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How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Languages

How do you experience love in your life? How do you show it? The experience of love is well recognized as one of our basic needs as human beings. Whether in friendships, parenting or romantic relationships, it’s important to recognize how we receive and share love and we don’t have to wait until there’s a problem to have a better understanding.

My home and office are full books, some in baskets, many in piles, some stacked on an old wooden stepladder and some on a bookcase (so cliché for a Therapy office, I know). My love of reading is on display and in my office, is combined with my desire to inspire curiosity in my clients. One of the books that consistently creates intrigue is The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. In this long-published and popular book, Dr. Chapman lays out a basic framework for understanding how we experience love from others, express love to others, and how to talk about it using a common language- what he calls our Love Language. He observes that people tend to have a primary and secondary love language and that how one person experiences love may be different from another:

1. Words of affirmation- expressing compliments, words of support, and explicit verbalizations of feelings is dominant. Words hold high value so both positive and negative words (criticism) will be carry great weight.

2. Quality time- value is placed on attention (being present, “there”) and quality time together.

3. Receiving gifts- not to be confused with materialism, thoughtful gifts are seen as an important representation of appreciation, thinking about the other when not in their physical presence, and comfort in being known by the other in the choice of gifts.

4. Acts of service- recognition of the challenges and realities of the other person and attempts to help and offer support. Words are not as important as the things the person does for the other. Helping and doing for the other are the most important way to show appreciation and love.

5. Physical touch- any safe, respectful physical connection is valued: a kiss hello or goodbye, a hand on one’s back or knee, holding hands, hugs, “spooning” in bed, sexual touch.

If Acts of Service is your primary Love Language, making your partner’s favorite (elaborate) meal or offering to run an important errand to save your partner time may be ways that you show love while someone whose primary love language is Quality Time might prefer a quick & simple meal together without all of the prep and cleanup and running errands together to maximize time spent together. And just because you’re sitting together doesn’t mean it’s Quality Time if you’re hearing “Is what’s going on in Facebook land more important than me?”

While The 5 Love Languages book is written by a Christian Pastor with Christian references and heteronormative examples, the concepts speak well to diverse populations in my experience given the basis of our human need to experience love. Even without the book, learning about the Languages as concept, recognizing your love language (and partners doing the same) can help couples to talk more openly, fostering intimacy, and with less judgment and anger when they do speak different languages. After all, no one other person can or should be expected to meet all of our needs and when someone is able to meet some of our needs, we have to expect that they will be imperfect at times. And while important, communication and expression of love aren’t the only ingredients necessary for a healthy relationship. If you’re interested in taking your own free Love Language profile visit and see if you learn something new.

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