pots in front of her house with holiday flowers and sprigs. Others have committed to shoveling her driveway all winter. (It’s Minnesota, so that’s big love.)
In your home, you could be proactive and do something that eases your person’s daily grind. Why not take on the chore that everyone avoids doing, whether that’s cleaning the oven, changing the litter box, scraping ice off the car, or filling and running the dishwasher? For anyone whose love tank is filled up by people pitching in, seeing someone intentionally scanning the environment to figure out what they can do to make their environment better sends a clear and loving message to them.
Love language #3: Gifts
Those of us whose love language is gifts aren’t necessarily materialistic. Instead, their tanks are filled when someone presents them with a specific thing, tangible or intangible, that helps them feel special. Yes, truly, it’s the thought that counts.
When you’re out grabbing groceries for your family, pick up your roommate’s favorite kombucha or seltzer and drop it by their door. Our daughter — whose love language is gifts — is a junior in college and we know she’ll adore what’s in the box soon to arrive in the mail: a small package covered in valentine stickers and containing her favorite chocolates, gift cards for coffee and a framed picture of our family dogs, Fred and George. It’s an act of love that will fill her mailbox and her emotional bank account.
Love language #4: Quality time
Having another person’s undivided, dedicated attention is precious currency for the people whose love language is quality time. Spending quality time together can seem challenging. But thanks to technology, it’s actually one of the easiest to engage in.
Make an intentional effort to have Zoom coffee dates with the colleagues you’ve been missing, or go on distanced walks with your in-laws. Put a good old fashioned phone call each week on the calendar with your best friend, or schedule an in-house date night with your partner or spouse — no phones or “I’m just going to turn on the TV for a second” distractions allowed. Nothing says “I love you” in quality time language better than them being the only thing on your agenda.
Love language #5: Physical touch
Expressing the language of physical touch can be as platonic as giving a friend an enthusiastic fist-bump when she tells you about landing an interview for a dream job or as intimate as a kiss with your partner to mark the end of the workday.
Loneliness is not just about being alone; it’s about experiencing a lack of satisfying emotional connections. By taking the time to learn each other’s love languages and then using them, we can strengthen our relationships and our bonds to others.