A great relationship is about 2 things: First, appreciating the similarities and second, respecting the differences.
Whether it’s a new subject at school, learning the ins and outs of a new work program, or absorbing the latest headlines and updates for current affairs, most people understand that there are individual differences in the ways we learn and retain new information. Some people learn better through visual information, while others prefer written words, or using their hands and kinaesthetic learning styles. Knowing the language your brain speaks helps you better interact with the world around you and lead a more effective life. But what about the language your heart speaks?
In the early 90’s Dr Gary Chapman introduced us to The 5 Love Languages. His book has now sold over 12 million copies and the idea of understanding one’s love language has become ubiquitous in many relationships and romance discussions.
According to Dr Chapman, the five love languages are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Each describes the different ways individuals recognise, feel and express love or affection. While they were developed through Dr Chapmans’ years counselling married couples, the applications go far beyond our romantic relationships. Just as we can adapt our learning styles to situations outside a classroom, our love languages translate to all of our human connections, and understanding them will help you develop stronger and deeper connections with those around you.
However, don’t rush off to take the quiz and post the result on your Tinder profile next to your star-sign and favourite cocktail just yet. Knowing your own language is only half the battle of meaningful communication - there are of course two sides to any relationship. But unlike speaking English, French or Spanish, two people don’t need to speak the same love language to connect.
While it might be nice to have all of your human connections interpret and express affection the same way you do, it isn’t the end of the world if they don’t. The pathway to more fulfilling relationships is through tailoring your own expressions of love (be they familial, platonic, professional or romantic) to what makes sense to the other person, in other words by empathising with them. “We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it,” Chapman writes in his acclaimed novel. “If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.”
Below is a description of the five languages and tips not only for recognising these languages in others but ways you can ‘speak’ these languages back to them and strengthen your relationship.
Words of Affirmation
This language centres on clear verbal or written expressions of care and affection that build up other people. Natives of this language will be the first to offer compliments, words of praise and appreciation, while being strongly affected by insults, finding it very difficult to forgive any negative comments from others.
For those looking to learn this language remember to verbalize what you think. Show your appreciation by sending random texts throughout the day, or leave a handwritten note in their briefcase or on their desk.
Acts of Service
For these people, actions speak louder than words. Natives of this language will do anything to ease the burden of others, be it household chores, pitching in with urgent work projects, or babysitting. In return, speakers of this language are most hurt by ambivalence and a lack of support for their own burdens.
For those looking to learn this language remember that actions performed out of obligation or with a negative tone aren’t going to mean much. You don’t need to completely remove or take on their burden, but try doing little things that will make their lives easier to show them how much you care.
This language is about both tangible and intangible items that display appreciation and recognition. Natives of this language will put great thought and effort into the gifts they give people. Whether it’s by remembering your favourite flavours, flowers or taste in music, the gift will display that they cared enough to think about you in advance and go out of their way to get something to make you smile. As such the absence of thoughtful gestures or a missed special occasion will be particularly hurtful to them.
For those looking to learn this language, as the saying goes, it truly is the thought that counts. Make notes in your diary for any shared special occasions, and pay attention to the little things that they care about. Surprise them with their coffee order unprompted or share a book from your own collection you think they will like. Gifts don’t have to cost money to show you care.
While this is an essential component to developing all relationships, speakers of this language will go out of their way to give you their undivided attention. More than just being present, these speakers will ignore their pinging devices to listen to what you have to say and will be hurt if they don’t feel heard in return.
For those looking to learn this language, Google Translate won’t help you, so put away your smart devices, turn off the TV and share a meal or go for a walk together, giving them not just your time, but your attention, your concern and your understanding.
People who speak this love language thrive on any type of physical touch: hand-holding, hugs, hi-fives, and pats on the back. The absence or denial of these physical connections will make them feel isolated and unseen.
For those looking to learn this language, it may seem the easiest to learn, but remember that while a hug or hand to hold can be healing and reassuring, it needs to be done in an atmosphere that’s not oppressive or inappropriate.
Recognising the love language of others can take time and effort, especially if it differs greatly from your own - but the pay-off is priceless. What makes them happy? When are they unhappy or complaining? By paying attention to the little things they say and do and really understanding their primary love language, no matter if it’s different from your own, will improve communication and strengthen your connection. You might even find they have been showing you how much they care in ways you hadn’t noticed before.