When the book, The Five Love Languages, first fell into my hands, I was curious, but skeptical. Personally, I didn’t believe that how we loved could be distilled into five simple categories, but Gary Chapman’s love language book has sold over six million copies since first published in 1992. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t.
Chapman is a pastor and marriage counselor. Early in his counseling career, he began to discern patterns of how people give and receive love. He divided these patterns into five categories or love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time. He claims that when people understand the love language of others, their relationships can greatly improve.
As I read about the love languages, grateful for Chapman’s straightforward, easy-to-read style, I immediately began to recognize myself and members of my family within the different love categories. Chapman says that while all the love languages are important and necessary for everyone, people usually resonate strongly with just one category, what he calls their primary love language. I didn’t even need to take the short test Chapman offers on his website to determine my own love language. (www.5lovelanguages.com) Soon I was trying to detect the love language of everyone I knew.
Words of Affirmation
Remember the old schoolyard chant: “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.” This rings false for people like my oldest daughter, my mother, and myself whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation. What people do or do not say to us matters a great deal. The smallest compliment can delight us, and a simple note of encouragement can empower us to reach for great heights. On the flipside, an insult can be demoralizing and send us on a downward spiral. Words are how we express our love as well. Emma leaves little love notes on my pillow and between the pages of my books. I love to write encouraging emails to my friends, and if you need a letter of recommendation, I’m your girl. Those who love through Words of Affirmation also share a tendency to be sharp-tongued and critical when hurt or angry. For those of us in this category, there is something to be said for the proverb: “Think twice, speak once.”
Acts of Service
Some people, such as my husband, prefer to give and receive love through Acts of Service. These are any act that eases their burden of responsibility. Understanding the love language of Acts of Service was a huge revelation for me. I finally understood why my husband didn’t respond to the love notes I slipped in his briefcase or care about how many times I told him I loved him. These things didn’t register as gestures of love to him. By studying the love languages, I learned that he feels most loved when I picked up his dry cleaning or cook him his favorite dinner. I also have learned to recognize that when he does something for me, like fills my car with gas or repaints the trim in the kitchen, he is trying to show me his love, even if he doesn’t come right out and say it. As simple as it seems, the most loving thing I can do for my spouse is get up early and make his coffee for him. He is most grateful, especially if I remembered to buy the cream.
It is easy to recognize the people in this love category. They are the huggers, the hand shakers, the cheek kissers. They will pat you on your back or touch your arm in support. The love language of Physical Touch is all about making contact. In Chapman’s spinoff book, The Five Love Languages of Children, he remarks that it is somewhat difficult to determine the love languages of small children. That said, he does offer a love language test for children on his website. When my children took the test, they both scored high in the area of Physical Touch, which surprised me. They both would rather have a hug than a gift or a favorite meal. Although neither my husband nor I are touchy-feely people, fortunately we do display a lot of physical affection toward our children. It is also fortunate that, as my daughter Clara says, “We aren’t a ‘spanking’ family.” Spanking can be devastating to a child who favors physical touch as a love language.
My sister’s birthday is two weeks after Christmas–a time when people are out of money and the gift-giving spirit. This is most unfortunate, because her love language is Receiving Gifts. For her, and others in this category, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are cared for and prized above whatever was sacrificed to make that gift possible. My sister will scream with delight if she gets a gift she loves. And the gift giving goes both ways. She practically goes broke each holiday season buying just the right thing for each person remotely connected to her life. Gift giving has always been an issue for her and me, as I scored a solid zero in this love language category. I could not care less about birthdays or holidays, and hate opening gifts in front of others because I never feel I can muster the appropriate enthusiasm even when I love what I have received. (But I write great thank you notes.) Learning about the love language of gifts has helped me appreciate and understand this love category a bit better. Years ago, I lost a friend because I forgot her birthday. At the time I thought she overreacted, but if I had known then what I know now, I would have recognized Receiving Gifts as her love language and been a bit more attentive regarding her important day.
One of the most interesting stories Chapman relays in his book The Five Love Languages of Children has to do with the love language Quality Time. Chapman describes a father who had a difficult relationship with his son. When his son asked for help, the father, wanting his child to gain independence, would tell him to figure it out for himself like his siblings had. But once the father realized that his son’s love language was Quality Time, he understood that when his son asked for help he was also asking for love. The love language of Quality Time requires full, undivided attention. My youngest daughter scored highest in this area. I found this alarming because I am an accomplished multitasker, just the thing that makes a person craving quality time feel unloved and unappreciated. I have taken to mentally scheduling little one-on-one breaks with Clara–a morning wake-up conversation, a bit of time in the afternoon to work a puzzle together, and an evening bedtime routine of talking and writing about our day–to make sure she is getting her special kind of love from me.
According to Chapman, if you don’t receive enough of your specific love language and a good smattering of all the others, your “love tank” will run dry. Interestingly enough, Chapman discovered that we are usually drawn to a partner who speaks a different love language than our own. (Hence the need for marriage counseling.) He says it is crucial that couples and parents understand how to give the love their partner and children NEED, not necessarily the love that is easiest to express.
To help assure that you and your loved ones have full love tanks, Chapman suggests “tank checks” once or twice a week. He recommends asking one another, “How full is your love tank?” and “What can I do to fill your love tank?” Even an informal check-in can be effective when your spouse isn’t a “words” person and your children are young. Sometimes, when my husband has left a lot of little things undone, I know that it is time to ask him, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” Usually, all it takes is for me to drive the kids to school a couple of extra mornings so he can exercise or help out with a couple of chores, and we are back on track.
I never imagined becoming fluent in the love languages could be as helpful as it is. Last night, I noticed that my oldest daughter Emma had taped to her headboard several of the notes I’d put in her lunches over the years. Some went as far back as Kindergarten. I made a mental note to slip a card into her backpack, gave her a long hug, and told her four different ways that I loved her. Her tank full, she went right to sleep.