Love can feel like a game without rules or regulations. But what if there actually were guidelines that could help us understand how we give and receive love?
Enter “the five love languages,” as coined in Gary Chapman’s 1995 book. The love languages help you understand why some of your closest friends never verbally tell you they love you, why close relatives give you gifts even though you don’t see each other often, and perhaps most importantly, they’ll save you the mental energy of feeling strange for wanting or needing certain things in the first place.
How do you learn about the five love languages? First, you take an online quiz, which contains questions like, “It’s more meaningful to me when… someone I love sends me a loving note/text/email for no special reason, or I hug someone I love.” When you finish, you get scores for each language. Your highest score will pertain to the language most meaningful to you, and the lowest will give you insight on what you may not consider when giving or receiving love.
Here is a simple explanation of the five love languages, according to the traditional model:
Words of Affirmation: Hearing that you are loved, appreciated, etc. and being told why.
Physical Touch: Receiving a hug, holding hands down the street, or cuddling together on the couch.
Quality Time: Doing activities together with the phone down, really being present.
Gifts: Showing thoughtfulness and effort by gifting items, however big or small.
Acts of Service: Vacuuming the floors so the other person won’t have to.
Love languages explain why for some, actions really do speak louder than words—and for others, they don’t. Once I understood that, things began to click. I now understand why some friends insist on paying for brunch (something that used to make me uncomfortable, but I now welcome) or why others respond to a long, loving text with a mere two-word response—or worse, no response at all. It was all about how they uniquely showed and perceived love.
It’s worth asking yourself how you give and receive love more broadly. Consider: In what moments did you feel really loved, supported, or taken care of? When someone is important to you, how do you generally express that to them? Beyond big gestures, what small things do you do to make someone feel loved? Here are five “love languages” of my own that I’ve compiled from moments I found to be meaningful to me:
Showing support: Reading their articles *cough, cough*, going to a recital/art show/band performance.
Exchange: Listening to a new artist a friend suggested; sending them an article or meme.
Sharing: Showing vulnerability, letting someone in on personal details.
Saving: Holding onto old postcards, emails, gifts. I’m not a packrat, I’m just affectionate!
Taking Ownership: Showing humility and apologizing when you’re wrong to express that you consider and value the other person’s feelings as much as your own.
Something else I’ve found is that love languages vary from one relationship to another, and also can differ between romantic and platonic relationships. For instance, physical touch, however platonic and uncharged, is something I find myself expressing and needing primarily in romantic relationships. I’ve only begun hugging or cuddling with my friends in recent years, after learning about the five love languages. Understanding this model of affection allowed me to open my mind up a bit more about how love looks to different people and within different relationships. Love is about learning and speaking each others’ languages together.
For instance, you and your partner could have completely different love languages; your highest score could be his lowest. But that doesn’t make you incompatible. Chances are you probably use a few of the same ones and create some of your own to make sure you both feel loved and heard. In time, you’ll probably be able to guess new friends’ love languages—and be able to love and be loved even better for it.