The one who chooses to love will find appropriate ways to express that decision. – Dr. Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
What does love mean to you? How do you express it? In what ways would you feel loved by another person?
Most, if not all, would agree that communication is an essential aspect of a relationship. Verbal and non-verbal, subtle and overt, there are many ways to communicate love.
But what if we don’t speak the same language?
No matter how many times I tell you “Mahal kita,” if Filipino is not your language, you wouldn’t understand me, would you?
The same is true of relationships. What love is to one may not be love to another. We might assume the other person doesn’t love us when the truth is we just misunderstood their means of communicating love.
After thirty years of marriage counseling, Dr. Gary Chapman has arrived at that conclusion: we give and receive love differently. And the various ways we communicate love fall into five major categories. Hence, the 5 love languages:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Already have an idea about what language/s you use? Let’s find out!
Primary and Secondary Languages
Seldom do a husband and wife have the same primary emotional love language. We tend to speak our primary love language, and we become confused when our spouse does not understand what we are communicating. We are expressing our love, but the message does not come through because we are speaking what, to them, is a foreign language.
Once you identify and learn to speak your spouse’s primary love language, I believe that you will have discovered the key to a long-lasting, loving marriage. Love need not evaporate after the wedding, but in order to keep it alive most of us will have to put forth the effort to learn a secondary love language. We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it. If we want him/her to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in his or her primary love language.
Have you also wondered why they’re not responding to you? Like you’ve tried your best to be creative in expressing your love and all you get in return is “Okay.”
You could be speaking what to them is a foreign language. Therein lies the fundamental problem, Dr. Chapman points out. They simply don’t understand your language.
Each person has a native tongue, a primary language we use for communication. In relationships, Dr. Chapman says that in order to be effective in communicating love, we must learn each other’s primary love language.
Your partner’s primary love language then will be your secondary love language.
When we have become proficient in speaking each other’s love language, our expression of love would be better understood and there’s a greater chance of it being returned in kind.
Child psychologists affirm that every child has certain basic emotional needs that must be met if he is to be emotionally stable. Among those emotional needs, none is more basic than the need for love and affection, the need to sense that he or she belongs and is wanted. With an adequate supply of affection, the child will likely develop into a responsible adult. Without that love, he or she will be emotionally and socially retarded.
Throughout the book, Dr. Chapman uses the term “love tank” to describe our basic emotional need that is yearning to be filled since childhood.
Whether or not this love tank has been filled by our primary caregivers (i.e. parents), to the level that this need has been met, largely determines the primary love language we will have as adults.
This again shows the huge impact our childhood has on our later life. Our behavior is shaped by our desire to be loved and feel love. Or should I say, be love and feel loved.
Dr. Chapman writes it clearly: we needed love before we fell in love. As children, we solely depended on our parents to fill that need. But now that we’ve grown into mature adults, it is our duty to ourselves that we fill our love tank and keep it full.
It is only from a full love tank that we can supply love to others. We must know the language of love first before we can learn to communicate it.
Real Love or Limerence
It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth. Our most basic emotional need is not to fall in love but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct.
That kind of love requires effort and discipline. It is the choice to expend energy in an effort to benefit the other person, knowing that if his or her life is enriched by your effort, you too will find a sense of satisfaction—the satisfaction of having genuinely loved another. It does not require the euphoria of the “in love” experience. In fact, true love cannot begin until the “in love” experience has run its course.
Falling in love… Aaaah, such a euphoric human experience. But like any other experience, the feeling doesn’t last. In fact, Dr. Chapman relays the studies of Dr. Dorothy Tennov, who concluded that the average life span of romance in a typical relationship is 2 years.
2 years! So better make the most of it, eh? Hah!
And Dr. Tennov has a name for this falling-in-love thing. She calls it “Limerence” just to differentiate it from the word love.
Dr. Gary says that while Limerance is not real love, it can be an entry point to it. He describes it as the introduction, but the main part is the real thing – a kind of love that is volitional. In short, real love is a choice.
