languages of love

Five Languages of Love – a relationship tool

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“Love? Tis a mystery.” But one way to help demystify it is by understanding the five languages of love.  Use this relationship tool to improve your love life. Suzi Brown, the Reward Foundation’s education consultant, sets out below how we can use it to our advantage.

What’s a Love Language? 

A love language is a concept coined by Dr Gary Chapman. Through his experience as a marriage counsellor, he began to study what was happening in relationships. In particular, he enquired where one or both partners felt like their partner did not love them. He discovered that we grow up learning how to express love in different ways, or different ‘languages’. He says that unless we understand each other’s ‘language’, we are unlikely to be able to help those whom we love to feel truly loved. Chapman’s study led him to conclude that there are five main ways (or languages) by which people feel loved.  

Chapman uses the metaphor of a love tank. When our love tank is full of loving acts and words we feel loved, valued and special. In order to have a full love tank, we need to understand the actions and or words that help us feel loved. 

Learning Your Love Language 

As we grow up we learn about love and relationships primarily from our parents or primary caregivers. We observe actions and words that express love from one person to another. Also we learn to receive love from parents or siblings. It is these formative relationships that ‘teach’ us how to express and receive love.  

Unfortunately, as flawed human beings and our experience of love from one or both parents may not have been positive. However, understanding and application of the love languages is possible for everyone. It is possible to make changes in your own relationship, enabling positive exchanges of love with your partner or family in the present and the future. 

Without thinking about it, we seek to please and love significant others in our lives. Often we do this either by copying what we have seen in the past or we give love in the way that we wish to receive it. Problems can occur when we give love in a way in which the other cannot receive it. This is because they have a different way of expressing and receiving love.  

Understanding your own love language is key. Discover and communicate with your partner about yours and their love language. This is a wonderful way to help build a loving and happy relationship. 

What fills your love tank? 

Love is a universal need and desire. We expect love within our families. It is also normal to seek out love from others to affirm our worth and value in the world. Unfortunately, people often feel they are unloved and unappreciated. One way you can unlock the door to your love tank is through the Five Love Languages.

The five love languages are: 

1. Words of affirmation 

This includes receiving compliments, appreciation. It involves communicating the best about a person, this can be said out loud or written down. Affirmation can be through small things like saying how good they look in a particular outfit. It could be encouraging them to recognise and develop their skills and abilities. 

2. Quality Time 

This means giving your partner your undivided attention and focus. It involves keeping distractions like mobile phones and devices to a minimum when you are spending time together. Often the desire for this love language is voiced in phrases like: ‘We never do stuff together any more.’  ‘When we were dating we used to go out all the time or chat for hours.’ 

3. Receiving Gifts 

This is not about money! Often the gifts required are symbolic – the significance of them is the thought behind the gift. It involves thoughtful acts; a loving message left for them to discover, a gift that shows you understand what makes them smile, your presence at times of crisis. These are all ways that show this person that they are important to you when you’re together and apart. 

4. Acts of Service 

This most commonly demonstrates itself in the doing of chores. It involves showing the other person that you are willing to help. This could be working on a project together or washing up without being asked. 

5. Physical Touch 

We can use touch to communicate all kinds of positive messages – friendly greeting, encouragement, congratulations, compassion and passion. When touch is withdrawn from a person it can feel like a painful rejection. Some forms of touch are explicit; sexual touch and intercourse, a back or foot rub – these all require time and your attention. Other forms are implicit; a stroke of the neck as your partner washes up, cuddling on the sofa, a light touch of their arm as you leave the room. Responding to touch often relates back to family experience. We may have experienced touch within a demonstrative family or not.

It is important, as with all the love languages, to talk to your partner about what makes them feel loved when it comes to their particular ‘language.’ 

QUIZ : Applying Love Languages to your relationship 

Chapman has discovered that each person usually has a ‘primary’ language. It may be one other that demonstrates love to them and enables their love tank to be filled. A great starting point to discovering your love language is to consider: ‘When did I last feel most loved?’ There is also a quiz to discover your love language here: 

This provides you with a starting point for a conversation with your partner. You could ask them when they last felt most loved.  

Although there are five languages, it is worth remembering that we are all unique. Although the general language expresses love to a person, there will be specific and individual ways of showing love to them within that language. 

Applying the Love Languages with your children 

The key here is observation, particularly if your children are young. Even from a young age a child will develop a preference for one or two of the love languages. This will become apparent in the way they express love to you.  

If they are wanting to show you their latest art work or tell you all about their exciting day, it is likely their primary love language is time. Whenever they are particularly thankful and appreciative of the things your do for them, their primary love language is probably acts of service. If you buy them gifts and they show them off to others or take special care of them, this suggests that gifts is their primary love language. Touch is important to them if, when they see you they run to hug you and kiss you, or they find less gentle ways of touching you. This may include tickling, light punching, tripping you up as you come through the door. If they speaking encouragingly, giving out compliments and praise, words of affirmation is likely to be their love language. 


Parents usually start out communicating all five languages to their children when they are babies – holding, cuddling and kissing, telling them how cute, beautiful, strong and clever they are comes naturally as a parent delights in their child and their achievements as they grow. Without acts of service; feeding, cleaning etc. the baby would die. It is also common to shower babies and young children with gifts, and create time for play or projects where they are at the centre. It will be important to continue to express love to your child in ALL these ways, but it will communicate love most strongly to them when you identify and act upon their primary love language. 

If your child is old enough, you may want to encourage them to take the love language quiz, using the link above. This can be a helpful tool to start the conversation about how they best feel loved and enable you to find ways to express this to them. 

Suzi Brown 

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