How To Speak The Language Of Love
Is your 'love tank' running on empty? Research reveals that your 'love language' is the key to refueling it.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | Februrary 12, 2024
Many people come to therapy when they feel their partner doesn't recognize their needs in a relationship. They may say things like:
- "Even though we talk a lot, there are times when I wish my partner could express their feelings for me a bit more."
- "We're in sync most of the time, but there are moments where I would appreciate it if they could just step in and help without asking."
- "I think my partner could be more fully present with me sometimes. Not just physically there, but mentally too."
The ways in which we express our love and wish for love to be shown to us is what is known as "love languages." Comprised of various needs, each love language must be fulfilled for satisfaction and security in a relationship.
The importance of self-reflection in identifying one's own love language cannot be overstated. A partner's efforts to express love may fall short if they are unaware of the specific gestures that resonate most with their loved one. Consequently, psychological research provides tools for uncovering our own love languages, enhancing understanding in relationships.
What Are The Five "Love Languages?"
When a partner pays attention to the ways in which you prefer to be treated, it can feel like a silent but powerful affirmation of love and care. These gestures feel particularly special when they're enacted with consideration of what you care for and need in the moment—which exemplifies the importance of understanding your own love language.
A study published in PLOS ONE highlights this, outlining that greater relationship and sexual satisfaction can be enjoyed when partners pay attention to one another's love languages. In essence, when partners stay considerate of the ways in which they both love to be loved, relationships flourish. But for your partner to be considerate of these needs and desires, they need to be identified first.
When describing love languages, Gary Chapman, author of the bestselling book "The 5 Love Languages," referred to people as having a "love tank." In romantic relationships, both partners' tanks are filled when love is shown to the other in the way that they desire, which is according to their distinct love language:
- Words of Affirmation. Individuals with this love language appreciate kind words, encouragement and expressions of love and affirmation. Their love tank is filled when their partner communicates affection and appreciation through spoken or written words.
- Physical Touch. Individuals with this love language feel loved through physical touch, such as hugs, kisses, cuddling or other forms of affection. Physical contact and intimacy are key elements in making them feel secure and connected in their relationship.
- Quality Time. Those with this love language cherish quality time spent with their partner. They feel loved when they engage in meaningful conversations, shared activities and spend uninterrupted time together, feeling loved and fulfilled by genuine presence.
- Acts of Service. For those with this love language, actions speak louder than words. They feel loved when their partner performs acts of service, such as helping with tasks, doing thoughtful deeds or taking on responsibilities to make their lives easier.
- Receiving Gifts. People with this love language value the thought and effort behind a gift. They feel loved when they receive meaningful presents that show their partner knows and understands their preferences—regardless of the gift's monetary value.
If one partner is unaware of their own love language, the other might not be able to gauge how to fill the other's love tank, or how full it is in the moment. Without this knowledge, they can only hope and guess that their affectionate gestures are what their partner wants or needs.
How To Learn Your Own Love Language
If your love tank is running on empty and, despite efforts, your partner's affection doesn't seem to be filling it, then some self-reflection on what makes you feel loved can make a world of difference. When looking at the five love languages as concepts, it can be difficult to identify which resonates with you most. Each of them are desirable at face value, but knowing which of them fulfills you more than others can feel abstract without introspection.
To address this difficulty, research was conducted to develop a questionnaire using Chapman's conceptualizations of love languages. The scale can be used to uncover both how you prefer to express your love, as well as how you desire for love to be shown to you. To understand how one's love tank is filled, 20 statements are rated on a scale from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree" in relation to the following prompt:
I feel most loved by my partner when they:
- Run errands for me.
- Hug me.
- Compliment me.
- Really listen to me.
- Give me a thoughtful birthday gift.
- Finish a chore for me when I don't have time to do it.
- Give me a kiss.
- Tell me that they appreciate me.
- Spend time with me doing something we both like.
- Pick up a greeting card for me.
- Help me out when I need it.
- Hold my hand.
- Give me credit for something good I did.
- Have a quality conversation with me.
- Give me a surprise present when there's no special occasion.
- Help me keep things cleaned up.
- Touch me.
- Give me positive comments.
- Spend their free time with me.
- Give me a small present when they come home from a trip.
For your partner to love you how you wish to be loved, your personal love language needs to be communicated to them. By acknowledging and embracing our love languages, we empower ourselves and our partners to create a thriving and fulfilling relationship. Only through self-reflection and introspection can both love tanks be truly full, allowing each partner's affectionate gestures to become a step toward building a strong and lasting bond.
If you'd like to learn what your love language is, take this test to find out: The Love Language Scale
A similar version of this article can also be found on Forbes.com, here.