What Are the Love Languages, and Why Do They Matter?

What are the love languages that everyone is talking about? Here, a primer on this perspective on love, and how it can benefit your relationships.

Photo: Getty Images / Jo Imperio

Wouldn't it be great if the people in your life — partners, parents, friends — just knew how to treat you? If they knew exactly what would make you feel seen, appreciated, and loved? Wouldn't it be equally as great to know exactly how to make someone you care for smile and feel happy?

Of course it would.

For the last 30 years, there's actually been a tool available to help anyone have this ability — to essentially read the minds of and better connect with the loved ones in your life. That tool is the best-selling book and system, The 5 Love Languages (Buy It, $8, amazon.com) by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., a family counselor and speaker with degrees in anthropology and adult education.

The 5 Love Languages is a human road map on how to have everyone in your life feeling good, loved, and appreciated, including yourself. The systembreaks down into simple terms the ways we all feel love and appreciation and what is needed for individuals to provide those feelings.

The interesting part is that everyone, depending on their "type," may feel love very differently; the way you feel, give and receive love may be totally different from your partner, your parent, or your friend. (Yes, love languages can be used for all types of relationships in your life, as can boundaries.)

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"The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman, Ph.D.


What Are the Love Languages?

According to Chapman and the Love Languages system, there are five different ways that people experience love:

  1. Acts of Service: doing helpful things
  2. Words of Affirmation: saying supportive things
  3. Quality Time: spending meaningful time
  4. Physical Touch: sharing physical closeness and intimacy
  5. Receiving Gifts: giving or receiving thoughtful gifts

Of course, all of these types of love are felt by everyone. That said, everyone has a primary way of receiving love and expressing it to others — something that feels the most instinctual and rewarding, according to Chapman. This is called your "primary love language." You can also pinpoint your secondary love language, the one that resonates with you most after your first choice.

But it gets even more interesting: The primary way you receive love may not be the same as the primary way you express it. For example, you may love to give other people thoughtful gifts, but when gifts are given to you, it might not make a big impression.

And, yes, your preferred love language can change over time, within a relationship, with changing life situations, and from relationship to relationship — it's fluid, just like sexuality. For instance, you may value physical touch more with a romantic partner than you do with your family; you may value acts of service from your partner more after becoming a parent than you did prior; or you may need to adapt your love languages when in a long-distance relationship.

How do you know what your love language is? Read the descriptions below to see what resonates with you, or you can also take this Love Language quiz, courtesy of Chapman.

Why Are Love Languages Important to Know?

The more aware you are of how you love people in your life and how you actually take in love, the easier it is to get and give love.

Think of it this way: If you were looking for a pair of jeans and wanted to find them without knowing anything about what you were looking for — ex: straight leg, flare, dark wash, light wash, distressed — wouldn't it be hard to find that pair of jeans? You'd be trying on jeans forever, and would probably become frustrated in the process.

What if, instead, you knew that the best jeans for you are high-waisted, a tight fit, and a certain brand. Wouldn't it make it 100 times easier to find a pair of jeans that not only fit right but feel right, too?

It's the same with love.

When you know how you work, what you want, and what you need to give to your partners and loved ones, it makes it 100 times easier to do. (It's the same as knowing what you want in bed.) The Love Languages system is a road map to satisfaction — and who wouldn't want to get their hands on that roadmap?

Truthfully, you could be walking around all day feeling neglected or thinking you are unloved by those around you when, in reality, they are loving you — you just can't see it as love because it's not your love language. For example, let's say your love language is quality time and the person you've been seeing for months expresses first and foremost through words of affirmation. They may be saying they love you and care about you but not prioritizing time with you — instead making plans with friends or looking at their phone/being distracted when they're with you. You may end that relationship thinking this person never really cared about you when really, they were expressing their love and feelings to you the whole time; it just wasn't in a way that resonated with you. (

The 5 Love Languages, Explained

Without further ado, here are the five love languages. As you read them, jot down on a scale of 1 to 10 how important they are for you to feel loved.

Love Language #1: Acts of Service

The person who lists acts of service as their main love language is someone who truly believes that actions speak louder than words. For example, giving acts of service might be filling their car up with gas, cooking a meal, running an errand for them if they are too busy. Or, on the flip side, having these things done for you. If this is an important love language for you, these things may all make you feel loved or like you're expressing your love to someone else.

Love Language #2: Words of Affirmation

The person who lists words of affirmation as their primary love language is almost the opposite of those that list acts of service; they value words more than actions. What they say and what others say to them are the telltale sign of love and appreciation. Generally, this person wants and gives verbal compliments, such as:

  • "You are so good at fixing stuff."
  • "You always know exactly what to say to me."
  • "I really like that outfit on you."

Sprinkle in a few of these every day and those around you whose love language is words of affirmation will be pumped up for days. On the flip side, when these types of words aren't said, they may feel there is a lack of love.

Love Language #3: Quality Time

The person who lists words of affirmation as their primary love language wants your undivided, no-distractions, total attention. It's not about what you do during your time together, but rather it's about whether or not it's quality time.

For example, watching TV together. For it to be quality time, they need to be cuddling, connected, and seen while watching the show. Sitting there looking aimlessly at the TV while simultaneously scrolling Instagram will have this person feeling unloved and unappreciated. The person whose primary love language is quality time really values their time with you.

Love Language #4: Physical Touch

The person who lists physical touch as their primary love language loves to touch and be touched — nothing is more impactful to them than this. It doesn't necessarily mean that these people are all about PDA, but rather but for them to feel safe, secure, and comfortable with you, touch must be included.

It's not always sexual, either. For example, physical touch can include hugs, hand-holding, an arm around the shoulder, playing with hair, cuddling, kissing. These are all forms of touch that will make them feel loved and appreciated. If touch is not given to them or appreciated when they give it, they may feel disconnected or neglected in the relationship.

Love Language #5: Receiving Gifts

The person who lists receiving gifts as their primary love language loves receiving meaningful or thoughtful gifts to feel loved and appreciated. Don't worry: This doesn't mean that you or those around you are materialistic. It just means that somewhere in life you learned that when someone gives to another, that it's a great way to express love. (Somewhere in life, you may have also learned that codependent relationships are normal — but that's not a good thing.)

The thing to note is that the gift doesn't have to be super costly. It simply needs to have thought and/or meaning behind it. For example, that person may love it if someone in their life brought home their favorite chicken from a restaurant that is from all the way across town, just because!

How to Use Love Languages IRL

Here's the thing about love languages: They won't be helpful to you or those in your life until you know what they are and express them to those around you. Like most things in love, they're a great thing to have an honest, open conversation about. (Plus, learning about and expressing each other's love languages is a great way to build intimacy with your partner.)

If you are an acts of service person, tell those around you who want to express their love something like, "I know this may sound whacky, but words don't really resonate with me. What makes me feel heard and loved is when people do things for me. That truly shows me that they care."

And then you can ask them in return. "What makes you feel appreciated and loved? I want to be sure I express it in a way that makes sense for you." (Clean up the cheesiness a bit to suit your style.)

The point is that once you know the path to appreciation for yourself, you can give everyone you know the directions. It will make life way easier and you will feel more loved and appreciated than ever before.

Marni Kinrys is an author and the founder of The Wing Girl Method, helping gentlemen navigate the often tricky waters of dating.

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