There may be a million ways to say ‘I love you’—grand gestures, physical affection, words of encouragement, support, gifts, quality time together, to name a few—but it gets tricky when we do not know how our partners like love to be expressed.
So how does one know the right way to show someone how much they love them? Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, radio host, and pastor, reviewed more than 30 years of his marriage counseling notes to categorize the five most dominant love languages—the ways in which a person feels loved, appreciated, and seen in a relationship. These categories are
- Words of affirmation
- Spending quality time together
- Acts of service
- Physical touch and affection.
Now let us understand each one.
Words of Affirmation
This involves appreciating, paying a compliment, or sharing words of support and encouragement with your partner. Some partners would rather be told that they are doing a good job and that you stand by them than be told that you love them. And that’s their love language—that’s how they understand, perceive or accept love. Giving them many gifts doesn’t hold much value for them; they prefer to hear nice things being said to them about who they are or their work instead.
How do we express love to someone whose love language is a word of affirmation?
- Compliment their looks, work, an accomplishment, or personal qualities.
- Send them a love note or a cute text, and show unconditional support in whatever they do in life.
Spending Quality Time Together
For someone whose preferred love language is quality time spent together, love translates to being totally present and being listened to with no gadgets, no distractions—total undivided attention.
You can bring them flowers and gifts and tell them how beautiful they are, but they need your undivided attention.
How do you express love to someone whose love language is spending time together?
- Spend more downtime with them, without distractions.
- Book couple’s activities—hiking, salsa lessons, going on a surprise no-phone date, or going to a concert.
- Once every month or week, or for an hour each day, go no-gadget.
Some people feel most loved and happy when presented with material gifts. This includes the whole package, from what you pick for them to how much time and thought you put into picking the gift to the presentation of the gift.
Now, that does not mean it has to be an expensive gift. Often, it is just the thought and gesture of bringing a gift that counts. When you give a gift that they wanted, it tells them that they are valued and that you have taken the time to know them. Such people like to save the gifts they receive from their loved ones. They remember these moments more than others.
How to express love to someone whose love language is receiving gifts?
- Make them a mix tape of their favorite artists.
- Gift them a watch.
- Take them out shopping at their favorite store.
- Buy a cute dress/shirt in the color they like.
- Bring them souvenirs from your trip abroad; bonus points for gifts that are personalized, i.e., shells with their names written on them or key chains with a picture of both of you on them, etc.
Acts of Service
Who doesn’t like to know they aren’t alone on this journey called life, right? People whose love language is acts of service feel most loved when you support them with completing tasks, running errands, helping out with the kids, walking pets, or simply cooking or cleaning every now and then. They do not necessarily look for big gestures, gifts, or assurances in love, but just some understanding and support when they feel like they are drowning under the burden of things to do.
How to express love to someone whose love language is an act of service?
- Offer to cook an elaborate dinner, breakfast, or lunch.
- Water their plants.
- Walk their pets.
- Stay back and help out with cleaning after the guests have left.
Some people like a physical expression of love, for example, a kiss, hug, holding their hands or arms, cuddling, spooning, or a nice massage. This is their dominant love language—they like nothing more than being held often.
And so, these people may find it difficult to sustain relationships with people who are not physically affectionate. You may be great at helping out with chores or writing love notes, but the relationship may experience tension and a lack of connection if you cannot show physical affection.
How to express love to someone whose love language is physical touch?
- Kiss them when they are least expecting it, but in a nice way.
- Hold their hand or gently graze your fingers against theirs when you are out on a walk or date.
- Give them lingering hugs, especially when they are feeling the blues.
- Hold their arms or hands when around family or friends in a way they know that you are proud and happy for their presence in your life.
Take the quiz: What’s Your Love Language?
We all have different ways in which we understand and accept love, and it is possible that our love languages may differ from that of our partners. Just the act of trying to understand and speak each other’s love language shows that you care and are willing to go the distance. But also remember that a person may have more than one love language. For example, someone may like their partners to help out with small chores and may also appreciate a compliment on their outfit, hair, or personality every now and then.
Also, once you know how they want to be loved, ensure you do not consciously or subconsciously weaponize this knowledge against them. This can end up hurting the relationship too.
And lastly, it may not be as easy as it looks simply because human beings are complex in their nature and preferences. Our likes, dislikes, understanding, and expectations from relationships are constantly evolving. It is important to keep communication open and continue trying to understand your partner’s emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.