Do You Speak Your Partner’s Love Language?

The 5 Love Languages We’ve changed our lives through tidying and learned to listen and talk to our kids. For round three, The Cynic’s Self-Help Book Club decided to tackle matters of the heart. We read “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Gary Chapman.

The book posits that there are five ways people give love to others and suggests the way we give love is also the way we like to receive it. In fact, Chapman says we will feel most loved and valued if we are given love in our primary “love language.” Similarly, if we extend ourselves to offer love to others in their language rather than in the way we’re most comfortable, we’ll make others feel more loved in return.

Sounds easy enough, but giving and receiving tailored love in this manner gets tricky when we’re surrounded by people speaking different love languages. Can a book really teach us to love others even if their language is foreign to us? And who’s going to love us using our language? Our readers set out to answer these questions and more.

The 5 Love Languages

Words of Affirmation

How to Speak It: 

  • Compliments
  • Words of encouragement
  • Kind words (even offering feedback)
  • Requests
  • Recognize strengths to others

What to Avoid:

  • Nagging
  • Criticism
  • Demands

Try This:

  • Compliment your spouse every day for a month
  • Tell your children how great their mom/dad is

Quality Time

How to Speak It: 

  • Undivided attention
  • Listen intently and for feelings
  • Reveal yourself
  • Engage in activities together

What to Avoid: 

  • Interrupting
  • Distractions like phone/tv during time together
  • Complaining about activities

Try This: 

  • Take a walk together
  • Plan a weekend getaway
  • Daily share time

Gifts

How to Speak It: 

  • Homemade or store-bought gifts and cards are symbols of your love
  • Physical presence at important events and in a time of crisis

What to Avoid: 

  • Waiting for a special occasion
  • Complaining about cost (need not be expensive)

Try This:

  • Keep a gift idea list when your spouse mentions things
  • Enlist a personal shopper
  • Pick a gift from nature and attach meaning to it

Acts of Service

How to Speak It:

  • Doing things you know your spouse would like you to do — and with a positive spirit
  • View nags as “tags” from your spouse about what’s important to do

What to Avoid: 

  • Demands
  • Criticism of other’s efforts
  • Not following through

Try This:

  • List chores your spouse has asked you to do and pick one to do each week
  • More money than time? Hire someone
  • Make breakfast for your spouse and children

Physical Touch

How to Speak It: 

  • Using sense of touch to communicate emotional love

What to Avoid:

  • Assuming that touch that brings you pleasure is same for your loved one
  • Going too long without intimacy

Try This:

  • Offer a back rub
  • Hold hands
  • Sit close
  • Initiate sex
  • Welcome-home hug

What We Learned

Our love languages became clear once we knew the categories.

The concepts are so clear-cut and simple to understand that many of us found that we could readily pinpoint our own primary languages as well as those of our family members. “It’s an interesting way to organize expressions of love,” says one reader. “The simplicity of it provides easy reminders of how to meet others’ needs. My immediate family was predictable.”

For those who are unsure or want confirmation, the book’s site offers a quiz to help you discover your love language. It consists of 30 paired statements and asks you to choose the one “that best defines what is most meaningful to you in your relationships with others.” There’s also a separate “Love Language Profile for Teenagers” on the site.

A good way to figure out your own love language, sans quiz, is to ask yourself what your partner does that makes you feel most loved and also what drives you crazy. For example, for a time my husband made my oatmeal in the morning before he left for work; I’d come downstairs and he’d be gone but my breakfast would be ready. I found it incredibly romantic. Conversely, I feel most frustrated when he taps out texts or checks Facebook while I make dinner. It’s clear that Acts of Service are important to me.

Our primary love language is almost never the same as our partner’s or even our children’s.

Alas, the unfortunate fact is that not a single reader had the same love language as his or her partner and most didn’t even match up with their own children. I’ve lamented on more than one occasion that this whole love business would be a lot easier if we all just married people who “speak” the same language.

Instead, among readers, many married couples seemed to confirm male/female stereotypes, with the husband’s language being Physical Touch while the wife’s is Acts of Service. There were plenty of exceptions though.

The concepts were not only helpful for marrieds but also for moms and dads. “It has helped me so much with my son!” says one mom. “My language is words and his are gifts, then words.” Many of us have more than one primary language, which means making others feel fully loved can be a lot of work.

Loving others using their love language is like learning a new dialect — there’s homework!

It’s not easy to adapt to a love language that’s not your own. It takes a considered effort. I literally have to think to myself, “reach over and hold his hand,” to meet my husband’s Physical Touch needs. But I’ve found that the more I do it, the more natural it has become to walk into a room and rub his back for a minute or loop my leg over him at night. He’s told me that he has never felt more loved by me.

Of learning to speak his children’s love languages, one dad said, “Words of Affirmation is my primary love language but it isn’t my daughters’. My 16-year-old daughter and her 13-year-old little sister prefer Quality Time and Gifts. I forget to show them love in the way that they’d prefer to receive it because it’s so natural for me to say to them, ‘I love you,’ ‘You are beautiful,’ etc. I’ve recently become reminded of their primary love languages as I’ve begun to purchase concert tickets for them and give them cash before they leave to hang out at the mall with friends. They tend to brighten up as if I’ve just done something amazing.”

Another reader noted that her husband’s language is Gifts, which “is so NOT me.” However, a couple of years ago at Christmas, “I went all out with expensive gifts for him because I finally understood and tried to follow his love language,” she recalls. “It made him so happy which in turn made me happy.” It’s surprisingly satisfying to learn new ways to please your spouse.

We appreciate when our loved ones use our language with us.

An interesting effect of adapting to your loved one’s language is that they are so appreciative of your efforts that they begin catering to you too. We found that even when our spouses hadn’t read the book, they changed their behavior toward us as a result of feeling more loved and valued.

After a recent (and rare) argument, one reader’s husband “hung three pictures, took down the Christmas lights and helped the kids pick up their toy room.” She realized that he was using her love language to show he was sorry and that he loved her. “And he has made the kids’ lunches everyday since then!!!!!” The exclamation points are printed as originally written — she was that happy, saying, “It’s hard to grasp that a couple of lunches a day would really make all the difference, but it does to me.”

We also found that it’s important to show gratitude when others use our love language. “I think the receiver has to know to make a big deal about it by thanking his or her spouse and pointing out why it makes you feel so loved”, notes one wife. This kind of reinforcement lets our loved ones know their efforts matter. A husband said that even though he’s not as natural or good at Acts of Service as his wife, “she reminds me that the acts I do help reduce her work-related stress and she tells me how grateful she is for all that I do. Which of course is very affirming.”

Though we are cynical readers, we all found this book’s simple concepts to be of real value when it came to improving our relationships. One reader said it’s her favorite book and that “the information transfers to every relationship in life.” Another shared that though she first read this book years ago, she still lives by it today. In short: read it; you’ll be glad you did.


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