Love Languages: What is the Best Way to Give and Receive Love?

Today’s post comes courtesy of Morgan Kupersmith, a recently-graduating student from Drexel University’s Master of Family Therapy program. 

Have you ever wondered why the effort that you put into your relationships sometimes goes unnoticed? You put the dishes away for your mom, pick up your friend’s homework when they are home sick, take out the trash so your little brother does not have to do it yet no one does any of this for you! When you love someone, whether it be a romantic partner, sibling, aunt, or parent you want to love them the way they deserve. You want to do things for them to make their life easier, right? You do not necessarily expect them to do these exact things in return but you may want a little reciprocity, do you not? If I just described you, you most likely have a primary love language of “acts of service”.

Image of a couple holding hands on a boardwalk while looking out at the ocean

What are the Love Languages?

Introduced by Gary Chapman in 1995, the concept of the love language has since shaped the way we think about how people view and act in their relationships. A love language is a way that people communicate and understand love. It is the metaphorical language we speak when are telling someone we love them, and the language we need to understand to hear that someone loves us back. According to Chapman, there are five love languages that encompass all of the ways people give and receive their love. A person can have a primary and secondary love language and he developed a questionnaire to asses them. The love languages are: acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.

“Acts of Service” involves doing things for other people that normally they would have to do themselves. “Words of Affirmation” are when someone says kind things and telling you that they love you outwardly. “Receiving Gifts” encompasses giving and receiving gifts. “Quality Time” involves taking the time to just “be” with the person you love and have them around and actively engaging in spending time together. Finally, the love language of physical touch means that in order to feel loved by someone there needs to be a level of physical touch that is not necessarily sexual, but can be small acts of physical affection.

It is important to note that when we think of what love languages actually are, we need to remember that they are the way we best receive our love. For instance, if your primary love language is acts of service and you are doing acts of service for others, but no one is doing acts of service for you, you are not going to feel as loved as if someone was doing those things for you. That being said, those for whom you perform an act of service may have a different love language and, even though you are loving them your way, you may not be loving them their way and they may not feel as loved. This is very much a two-way street that is defined by how people receive love rather than our preferred way of expressing love to others. We can use the love languages to the best of our ability but finding out our own and the language of the ones we love in order help everyone feel the most loved.

Who Uses This?

Chapman’s love language theory and conceptualization are very prevalent among clergy but they are also prevalent in premarital therapy and I have also seen some prevalence in Family Life Education or general psychoeducation classes. Regarding premarital therapy, there are many different premarital courses or systems that a couple could go through that do not include love languages. However, if love languages are brought up, it is usually based on the therapist’s personal preference and it is included in therapy as an additional resource for the couple in order to prepare them to navigate their coupled life.

Why is this Helpful?

The concept of love languages is super helpful when trying understand someone else’s perspective. It is something that I personally have had success in using with clients because it provides a way to specify what exactly someone is looking for from their loved one and what they are receiving. By being able to understand that perhaps the way that you want to be loved is not the same way that someone else wants to be loved can be transformative in the way that two people relate to each other. This is a concept that can be generalized to the outside world as well in the sense of realizing that your own personal experience may not be the experience of others.

Limitations

One of the limitations of love languages is that there is not a lot of research. This is problematic because we do not really know for sure if this concept is something that is beneficial for couples or relationships or just another way to think about communication. Another limitation is that it not based in cultural competence. This concept is mainly used for married couples and in premarital counseling. That is to say, it does not take into consideration different couple dynamics or different communication techniques that could be influenced by the culture of the people in the relationship. There is also not much mention about racial or ethnic identification and perhaps that could be another area of growth for this concept.

Overall, I personally believe that the idea of love languages teaches us to slow down in the judgments that we make about our loved ones and allows us to ask for what we need as well as give others what they need. This is not a quick fix for relationship communication issues but more so a little tool to put in your back pocket if you want to try to get the most out of the people that you love!

Source: Chapman, Gary D., and Jocelyn Green. (2017). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield.

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