When my marriage began to falter, I did what I do when faced with any problem: I delved into the literature. I was convinced I’d find the key to a happy relationship in the tomes I poured over night after night, earnestly highlighting, underlining, and scribbling notes. While my research may not have coughed up the answer, I did find some answers, many of them hidden behind cringe-worthy book covers featuring interlocking wedding rings or couples laughing on the beach.
Proof positive that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover: behind one of those beaming couples enjoying their moonlit walk was a game-changing idea profound in its simplicity. And I’m not the only one to think so: The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, by marital therapist Gary Chapman, spent over six years on The New York Times bestseller list.
In his work with couples, Chapman found that we each have one or two primary ways in which we express (and like to receive) love. Puzzled as to why your girlfriend is more interested in the card than the gift? You may just be speaking Swahili to a native Korean… (Diamonds are not every girl’s best friend!)
The five love languages Chapman identified are:
1. Words of affirmation, which include compliments, expressions of gratitude and being told ‘I love you’. Like, outloud.
2. For those for whom acts of service are important, actions speak louder than words. This involves gestures like making dinner, running errands, or even taking out the trash.
3. Receiving gifts (diamonds are some girls’ best friend). This is not as materialistic as it might sound at first blush. Those who value gifts value the thought and attentiveness behind them.
4. Quality time involves doing things together. While it may feel more rewarding if you’re engaged in an activity you both enjoy, some people just like to be in the same room (which may explain why your boyfriend wants you on the couch next to him while he’s watching the game).
5. Physical touch is tactile connection of all sorts, whether through sex, massage, cuddling or holding hands. Rejecting the advances of someone for whom this is important can be very hurtful, so if you’re not in the mood when your partner initiates, try to engage in another form of touch.
The good news is you don’t need to find someone from your native land, as it were—just being mindful of which of these love languages resonate most with your partner allows you to get more bang for the buck in terms of how you communicate your affection. AND be more appreciative of the ways he or she is showing love to you. Ingenious! And it’s not just for romantic relationships—taking love languages into account can help you be a better parent or friend as well.
Of course, some people are multilingual, and priorities can change in different stages of life (new mothers, for example, may appreciate acts of service no matter what their mother tongue).
So what’s your love language? If you didn’t get an aha! moment just by reading the descriptions, take Chapman’s online quiz here.