Do You and Your Partner Speak Different Love Languages?

Happy couple embracing and laughing on the beach

Jennifer comes home after a long day at work.  Jeff has just prepared dinner for her and their three children.  He is excited because he intends to inaugurate a special family meal involving a new recipe each week.   The dinner is ready when Jennifer comes home.  They sit and eat, and engage in a lively conversation.  However, after the dinner, Jennifer seems sad.  When Jeff asks why, Jennifer complained that Jeff never does anything to make her feel loved.

What’s going on here?  Jeff loves Jennifer.  He works to show his love by doing things for Jennifer – cooking meals, running errands, taking care of the kids.  He worked hard to prepare a special meal for Jennifer and the kids.  Jennifer appreciates the meal that Jeff made, but doesn’t see it as a loving act.  For her, dinner with the kids is, well, dinner with the kids!  Rather than making dinner, Jennifer would prefer that Jeff simply meet her at the door with flowers.   Jeff and Jennifer speak different love languages.

What does it take to make a relationship work?  Even an incomplete answer to this question would take volumes!   Successful relationships are born of chemistry and compatibility; they create a union while simultaneously allowing for the integrity of each partner. Good relationships provide a space in which couples can safely express their needs and work toward meeting them.  Good relationships are built upon the foundation of love and intimacy.  Intimacy is a type of knowing.  When we are intimate with someone, we come to know them deeply; we know their history; how they react to different situations; their likes and dislikes; what they value and what they don’t.  And of course, there is the importance of the “c word”: communication.   We are often told that the key to a good relationship is communication, communication, communication!  However, we are not ordinarily told what we should be communicating about and how we should go about doing the communicating!

Perhaps the most important things that we seek in our relationships is love.  We want to love and we want to be loved.   As a result, how we want to be loved is one of the must important things we can communicate about in our relationships!

But this seems counter-intuitive.  Why should we have to talk about how we want to be loved?  Isn’t it obvious?  It should go without saying!   I mean, if you really loved me you would… Well, you would what?  The simple fact is that there are different ways in which we communicate our love to others.  People differ in the ways in which they want to be loved.  It’s not one size fits all.

Five Love Languages

In his best-selling book, Gary Chapman The Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary Chapman describes five basic ways in which individuals tend to express their love to one another.  He calls these various ways of giving and receiving love “Love Languages”.  They include:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch

Different people tend to “speak” different love languages.  When two people speak the same love language, they are more likely to be able to give and receive love in ways that they desire, expect and appreciate.  However, partners speak different love languages, they tend to want and expect different ways of loving from each other.  They don’t understand what each other want because they aren’t speaking the same language.  Let’s examine each of these love languages.

Words of affirmation are statements that express appreciation for one’s partner.  They include loving language, compliments, words of praise, and acknowledgements of kind acts and other deeds.  They can include anything from statements such as “I love you” to more subtle acts of noticing (e.g.., “You got your hair done!  You look wonderful!”) to words that nurture and “build up” your partner’s confidence or sense of self.  For the person who desires words of affirmation, saying “Thank you for making coffee this morning” means, “I love you.”

Quality time involves planning time for doing meaningful things together.  Whether or not an activity is meaningful depends upon the needs and desires of each partner.  Something that is meaningful for couple may not be meaningful for another.  Some couples might find going white water rafting to an example of quality time.  Others might find sitting quietly together without distraction to be a meaningful activity.  For the person who craves quality time, taking time to be together means “I love you.”

Receiving gifts can be a powerful indicator of love.  A gift communicates that a series of loving messages: “I was thinking about you”; “I took time to choose this gift for you.”  If the gift is something that the receiver particularly likes or appreciates, the gift is an indicator of thoughtfulness and intimacy: “I know what you like and I care about giving you what you like.”  A gift need not be expensive, extravagant or faultless.  For the person who wants to know that you are thinking of him, taking the time to find a simple gift means, “I love you.”

Act of service include anything that one person does for another out of love.  It could include cooking dinner; going to the store, giving a backrub; cleaning the bathroom; taking care of the kids, or simply giving your partner the night off.   For a person who feels that love means doing things for others, taking out the trash means, “I love you.”

Physical touch communicates affection and connection.  After all, touching results in a physical connection between two people.   Physical touch can include anything from a simple touch of the arm while speaking, through holding hands, holding another in an embrace, to intimate sexual activity.   Physical touch is a sensual and intimate experience.   Allowing another person to touch us implies some degree of intimacy or openness to the other.  Being touched implies a desire on the part of the other person to be emotionally close to us.  For the person who wants to be feel close and desired, physical touch means, “I love you.”

Learning to Appreciate Each Other’s Love Language

Many couples are surprised to learn that their partner speaks a different love language.  Many individuals feel unloved or unappreciated in their relationships not because they are indeed unloved, but instead because they speak a different love language than their partner.  They are unable to recognize acts of love that their partners extend simply because those acts are expressed in a different language.   What’s a couple to do?

  1.  Identify your own love languages.  Identify the way that you prefer to be loved and to extend love.  Keep in mind that most people tend to speak more than one love language.  Identify your love languages.  Which are most important to you?
  2. Ask your partner to identify his or her love languages.  Don’t presume that you know what your partner’s love languages are.  Ask him or her to talk about how he or she wants to be loved and how he or she expresses love.
  3. Learn to identify and appreciate acts of love expressed in your partner’s love language.  This is often a difficult skill to develop.  If we prefer to be loved by hearing words of affirmation, it is often difficult to appreciate acts of service as legitimate acts of love.  But if that is how your partner expresses love, then you may be being loved without even knowing it!  If you learn to speak a few words of your partner’s language, you will come to appreciate the ways in which you are already being loved.
  4. Learn to love your partner by expressing love in his or her preferred language, and ask your partner to learn to express love in your preferred love language.  We all want to be loved in the ways that we recognize most clearly as loving acts.  As a result, try to move out of your comfort zone.  In baby steps, try to express your love to your partner using the languages that he or she prefers.  And there’s nothing wrong with a quid pro quo; tell your partner how you wish to be loved, and ask that he or she do so in return.