It is a choice to love when the romantic stage is over. It is a choice to nurture the personal growth of your beloved, as well as your own.
While falling in love is effortless, choosing to love requires work. This is where the 5 love languages come in. They are love in action.
Words of Affirmation
Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love. They are best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation.
On to the first language of love: Words of Affirmation
It relates to the first of The Four Agreements. Do you remember? Be impeccable with your word. It means to use words in the direction of love.
But how often are we using words to find the fault in someone, to blame, or anything that is in opposition to love? Hmm, it’s worth taking the time to examine that.
Because it’s a language, words of affirmation have many dialects, too. Dr. Chapman lists some of them in the book:
- Verbal Compliments, or Appreciation – Every time your partner does something good, give them a verbal compliment. Example: “I appreciate you for preparing the meals we had this morning.”
- Encouraging Words – Encourage means “to inspire courage.” Did you know that courage has the root word cor, which is Latin for “heart”? Yep, courage and love are closely related words. When you encourage someone, you bring out the best in them. You could be a catalyst for them to go for their dreams, their heart’s innermost desires.
- Kind Words – Love is kind. It really boils down to two choices: to be right or to be kind. And if you love the person, you already know the answer… You’re right! When you are kind, you are always right.
- Humble Words – You can make requests, but not demand them. You can ask in a humble way. Humility shows that you respect the other person. It means you acknowledge your equality, which signifies a loving partnership.
But of course, saying “I love you,” and truly meaning it is always the most beautiful words to hear.
A central aspect of quality time is togetherness. I do not mean proximity. Two people sitting in the same room are in close proximity, but they are not necessarily together. Togetherness has to do with focused attention.
While reading true to life examples in the book, as well as other references on relationships (be they blogs, podcasts, or YouTube clips), along with my own experience, I’m finding that Quality Time is the primary language for many people, mostly women.
Why? Because Quality Time is an aspect of being, not doing, or having. While your partner may appreciate you doing things for them, or having things you gift them, what they really yearn for is your presence – you, being fully present with them. (Check out our insight, Human and Being, from A New Earth)
Dr. Chapman calls it “togetherness.” That’s being together. You give your partner your focused attention. Your attention is on whatever is happening during the moments you spend with each other, not elsewhere. Whenever you give your attention, you are not only sharing a piece of your time – you are sharing a piece of you.
It’s exactly what the dialect of this love language pertains to: Quality Conversation. While Words of Affirmation is the “speaking” part, this one is the “listening” part. You are lending your ears with a heart wide open – fully accepting, unconditionally loving. You are not only receiving the words you hear; you are also receiving the person.
Quality activities may include anything in which one or both of you have an interest. The emphasis is not on what you are doing but on why you are doing it. The purpose is to experience something together, to walk away from it feeling “He cares about me. He was willing to do something with me that I enjoy, and he did it with a positive attitude.” That is love, and for some people it is love’s loudest voice.
The activities are limited only by your interest and willingness to try new experiences. The essential ingredients in a quality activity are: (1) at least one of you wants to do it, (2) the other is willing to do it, (3) both of you know why you are doing it—to express love by being together.
Because I personally recommend working on the love language Quality Time to anyone, especially couples, I’m roaring for it once more so it may echo the loudest, giving emphasis to its major dialect: Quality Activities.
We’re here for the experience. And loving memories are the ones we’ll carry with us throughout eternity. Dr. Chapman says Quality Activities provide us the memory bank from which to draw during the golden years.
To know someone is to love someone. While Me-Time is an essential aspect of self-love, which is the foundation of a healthy loving relationship, We-Time with your loved one builds it.
The Gift of Self
There is an intangible gift that sometimes speaks more loudly than a gift that can be held in one’s hand. I call it the gift of self or the gift of presence.
The third love language: gifts. Dr. Chapman says at the heart of love is the spirit of giving. And that gifts are visual symbols of love.
Any guess what best symbolizes love? Look no further – it’s you. You are the best symbol of love to your partner. Dr. Chapman calls it “the gift of self.”
