We all have ways that we tend to show love and ways that we receive love best. However, what demonstrates love for you doesn’t always mean love to me and visa versa. With that said, Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages and many other books, compiled research that shows that most people fit into one of 5 categories when it comes to expressing love.
Let’s break each one down. Note, they are in no particular order and one is not more valuable than the other.
First are words of affirmation. This love language is based on encouragement, I love you’s and atta boys. When your love language is words of affirmation, your cup gets filled by having people compliment you, encourage you and say nice things about you and what you have done. This can be verbally, through a written note or even hearing that nice things were said about you to someone else. You know you are loved when people lift you up with their words. Words mean a lot to my husband. When I thank him for the ways he services our family, compliment him on what he does and tell him consistently how much I love him, he feels so loved. However, because words of affirmation are important to him, when I share negative or hurtful things, they impact him more negatively as well. Basically, whatever your love language is, when it is given to you it impacts you positively but when the opposite happens, it hurts more.
Next is physical touch. Keep in mind physical touch does not mean sexual touch, though it can. With physical touch, someone’s bucket is filled when they receive hugs, pats on the back etc. This is definitely my son Hayden’s biggest love language. He cannot get enough cuddles, hugs, kisses and pats on the back. He will even come up to me and tell me, “Mommy, my cuddle tank is empty. I need cuddles”. He is very aware that is how he receives love and he is great about asking for it, even at four years old. Studies show that people need an average of 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth (see Forbes article here). That is the minimum and someone whose love language is physical touch will probably need more than that to feel loved.
Quality time is another one of the love languages. For the person whose love language is quality time, they feel loved when people are intentional about spending time with them. For most people who value quality time, this is more than sitting next to each other on the couch watching a movie (though it can be), this is intentional face to face, not distracted time. They value the attention and connection that happens with time. My son Hunter definitely has this love language. He values quality time and what I perceive as quality time is not always quality time to him that fills his bucket. For instance, I could be taking him to the zoo or to a park and be with him all day but if his brothers are around or I am not actively engaged the entire time, it does not mean much to him. However, sitting playing video games with him, watching his show (without looking at my phone) or playing legos with him one on one does wonders for helping him feel loved. And when I don’t spend that intentional one on one time with him, it is evident in his behavior and connection with me.
The next love language is acts of service. This one has become more important to me as I have gotten older and had kids. Acts of service is anything done to help the other person. For instance, when my husband takes out the trash, my grandma watches the kids or my dad helps me with a task, I feel so loved. I felt seen by them and the fact that they want to help me by using their time and talents means so much. When you offer to take someone’s kids so they can have a break, help them with a daunting task or cook a meal for them, those are all acts of service.
Lastly is gifts. For someone with this love language, you feel most loved when someone gives you a thoughtful gift. Most often is isn’t anything that shows you are loved but something where someone was intentional about picking the item or making the item for you with your likes and preferences in mind. My son Hudson is definitely starting to develop this love language in the way he shows love. When he knows a holiday or birthday is coming up for someone, he scours his room and looks for the perfect toy or item in his room he wants to give someone to show he loves them and knows what they like. The other day I was talking about my birthday coming up and he went into his room and got a stuffed animal horse and put it in a bag for me to open because he knows I love horses. His heart for wanting to fill other’s tanks through gifts warms my heart so much.
Now it is important to know that sometimes what fills you up the most and what you naturally show to others may be different. For instance, I naturally use words of affirmation and gifts to show love to others. However, what shows love most to me is acts of service.
To find out what your love language is, Dr. Gary Chapman has a quiz to help that you can find here.
To figure out which love language you most often give, reflect on your life within the last few weeks. When you want to show someone you love that you love them, what do you do? Do you give them more hugs, buy them a gift that made you think of them, be intentional about spending time with them, write an encouraging note or text or help them in some way? Noticing patterns will help you learn more about yourself and what your default is.
Why is all of this important to know? Great question! When we know the way we best receive love, we can communicate it to those around us so that they know how to best show us love. When we know what those around us need to feel loved then we can show them in the way they best receive it. I know that Hudson and my husband need lots of words of affirmation, that Hunter needs quality time and Hayden needs physical touch. Because I know that, I can be more intentional about filling them up in those ways instead of trying to fill them up in the way that I naturally do that may not speak to them.
You know me and how I always want to give the whole picture so there are some things to keep in mind. Just because someone has a default love language does not mean that is the only way to ever show them love. My go-to is acts of service but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate physical touch or words of affirmation. In fact, when we are able to show children all of the 5 love languages, they are more well-rounded at giving and accepting love and do better in relationships.
If you want to learn more about the 5 Love Languages, I highly recommend Gary Chapman’s books. He now has a 5 Love Languages book for every season of your life and relationships. The top two I recommend are The 5 Love Languages and The 5 Love Languages of Children.
Until next time friend!
Jocelyn is a Licensed Professional Counselor and course creator who desires to help clients heal and grow into who God created them to be.