“The 5 Love Languages” published by Gary D. Chapman in 1995, with an update published in 2015, has been on the New York Times bestseller list since August of 2009.
This book is a must-read for anyone entering into a relationship. Most relationships don’t “just work” 100% of the time. Some research suggests (and I’ll address this in another post) that any two people can establish an intimate relationship merely through a series of “self-disclosure and relationship-building tasks that gradually escalate in intensity.” However, to keep both partner’s “love tank,” as it is called in the book, filled with love, you need to understand how you and your partner receive love and feel fulfilled in your relationship. That is exactly what this book addresses.
In the book he outlines 5 “Love Languages” that people use to communicate their love for someone:
- Words of Affirmation — These are comments/compliments that are, “best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation.” You can also provide encouraging words to your partner as a way of providing words of affirmation.
- Quality Time — This is to provide your partner with your undivided attention, not simply sitting next to someone on the couch while you both watch TV. “A key ingredient in giving your spouse quality time is giving them focused attention, especially in this era of many distractions.”
- Receiving Gifts — This one is fairly obvious on the surface, but it doesn’t necessarily always need to be tangible gifts. It can easily blend into acts of service or spending quality time with your partner. Gifts can also be homemade or relatively cheap; they don’t always need to cost a lot of money.
- Acts of Service — Doing things that your partner would like you to do. This one is fairly simple and straightforward can be as easy as taking the garbage out for someone that doesn’t enjoy doing it. It shows you care enough, and know enough, about the other person to take a burden out of their life.
- Physical Touch — This is straightforward as well, but does NOT always or exclusively mean sex! All people want to feel desired, and physical tough is a great way to convey your desire for your partner. A simple reaching for your partner’s hand or touching their leg while you sit next to each other can be enough to make someone who’s Love Language is physical touch feel warm inside.
A natural question to ask from this is, “Are there more than 5 Love Languages?” While I have not found concrete evidence that there are more, I think the number of Love Languages is actually less important than simply being in-tune with what your partner needs to feel loved and fulfilled in the relationship. Maybe your partner doesn’t always feel as though you take their opinions seriously. While this isn’t a specific Love Language, it is an important part of being in a relationship. Unfortunately for the title of this blog, Gary states in the book, (paraphrased because his quote is only about marriage, but it applies to any intimate relationship):
We are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that a relationship is not a project to be completed or a problem to be solved.
Figuring out the specifics of how you and your partner feel loved isn’t always easy. I wasn’t really sure myself until reading this book and taking the quiz: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/ While the quiz is not perfect, it does provide a solid framework for understanding yourself and your partner. As is suggested in the book, if you cannot immediately figure out what your Love Language is, you can probably figure out which ones it is not. By elimination, you can usually narrow in on your Love Language(s).
Once you have an idea of your Love Language and your partner’s, it’s important to do things in your partner’s Love Language and vice versa. The book states this is one of the common missteps in a relationship, trying to “talk” your Love Language to your partner. For example, I’m someone who feels loved and fulfilled by Words of Affection. However, if my partner tries to provide me with gifts or performs acts of service for me, I won’t feel as loved as simple a simple statement of, “Good morning, I love you”. Once you figure out both people’s Love Language, it is pretty easy for most of us to do what is needed for the other to feel fulfilled.
The book also provides some tips on how to listen, a cornerstone of any healthy and fulfilling relationship:
- Maintain eye contact when your partner is talking. That keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that he/she has your full attention.
- Don’t listen to your partner and do something else at the same time. If you are doing something you cannot turn from immediately, tell your partner the truth. A positive approach might be, “I know you are trying to talk to me and I’m interested, but I want to give you my full attention. I can’t do that right now, but if you will give me ten minutes to finish this, I’ll sit down and listen to you.” Most partners will respect such a request.
- Listen for feelings. Ask yourself, “What emotion is my partner experiencing?” When you think you have the answer, confirm it. For example, “It sounds to me like you are feeling disappointed because I forgot blank.” That gives him the chance to clarify his feelings. It also communicates that you are listening intently to what he is saying.
- Observe body language. Clenched fists, trembling hands, tears, furrowed brows, and eye movements may give you clues as to what the other is feeling. Sometimes body language speaks one message while words speak another. Ask for clarification to make sure you know what she is really thinking and feeling.
- Refuse to interrupt. Research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas. If I give you my undivided attention while you are talking, I will refrain from defending myself or hurling accusations at you or dogmatically stating my position. My goal is to discover your thoughts and feelings. My objective is not to defend myself or to set you straight. It is to understand you.
All-in-all this book is fairly enlightening for most people. It is only when you truly know and understand yourself that you will be open to love and loving someone else. As he states in the book, “Love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself.” Once you know how your partner needs to be loved, it is as simple as making the commitment to love them that way or not.