You may express affection to your children and significant other regularly, but do you truly take the time to ensure you are communicating it the way they understand it? Studies show that expressing love can often get “lost in translation.”
When my kids were young, and in the hope of getting the message through clearly in those critical early years, I bought the bestseller The Five Languages of Love after another mommy raved about it.
Though the concept of Love Languages is over 20 years old, the idea that we all have different ways of expressing and receiving love has stuck around since. Gary Chapman, PhD, published it in 1995, and it remains one of the bestselling relationship books of all time, having helped millions of people. The concept not only applies to children but to your partner, close family members, and… yourself!
“I do find it to be a very useful tool and use it in all of my work with couples,” says Stefani Goerlich, a Detroit-based psychotherapist. “I have found that eight times out of 10, whatever the issues are that my client-couples bring to the table, they are rooted in a fundamental misalignment in how each partner gives and receives love.”
Goerlich uses the five love languages as a framework for helping couples learn to communicate better about their needs.
The disconnect happens when we, unknowingly, insist on loving someone in the way of our choosing — and not in the way that they need. Love languages aren’t a matter of preference but of interpretation. If we dote on physical touch but instead receive gifts, we may feel unloved because we are not getting love in the way we perceive it. One action may communicate love to us, while another fails to translate it.
In his book, learning how to show affection effectively has been categorized into five main pillars. Having this insight allows our loved ones to keep their glass half-full in the love department.
It never occurred to me that we needed to have a guide to channel affection but in fact, it makes so much sense. As parents, our top priority is to love our children well, so understanding their language and being in the know of what they are receptive to the most gives us a better chance to get our love message through as clearly as possible.
Now, take note that these categories are not carved in stone and they can change as children and relationships grow and shift. They are merely a guideline to help us express and accept love in ways that strengthen and deepen our connection with the people around us.
Although these pillars apply to children, teens, and adults, they will manifest in different ways.
“We all may relate to most of these languages, but each of us has one that speaks to us the most," says marriage and family therapist Sunny Motamedi, Psy.D. "Discovering your children and partner's primary love language and expressing it regularly may create a clearer understanding and a closer relationship.”
When you are first learning about love languages, it is important to find and pinpoint your own preferred language once you get familiarized with them. Usually, it's quite clear to figure out but if in doubt, there is a simple quiz at the end of the article you can take to have more clarity.
A few things to remember:
- Every person will have a primary love language that goes straight to the heart, but it does not mean that the other four types of love should be eliminated or ignored.
- There are no incompatible languages. Typically, people have one main love language and a secondary one. It is important to know yours so you can ask for what you need and in turn, show your children, partner and loved ones’ appreciation in the way they are receptive to it.
Chapman’s five languages are universal: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Gifts and Physical Touch.
Let us take a look at how they work and which ones resonate with you the most. Below each language, there is a list of suggestions (by ftd.com) to implement and put each one into practice.
Words of Affirmation: Giving compliments, thanks, and other positive comments.
People with Words of Affirmation as their language value verbal acknowledgments of affection, including "I love you," compliments, words of appreciation, and verbal encouragement. The key to using words of affirmation is to be your authentic self and express them often either through words, a letter, or a text.
Here are some things you can do:
- Leave them a sticky note on the bathroom mirror saying, “You are the best,” “ I love you,” and “You make me happy.”
- Compliment a project they’ve recently completed.
- Send them a letter by mail telling them how lucky you are to have them in your life.
- Call them just to say how much you love them.
- Write them a nice note and pack it with their lunch.
- Give them a bracelet that says “I love you” to wear.
- Hang their art on the fridge and tell them how much you love it.
- Tell them you appreciate them when they do their chores.
- Share five reasons why you love them.
- Write down what you like about yourself or what you are proud of having overcome or achieved.
- Repeat self-love affirmations to yourself in the mirror.
- Save notes people have written to you and read them later.
Quality Time: Offering full, undivided attention and finding joy in activities done together.
People whose love language is Quality Time feel love when their parent or partner actively wants to spend time with them and is physically present. That could include active listening, and eye contact with no distractions from phone screens or any outside interference.
Quality time looks different to everyone. Some people value a few minutes of dedicated time to just sit and relax together at the end of the day. For others, quality time means setting aside time to purposely enjoy activities together.
- Try out a new restaurant or cook together.
- Go for a walk after dinner.
- Plan a romantic picnic, without phones.
- Buy tickets for a movie or play they’ve been wanting to see.
- Schedule a weekly date night.
- Play board games or video games with them.
