If you’ve ever had an argument with a partner in which you discovered that you show and expect affection in totally distinct ways from each other, you’ve talked about love languages, whether you used those words or not. The term “love languages” comes from a book called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, first published in 1992 by Gary Chapman, a pastor and talk-show host. The basic idea is that everyone gives and receives love differently, but when we identify our (and our partner’s) “love languages,” we can bridge those gaps to form better relationships.
Though Chapman doesn’t have a background in psychology, or sociology, it’s clear his ideas resonated — the book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since coming out, and is often on the New York Times best-seller list. Though others have added upon the original five love languages, Chapman says the original five are comprehensive, and that every person has one primary love language and one secondary. There are a number of online tests with which one can learn their love languages, though many people are able to identify theirs after reading about them. Below, each of the five original love languages is described in detail.
1. Words of affirmation
For people whose love language is words of affirmation, words might actually speak louder than actions: These are people who love unsolicited compliments and pet names, and cherish hearing “I love you” more than most things, and even more so if they’re told the reasons why they’re loved. These are people who also take insults deeply to heart, and arguments involving name-calling might be harder for them to get over.
Ways to show it: People with this love language might especially love receiving love notes, good morning/good night text messages, and frequent compliments. (Obviously, the more personalized and genuine the words, the better. People whose language is words of affirmation appreciate creativity too!)
2. Acts of service
People who prefer to receive acts of service from partners love to be shown, rather than told, they’re cared for. When their partner does a helpful chore for them, or takes care of a task they’ve been avoiding, that’s taken as proof their partner loves them and wants to make life easier for them. According to Chapman, people who prefer love acts of service appreciate nothing more than hearing “Let me do that for you.” On the flip side, broken commitments, and general non-helpfulness, are likely to be turnoffs for these folks.
Ways to show it: If your partner speaks in acts of service, consider preparing them food, doing a tedious household chore (without being asked!), or making that dreaded call to the landlord about fixing the toilet. Most of these tasks can be relatively simple, and even easy — here, it really is the thought that counts.
3. Receiving gifts
Sometimes this love language gets a bad rap, coming off as a bit materialistic, but for people whose love language is receiving gifts, it’s less about dollar value (usually) than it is about thoughtfulness. This type loves to receive presents that show them their partner is paying attention. They’re likely to take birthdays and anniversaries seriously, which might put the pressure on a bit for partners who don’t celebrate similarly.
Ways to show it: Sometimes it’s as easy as giving them flowers, or a favorite food, but people in this group will be particularly touched when given a memento or souvenir that reminds them of a favorite place or vacation taken together. People who date this group might do well to keep a little list of gift ideas when they drop hints.
4. Quality time
Quality time is another term for attention: this group is most touched by time spent with their partners, whether at home or out on dates. Most people are annoyed when their partners are constantly on their phones, but for this group, it’s maddening. These people want to know that their partners are interested in what they have to say, how they’re feeling, and what they want to do with their time. They’re extra likely to be hurt if they don’t feel listened to, or special.
Ways to show it: Put plainly, this one’s about putting in the time. This group is likely to appreciate a thoughtful, well-planned date (even, and maybe especially, if it’s without leaving the house) — particularly one that allows the couple to talk, make eye contact, and share a new experience. They may also appreciate an effort to ban phone use during dinner, at least once in a while, and when they’re asked “How are you?” they want the time to answer honestly.
5. Physical touch
This one sounds sexual, and it can be, but physical touch isn’t just about sex — this group likes being touched, caressed, massaged, and so on. They love holding hands, love having their hair ruffled and/or played with, love having their back rubbed when they’re sad or sick. They love hugs and kisses, and when their partner isn’t as physically demonstrative, they can feel lonely and unloved.
Ways to show it: The main thing to remember here is to treat your partner like someone you’re still excited to be around. This can be as simple as trailing your hand over their back when you pass them in the kitchen, or remembering to give them a kiss every time they head to work. Getting sexy together is great, but so is playing footsie on the couch when you’re watching your favorite TV show at the end of the night.