And then there are tangible things we can give that also represents our love for the person. These material gifts serve as an extension of ourselves. Wedding rings, for example, are a symbol of a couple’s commitment to each other.
That’s why gifts hold much sentimental value because of their association with the person who gives them.
So don’t hold back in giving the most you can to someone you love. Because if it’s love you’re giving away, you’re not losing anything. And the love you give always comes back to you.
Serve from Love
Love is always freely given. Love cannot be demanded. We can request things of each other, but we must never demand anything. Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love.
The last two love languages are probably what we’re most familiar with. Coming in at fourth is Acts of Service.
Dr. Chapman has three observations on this:
- What we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. After the honeymoon period, we go back to the person who behaves differently – influenced by the model of our parents, our individual perceptions and many other beliefs or conditioning patterns that shaped the person we’ve become.
- Love is a choice and cannot be coerced. Love is an act of will. We may do a lot of things for a person, but are they acts of love or acts of obligation? We cannot use, manipulate, or coerce someone to do things for us in the name of love. We are human beings, not human doings. We are people, not objects.
- Criticism is an ineffective way of pleading for love. When your partner criticizes something that you do, say your hobby, it could be their way of indirectly asking you to do something else that is more important to them.
As with everything, it’s important to remember that when it’s about “you do this for me and I will do this for you,” the relationship becomes more of a business than love.
To love is choosing to do things of our own volition, as acts of love, without expecting or needing anything in return.
The Body is for Touching
Whatever there is of me resides in my body. To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.
How do you feel when someone you love holds your hand during difficult times? Even without saying a single word, it makes you feel a little better. It’s because you feel their presence through their touch. That’s the power of the last love language: Physical Touch.
Okay, boys, I know what you’re thinking. Easy pick for our primary language, eh? Well, before we unbuckle, consider what Dr. Chapman has to say about it:
For the male, sexual desire is physically based. That is, the desire for sexual intercourse is stimulated by the buildup of sperm cells and seminal fluid in the seminal vesicles. When the seminal vesicles are full, there is a physical push for release. Thus, the male’s desire for sexual intercourse has a physical root.
For the female, sexual desire is rooted in her emotions, not her physiology. There is nothing physically that builds up and pushes her to have intercourse. Her desire is emotionally based.
Sexual desire is a biological imprint for both. For us boys, just because we’re wired for it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s our primary language. And now we know better, that girls have different wiring altogether.
So, it’s important to reassess whether we’re only fulfilling a need or a genuine physical expression of love.
And equally important is learning what our primary language is and that of our partner. As Dr. Chapman advises, what having sex is to one could mean doing the laundry to another; both expressions of love. Same love, different language.
Love is a Choice
We discover the primary love language of our spouse, and we choose to speak it whether or not it is natural for us. We are not claiming to have warm, excited feelings. We are simply choosing to do it for his or her benefit. We want to meet our spouse’s emotional need, and we reach out to speak his love language. In so doing, his emotional love tank is filled and chances are he will reciprocate and speak our language. When he does, our emotions return, and our love tank begins to fill.
Love is a choice. And either partner can start the process today.
I love writing. I love it more when people get inspired by what I write; when they feel the love I poured into what I’ve written. But do I always like writing? Oh, how I wish! I wish I can write the most beautifully crafted poems effortlessly. I wish it doesn’t require me to deliberately choose to practice, to learn the correct grammar and use of punctuation, and widen my vocabulary. I wish writing would write itself for me.
But that wouldn’t be love anymore.
The same goes with loving someone. It’s not mere wishful thinking, but a choice. And action follows that decision, whether it naturally comes to us or not.
Because love is a commitment. It means you are committed to be loving unconditionally. It’s no longer about liking it or not, but choosing to act on love regardless of any condition.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
GARY CHAPMAN – author, speaker, counselor – has a passion for people and for helping them form lasting relationships. He is the #1 bestselling author of The 5 Love Languages series and director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, Inc. Gary travels the world presenting seminars, and his radio programs air on more than 400 stations.
For more information visit his website at 5lovelanguages.com.