- Go watch a funny movie together. Laughter brings closeness.
- Take them on a lunch date without any other siblings.
- Bake cookies or cake together.
- Play catch or Frisbee in the yard.
- Take a road or overnight trip or stay in a fun hotel for a weekend.
- Read a book in bed.
- Take a candle-lit bubble bath.
- Attend a yoga or meditation class.
- Journal your thoughts.
Acts of Service: Willing to do things that ease a child or partner's burdens.
If your love language is Acts of Service, you value when your parent or partner goes out of their way to make your life easier. Simple things like bringing you some soup when you're sick, making your green juice in the mornings or picking up your dry cleaning when you had a busy day at work.
I believe this one is mine. This love language is for people who believe that actions speak louder than words. People on this list like to be shown how they're appreciated. Doing the smaller and bigger chores to make their lives easier is highly cherished.
Examples of Acts of Service could be:
- Serve them breakfast in bed on a weekend.
- Take the dog for a walk.
- Do the grocery shopping/take out the garbage.
- Cook dinner.
- Take the kids out on Sunday mornings so they can get some extra hours of sleep.
- Do a chore they’ve been dreading.
- Help them clean their room.
- Let them choose the movie the family watches.
- Cook them their favorite meal.
- Help them with their homework.
- Order takeout food so you don’t have to worry about cooking after work.
- Start using a laundry service to pick up your laundry or dry-cleaning.
- Invest in a robotic vacuum.
- Find a professional to do your annual tax returns.
Gifts: Physical tokens that are representative of your love for them.
Gifts are a pretty straightforward love language: you feel loved when people give you "visual symbols of love," Chapman writes. Showing love through gifts isn’t about extravagance. A small memento will be just as appreciated because, big or small, a gift is a tangible reminder that they were thought of and are loved.
For someone whose love language falls under gifts, it goes way beyond just wanting stuff. For this person, it’s all about the meaning behind the gift. Be authentic and thoughtful when gifting your partner. Don’t have your secretary or assistant buy it for you and if it’s a garment you are offering, make sure it’s the right size. One size too small could prove disastrous.
Some other ideas:
- Bring them their favorite flowers or a bottle of fine champagne — just because.
- Buy them something they’ve been wanting for a while.
- Send them a surprise package at work.
- Put together a playlist and explain why you chose each song for them.
- Sign them up for a class they’ve been wanting to take.
- Buy them a new piece of clothing you know they would like and lay it out on their bed.
- Let them pick out one new toy at the store.
- Surprise them with a present — just because.
- Pack a small gift in their school bag.
- Get them their favorite treat at the grocery store.
- On your way home pick up their favorite pastry or treat.
How would you know what language your children prefer? It’s straightforward: just ask them.
- Buy yourself your favorite dessert.
- Order something off your wish list.
- Have an extra glass of wine.
- Create a photo album of your favorite memories.
- Gift yourself a detox retreat weekend.
Physical Touch: Holding hands, hugging, and caressing.
People with Physical Touch as their primary language feel loved when they receive physical signs of affection, such as kissing, touching, holding hands, cuddling and sex. Physical intimacy with your partner can be incredibly affirming and serve as a powerful emotional connector for people with this love language. Children feel safe and calm down when they are tenderly held and value the feeling of warmth and comfort that comes with it.
- Give them a back rub or massage—before they ask for one.
- Put your arm around them or hold their hand while you’re out in public.
- Give them a hug or a kiss, just because.
- Schedule cuddling or snuggling time as a date.
- Take them out for a night of dancing.
- Let them sit on your lap while you read to them.
- Caress their back when they are sitting beside you.
- Brush or touch their hair.
- Give them a surprise piggyback ride around the house.
- Hold their hand while shopping together.
- Cuddle them to help them fall asleep.
- Schedule a manicure, pedicure or any pampering service for yourself.
- Snuggle with your pet.
- Sleep with a weighted blanket.
Love languages are a useful tool to improve how we communicate, express ourselves to each other and have a more profound connection.
How would you know what language your children prefer? It’s straightforward: just ask them. I did that with my two. “What does Mommy do that makes you feel she loves you?” They had a long list to give me right then and there. Alternatively, an easy, all-ages quiz can be taken to help you figure out which is theirs, your and your partner’s primary and secondary love language. Visit the website www.5languages.com/quizzes to find out more.
So I recommend you try it. Discover your language. It might just bring new positive insights into your family dynamics and relationships moving forward. God knows we all need to feel loved and appreciated. In the right ways.