Originally published on February 8, 2022
“Love me, love me… say that you love me.”
As far as I’m concerned, the classic 90s song from The Cardigans sums up exactly how I prefer to be loved—through verbal affirmations. But how does one define the experience of expressing and receiving love? Luckily, there’s a book devoted to that very topic.
Written by Gary Chapman, Ph.D., and published in 1992, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts identifies five ways that we modern humans express and receive love. After first hearing about Chapman’s book from a former boyfriend, I felt compelled to purchase a copy myself. Pleasantly surprised to find it read more like a novella, rather than some clunky self-help book, I soon realized that not everyone communicates love in the same way and that people have different ways that they prefer to receive love.
So what are the five love languages and what are some concrete examples to help illustrate them in our real-life romantic relationships? Let’s dive in.
Words of Affirmation
Ah, words of love. Personally, I’m a glutton for them and don’t claim otherwise—I am a writer, after all. Whether that’s an “I love you,” a touching poem, or verbal encouragement, these gestures make me feel seen and, perhaps most of all, appreciated.
If you or your partner speak this love language, this simply means that you value words that communicate love, appreciation, and respect. Beyond the gold standard “I love you,” other ways to show your partner you care include verbally acknowledging them when they’ve achieved something or perhaps openly expressing how you feel about them and the qualities you most admire.
Just as unkind words and criticism can be very upsetting to someone with this love language, so can inauthenticity. Make sure that if you say something lovely to your partner that it comes straight from the heart, not from a random book of compliments.
To quote the incomparable Bob Dylan, the lyrics to his song “To Be Alone With You” happily sum up this love language:
“To be alone with you
At the close of the day
With only you in view
While evening slips away
It only goes to show
That while life’s pleasures be few
The only one I know
Is when I’m alone with you.”
For those of you who light up when your partner suggests spending time with you and always seems down for hanging out, you’re looking at Quality Time as your love language. As the name suggests, this love language means you desire spending meaningful time with your partner, not to mention active listening and consistent eye contact.
Those with this love language put strong value on being in the same space as their partner—physically, emotionally, and mentally. So whether that’s starting a new TV series together on Netflix or taking a vacation together, it’s all about being actively engaged and present in the moment as a couple.
(Writer’s tip: Don’t have your phone out with Quality Timers. They often bristle at outside distractions, especially phones, which can take away from the connection.)
Acts of Service
Raise your hand if you love when your partner makes you breakfast in the morning, brews tea when you’re sick, or does the laundry without having to be asked.
If you raised your hand, you’re most likely looking at Acts of Service as your primary love language. This means you thoroughly appreciate a partner who just wants to make your life easier.
For those who identify with this love language, this means you firmly believe actions speak louder than words. Forget empty promises—you need someone to come through for you and show you that you can rely on them. Here it’s all about showing, not telling. This could range from doing the dishes to picking them up from the airport. It needn’t be grand, either—remember that your partner just wants to feel appreciated and helped.
It’s also worth mentioning that Acts of Service doesn’t mean that you are literally serving your partner. If you feel that your partner expects too much from you or that you simply don’t have the bandwidth in your daily schedule to “speak” this language, talk to them about it. An open dialogue is key to any healthy relationship.
Although the name itself might suggest someone who is overly materialistic, people with this love language see gifts as representations of love. For them, receiving a gift demonstrates that they are seen, cared for, and ultimately prized by their partner.
Here, the price tag doesn’t matter so much—it’s more the level of thoughtfulness behind it. A handcrafted card means way more than a Hallmark card, for example. If your partner values the gift-giving process, they’ll be the first to say, “It’s the thought that counts.” The gifts you give them serve as objects to help them remember you were thinking of them, which immediately fills them with joy and love.
So what are some ways to show your gift-loving partner you care? On your next date or trip together, make sure to take a special memento home with you (e.g., a seashell from your beach vacation). When your partner sees this item, they’ll be reminded of those special moments you shared together. And it goes without saying that birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are extra special so use those days as a reminder to show your love and commitment.
While some might recoil at the thought of PDA, others lavish it (ahem, yours truly).
Meet the Physical Touchers, whose love language revolves around physical signs of affection, including kissing, holding hands, cuddling, and, perhaps not surprisingly, sex.
When it’s consensual, those who speak this language feel warmth, appreciation, and comfort from the various forms of physical touch. Not sure if your partner is into physical touch? You’d know it if they were. Those who are tend to always want to be near you, physically, often sitting right next to you instead of across from you. To them, the closer you are, the better.
Little gestures such as a back massage when they’ve had a hard day or making time for physical intimacy in the evenings speak volumes. For them, a seemingly insignificant touch goes a very long way.
If you come to realize that you and your partner speak different love languages, don’t fret—see this as your opportunity to learn how to “speak” one another’s language. Not only does this help you understand each other’s needs better, but it also helps to foster growth within the relationship.
And remember, you might just show your love and receive your love in different ways. For example, you may enjoy giving gifts to your partner, but you actually prefer when your partner gives you their undivided attention (quality time).
Ultimately, it’s up to us as individuals to let our partners know what makes us feel loved and vice versa. You might just be surprised by how empowering it feels to share your needs, and how enlightening it may be for your loved one to hear those very needs said aloud.
As a born-and-bred American who now resides in Germany, Erin is a freelance writer with over 10 years of copywriting experience from her time in Stockholm, Sweden, and New York City. A self-professed storyteller with a serious case of wanderlust, she has a penchant for all things fashion, film, food, and travel.