Several years ago, I was introduced to Gary Chapman’s, The Five Love Languages. Before that, I had no idea there could be so many ways to give and receive love and everyone has their own way of really feeling love. This can help explain why some relationships work well and others don’t. If we don’t understand how we receive love, we may never fully feel it. If we don’t know how our loved ones receive love, they may never feel it from us.
Just last week, I got to see how this works in action with my children. My son (age 11) has been struggling during this time of quarantine and acting out in unusual ways. He was convinced that I didn’t love him and that I only loved his sister (age 13). It took a few weeks to get to what was really going on for him. I didn’t think anything on my side had changed, but it turns out that it did.
I asked him how he knows that his dad loves him, and he responded by saying that he spends time playing with him. That inspired me to explain the five different love languages to my children and have them identify their top two. They both feel love with quality time and physical affection. Although, I give them physical affection often, I realized that I had not been giving them the quality time they needed, even though we have all been together 24/7 over the last two months. I have been working on my projects and trying to “check out” from them when they are fighting or being annoying. I was coping with our situation by retreating into myself and my work.
Having the conversation made my kids feel better. I have now changed my behavior so that I make time to be fully present with them each day. Both of my kids now really feel my love. My son’s behavior has shifted significantly from a few weeks ago, and he once again is opening up to me about his feelings like he used to do.
Here’s a quick summary of the five love languages:
Words of affirmation – using words to build up the other person.
Examples: “You are special,” “You look beautiful/handsome,” “You are wise”
Gifts – giving physical gifts/presents, whether purchased or not.
Examples: bringing flowers, buying jewelry or other gifts to show love
Acts of Service – doing something for your loved one that you know they would like.
Examples: making dinner/breakfast, washing dishes, mowing the yard, washing the car
Quality time – giving your loved one your undivided attention for an unspecified amount of time.
Examples: taking a walk together, sitting at the dinner table talking and listening with no phone or TV distraction
Physical touch – giving any kind of physical touch with your loved one.
Examples: holding hands, hugging, cuddling, kissing, etc.
If you are not sure what your top two languages are, there are quizzes you can take online for this. You may be able to figure it out right away based on the descriptions above.
When I did this myself, I was surprised to discover acts of service is my top language for receiving love, with quality time and words of affirmation closely behind. Service helps me feel like I am worthy of love if my partner is doing something for me to make my life easier. My least important language is receiving gifts. When I took a look at this, I realized my mother’s way of giving love is by giving gifts. She does this for my children as well. I was not surprised to realize that is one of the reasons I did not feel like I was getting love as a child. She wasn’t speaking my language.
One thing to note is the way you receive love is not always the same as the way you express love. For instance, your receiving language might be physical touch, but your giving language could be words of affirmation. There is a possibility you will need to retrain yourself on giving love to your partner and family members the way they will receive it the best. It is worth doing this for long-term happiness and enjoyment in your relationship.
When you are new in a relationship or you are just discovering this concept of love languages, it is important to identify what your personal top one or two languages are so you can share this information with your partner. Likewise, have your children and partner identify their top two languages. This doesn’t mean all languages are not important to an individual, but they generally are not all equal. This is where respect and good communication come into play. When we are able to verbalize how we operate and hear how our loved ones operate, we have the ability to give and receive love in the way that it will be the most effective.