The idea of having “love languages” is now fairly commonplace – popularized by Dr. Gary Chapman, the basic premise is that we all have different experiences of what makes us feel cared for and loved. Getting a beautiful piece of jewelry for an anniversary might be an extremely emotional experience for one person and feel tacky and meaningless for another; to one person, finding out that your partner has to cancel plans because they’re working late is an unfortunate but minor inconvenience, while to another person it might be devastating. Chapman identified five “languages” he feels encompass the main ways people receive and express affection: quality time, words of affirmation, gift-giving, physical touch, and acts of service.
You may know your own love language, or even if you haven’t gone through a process to determine it, one may stand out to you – it means a lot to you when someone does your laundry, so you may love acts of service, or you want partners to make time to spend with you solo. You may even know your partner’s love language – it’s increasingly normal for people to share this information, which is great. But when you and your partner don’t share a love language, it isn’t always intuitive to figure out how to connect with them most strongly – you might feel like you’re putting a lot of effort into showing affection for your partner, but if it’s not connecting with their love language, they may not be receiving it. Here are some ideas for how to effectively communicate your care for someone according to their love language.
This can feel like a no-brainer – of course, you spend time with them, you’re in a relationship! But the quality modifier in “quality time” matters a lot. You might feel like your weekly movie-and-takeout Friday night is solid quality time, but your partner might feel like you’re on your phone during it, you don’t have a chance to actually talk during it, and you’re both too tired from a long work week to really be present. Try to think about activities that involve: a) your undivided attention, b) you and your partner can both show up as the best version of yourselves, and c) ideally involve an activity that aligns with your partner’s values and interests, or has some link to your relationship or common interests. Some ideas could be:
- Setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier than you need to in the mornings so you and your partner can have a cup of coffee in bed together
- Suggesting a recipe or craft for you to try together
- A structured activity organized around connecting with each other intentionally, like the game Where Should We Begin
Words of Affirmation
Again, words of affirmation may feel obvious – who doesn’t like being given praise and compliments? But there’s a big difference between a meaningful, well-executed compliment and something that feels halfhearted or perfunctory; who hasn’t had their heart sink at hearing a partner say “of course, you look nice, honey” absentmindedly without even looking. For your words of affirmation to really land for your partner, try to be a) specific and concrete, b) self-motivated, and c) recognizing things that matter to them. Compliments don’t feel as good when we have to ask for them, and they should be ways of recognizing things your partner cares about that matter to them personally. This could look like:
- Naming effort and intention behind something, not its outcome: “you worked so hard on that presentation and it really shows, you should be really proud of yourself.”
- Linking your partner’s decisions or accomplishments to characteristics that you love and admire about them: “You handled that situation with Sharon so well; I’ve always loved how articulate and calm you are under pressure, it’s super impressive.”
- Explicitly noticing and celebrating things they do in your relationship that you appreciate – especially those things you want them to continue doing: “You always work so hard to make my day better when I’m bummed out about something.”
Gift-giving can be one of the less understood love languages, and some can assume it means being greedy or materialistic. To understand it a little better, think about what gift-giving involves: thinking about your partner when you aren’t physically with them, planning ahead for your partner’s sake even when it doesn’t immediately benefit you, listening to and remembering your partner’s likes and dislikes, and taking multiple logistical steps like managing finances, ordering and shipping, maybe even hiding or keeping a gift a secret for your partner’s sake. Of course, it feels loving and romantic! To make sure your gift-loving partner feels good, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Consider grabbing a gift for things that your partner can’t participate in or be involved in to show that you were thinking of them during it – bringing a souvenir home from a trip that you had to go on without them, or taking a dessert home from a dinner out with friends that they had to miss because of work.
- Keep a list or note on your phone where you keep track of things your partner has mentioned liking or wanting – you can grab things off that list for birthdays or holidays, or buy them year-round and keep them ready for a time when your partner is having a bad day or feeling down.
- If you see something that reminds you of your partner or one of their interests, and it isn’t too prohibitively expensive or inconvenient, consider grabbing it for them on a whim – hearing “I saw this book and you were just talking about this topic, so I brought it home for you” could really make their day.
It’s a normal part of human intimacy to enjoy touch with those we love. For people whose main love language is physical affection, it’s more than that: it’s the main way they feel connection with their partners and family. You could probably assume that people with physical touch love languages love cuddling, holding hands, and affectionate kisses; you’d usually be right, but here are some other ways you can make your physical touch partner feel close to you.
- Set aside specific times focused on physical touch, or incorporate physical touch into other pre-existing daily routines — like cuddling for a full ten minutes every night before falling asleep, or making sure you have a long hug every day when you first get home from work.
- When you have to be physically distant like during the workday (or if you’re in a long-distance relationship), think about ways you could help your partner feel more like you’re physically present – getting a piece of jewelry or watch that buzzes when you touch it so your partner knows you’re thinking of them, or giving them a stuffed animal or sweater with your fragrance on it.
- Be aware of ways you can physically comfort your partner during difficult moments – even if your personal instinct is to offer solutions or brainstorm the next steps, consider offering a hug, a massage, or just holding their hand. Even if it feels useless to you, it could make them feel really supported.
Acts of Service
Depending on the duration and seriousness of your relationship, acts of service may already be a big part of your shared life: loading the dishwasher, sorting the laundry, and refilling the soap dispensers. It can feel hard to imagine how this could be romantic or meaningful – it often feels very boring and unsexy! But especially if they’re someone who feels they have to manage and keep track of a lot, your acts-of-service partner might feel deeply moved by you doing these things as a specific gesture for them. Here are some ways that could look:
- Taking on logistics or care tasks related to your partner’s wellness or self-care – meal prepping for them, setting out the lotion, heating a towel, and lighting incense when they shower or replacing their personal care products before they run out.
- Incorporating acts of service into ways you support them during difficult times – in addition to offering comforting words or affection if they’re ill or under a lot of stress, you can announce that you’ll take on the grocery shopping or pet care for the week, or that you’ll handle all the dinners instead of switching off so they don’t have to think about it.
- Focusing your acts of service on things your partner dislikes or finds stressful – if they love running errands and doing chores overall but find home cleaning and organization overwhelming, volunteer to take on that task. (Note: this is very different than taking on tasks that you think your partner is bad at – that can have the opposite effect!)