People express their love in different ways depending on how they were raised. People also tend to express love in the precise way they want to receive love. This is helpful if you are observing someone, because once you understand the five love languages, it's fairly easy to tell which love language they prefer. However, if you are in a relationship with someone and you both speak different love languages, your partner may not be receiving the appreciation signals you are consistently sending out. This is a recipe for dissatisfaction.
So understanding love languages can be so useful in a romantic context, but that same understanding can also be useful in a friendship or business context. It helps if friends and colleages also feel appreciated, which will in turn depend on you communicating your appreciation in a love language the other person is ready to receive. As a result, although we call it a "love" language, really we are talking about any kind of appreciation for another person, whether romantic or otherwise.
So far, five distinct love languages have been identified and we will discuss them now. It is possible that others may be identified in the future, in which case we will go back and add them to this article.
Physical touch is intimate physical contact such as hugging, holding hands, and/or snuggling. In many ways, being held reminds some people of when they were an infant and felt safe in their mother's arms. These people were probably held a lot when they were younger. They will likely try to hold you or touch you in some way if they like you. Someone who frequently wants to hug is probably physical touch.
Word of Affirmation
Words of affirmation is verbally expressing your appreciation for the other person. In my case, I grew up in a house where we told each other "I love you" many times each day. As a result, I like saying and hearing the phrase "I love you." Words of affirmation could also include verbalizations of certain characteristics you appreciate in your partner. You could say "it's so amazing how good you are at organizing stuff" or whatever. This person wants to hear about why you like them because they find that affirming.
Quality time is about giving the other person your complete attention. This is becoming increasingly rare in our society, as people ignore each other while staring down at their phones, even (for example) when sitting at the same table in a restaurant. Giving someone quality time is about saying, yes I'm busy, but you are more important to me than the various other demands on my time. This could be a vacation together. It could be as simple as really tuning in to the other person, even just for a few minutes.
For gift givers, the gift is a symbol of love. It's more about expressing that you understand who the other person is than about buying something super expensive. Although depending on the person, a gift giver may interpret an expensive gift as a way of saying how important the relationship is to you. You might also want to pay attention to which type of gifts get the best reaction. If gift giving is your preferred love language, please let us know your thoughts about what makes a good gift.
Acts of Service
Acts of service is when you do something for the other person as an expression of your love. Perhaps your wife takes care of the kids all day while you work a traditional job. In that case, acts of service might be watching the kids so she can have a spa day. It might be cleaning the house as a way of showing how important the other person is to you. The key with an acts of service person is to listen closely when they talk about tasks. If you hear something like "it would mean so much to me if you did ____," you know that particular act of service will be appreciated.
Like any model, the five love languages is a simplification. People probably respond to all five languages, but it has been my experience that some resonate with particular people more than with others. The most powerful combination would be to express your love in all five languages. It's still a great model that you can use to analyze your current behaviors so you can make sure you are sending signals to your partner that are being received and appreciated.
If you get the chance to experiment with this information in your relationship, we'd love to hear about your experience!