Valentine’s Day may elicit images of hearts, roses, and perfect couples, but love is much more complex than any greeting card sentiment can capture. Maintaining healthy, loving relationships requires ongoing effort along with recognition of your partner’s love language. Every relationship, romantic or not, will benefit from an understanding of love languages—specifically, an understanding of the love language your partner, friends, or relatives speak.

What are the 5 love languages?

Love languages are a concept first popularized in a 1995 book by Dr. Gary Chapman. Through the years, psychologists and relationship counselors have consistently pointed to love languages as building blocks for healthy, strong relationships. Typically, individuals gravitate toward a blend of each of these languages, but one or two will often feel more powerful than the rest. Let’s take a closer look at each love language and the ways that they are expressed.

  • Words of Affirmation – More than simply saying “I love you,” words of affirmation include thoughtful text messages, notes, and regular compliments. Praising a loved one for their best traits or at times when you appreciate them most promotes feelings of competence and being valued. In addition, loving words have positive impacts on cognitive health. Words of affirmation can actually improve brain function. 
  • Quality Time – Of course, words may only be words when they are not complemented by actions. Spending quality time with a loved one is a more tangible expression of love. Quality time should be exclusively dedicated time to a partner or loved one, uninterrupted by electronic devices and distractions. Conversation, eye contact, and active listening are essential components of this love language.
  • Physical Touch – Physical contact is important for many people because it is among the first forms of communication we learn as infants. As we grow up, we continue to benefit from physical expressions of love, including hand holding, hugging, cuddling, kissing, and massaging. Of course, appropriate physical expression of love depends on the nature of a specific relationship, but nearly all relationships are deepened by some form of physical contact.
  • Acts of Service – Acts of service can encompass a wide variety of actions—they are simply thoughtful, helpful acts that you know a loved one might appreciate. For example, washing the dishes, filling the car with gas, or running extra errands for a partner’s benefit may all be acts of service.
  • Receiving Gifts – Gift giving isn’t all about the gift itself. It is more about the thoughtfulness of considering a gift that your loved one will enjoy and sharing it with them. Gifts do not necessarily need to be large or expensive, but simply have sentimental meaning behind them that offers a constant reminder of the thoughtfulness of a loved one.

Why Love Languages Are Important

It’s helpful to understand the different love languages because everyone values each language on a different level. While expressing any of the five love languages involves selflessness, empathy, and intimacy, these acts may not all be perceived the same way by both parties in a relationship. For example, your partner may value gifts while you place more stock in spending quantity time together. Thus, it becomes important to understand which love languages resonate with you most, so you can communicate your needs effectively in your relationships.

Understanding the Pitfalls of Love Languages

While love languages offer some valuable insight on how people express their affection, placing too much emphasis on love languages can have some drawbacks. For example, it’s easy to begin framing love languages in a competitive light, such as keeping track of how many kind gestures you’ve performed for your partner over a given period. It’s also a common misconception that individuals who value different love languages are not compatible with one another. In addition, Dr. Chapman’s original theory of love languages focuses on heteronormative, romantic relationships. Yet, love languages can apply to all different types of relationships—the most important thing is recognizing the needs of your companion and having a willingness to express yourself in a way that resonates with their needs.

Assessing Your Relationship Health

Rather than tallying up sweet gestures and “I love yous” as a measure of your relationship health, it’s more productive to assess how you communicate and relate to your partner, and how willing they are to listen to your needs. While it does take work to maintain healthy relationships, expressing love in your relationships shouldn’t feel like a chore. Sometimes, it may take the help of a neutral third party to restore the ease and comfort of maintaining a loving relationship. Many couples benefit from relationship therapy to strengthen their bond, which may coincide with individual therapy to work on one’s own personal growth outside the context of a romantic relationship.

If you are struggling with your relationship or you simply want to build a healthier foundation as you move into a new phase of your relationship, couples’ therapy can be a beneficial practice. MeMD can help you explore couples’ therapy or individual therapy from the comfort of home with teletherapy sessions. Connect with a licensed marriage and family therapist, social worker, or professional counselor in as little as 24 hours from the comfort and privacy of your own home or office.

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