What Love Languages Are, Why They’re Important & How to Know Yours
Love Languages May Be the Key to Unlocking Your Relationship’s Potential
If you’ve ever argued in a relationship before, you probably know what it’s like for two people who know each other very well to misunderstand so much at the same time.
Showing up a few minutes late to dinner can feel like a slap in the face to one partner, the other brushes it off. One half of the relationship needs to have sex every other day; the other can go months without it. A sloppily wrapped gift can be a cause for someone’s blood to boil, while another person might take “I love you” not being said enough as evidence of a relationship on the rocks.
Sometimes it can even feel like you’re speaking different languages … and in a manner of speaking, you actually are.
RELATED: How to Disagree With Your Partner in Tense Times
That’s the principle behind the idea of love languages, an approach to relationships that’s gained steam in recent years as a means of understanding yourself, your partner, and the interactions between you.
AskMen spoke to a handful of relationship experts, as well as some people about how love languages impact their own relationships, in order to decipher love languages and how they work.
What Are Love Languages?
If you don’t know what “love languages” are (or how useful they can be), you’d probably think they’re some frilly nonsense that so-called self-help gurus came up with to sell books.
On the other hand, there are some people who see every single aspect of relationships through the lens of love languages, swearing by them like they were some kind of holy text capable of fixing any relationship, no matter how broken.
As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
“Love languages are a communication theory about peoples’ communication styles in relationships, popularized in a book by Gary Chapman,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of “Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences.” “Basically, it’s an adaptation of learning theory, which maintains that people use habitual ways to learn and to communicate, and you’ll do better at teaching or communicating with them if you recognize their style.”
The principle behind love languages is simply about understanding that people learn and communicate differently from each other, and you won’t get very far if you can’t understand that core fact. That truth may apply to lots of different areas in life, but it can be especially important when it comes to romantic relationships.
“Love languages are essentially the way you communicate love: How do you show someone you appreciate them?” says Jor-El Caraballo, a relationship therapist and co-creator of Viva Wellness. “Love languages were developed to help partners have a common language and ability to understand the other’s needs. Having this kind of structure helps couples better explore what signs of love most resonate with them so that their partner can be intentional about better meeting their emotional needs in the relationship.”
In Chapman’s bestselling book, “The 5 Love Languages,” he “suggests that each of us has a primary love language,” says Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast.”
“Of course,” she adds, “you can speak multiple languages and other ‘languages’ exist, but this five-pronged framework can be very helpful to help you better understand your own needs and your partner’s.”
What Are the Different Love Languages?
So what are these love languages? Odds are you’re already intimately familiar with most, if not all of them, in some form or another.
Words of Affirmation
Some people feel most loved when they’re being told so. This could take many forms, according to O’Reilly — you could communicate your sentiments “via text, voice note, video message, love notes or in person.”
Acts of Service
Some people feel most loved when they’re on the receiving end of “favors that make them feel loved, appreciated, seen and special,” says O’Reilly.
“Some people feel loved when they are giving or receiving gifts,” notes Tessina. Such people may place special importance on holidays and anniversaries and feel deeply let down by partners who don’t put in much effort around gift-giving.
Some people feel plenty of love just from spending time with their partners. This can take all kinds of forms, but typically means the person will be looking for their partner to be “present and not distracted,” notes O’Reilly.
Some people feel most loved when they’re receiving physical touch from their partner. Tessina notes things like “holding hands, caressing, hugging, snuggling, and sex” might be of special importance to someone whose primary love language is physical touch.
What’s Your Love Language? (Or Your Partner’s?)
After having read through that list, you might be curious about your own (or your partner’s) love language.
Take the Test
Luckily for you, there’s an easy-to-use online quiz to determine which love languages are most important to you, by presenting you with hypothetical situations and asking you to choose between two different ones according to which feels more meaningful.
The whole test only takes about five minutes, and can be done on desktop or mobile without having to input your email address.
There are versions for children, teens, couples and singles, and the final results will show you the percentages you got for each of the five languages — the higher your percentage, the more meaningful that form of love is to you.
“Most people have a top two of the five that feel most important to them, so taking the quiz solo and then reflecting on that with your partner can be really productive,” says Caraballo.
However, there are other ways to get an idea of someone’s most important love languages without checking off boxes on a website.
Talk About It
Tessina suggests staging a dialogue — where you each say to each other “I feel loved by you when…” and then completing the sentence — for 10 or 15 minutes, thanking each other after each one.
“The ‘thank you’ responses are to prevent you from praising, criticizing, blaming, making excuses or otherwise commenting, positively or negatively, on your partner’s statement,” she notes.
That way, the exercise doesn’t get derailed by discussion. Instead, it stays focused on the things that make you each feel most loved. Afterwards, you can discuss what, if anything, you’ve learned from each other’s responses. She also suggests doing the same exercise a second time, this time using “I know I love you when…” rather than “I feel loved by you when…” in order to determine the ways you both like to give love.
“Don’t be surprised that there are differences,” notes Tessina. “Most people have different ways of giving than of receiving. In fact, when you observe the differences, you may want to make some changes, to learn to give and receive in various ways.”
Observe Their Reactions
Of course, you can also try to figure out your partner’s love language by observing how they react to different forms of affection, though O’Reilly notes that “it can also be a reflection of expectations — according to gender, age, race, sexual orientation and experience.”
“Open up a dialogue to discuss how you and your partner experienced love growing up,” she adds. “What made you feel safe? What made you feel threatened? When you consider your parents or other sources of love, what did they do well with regard to emotional expression? What do you wish they did differently? Identifying your love language is the beginning — not the end result — of meaningful conversation.
How Love Languages Impact Relationships
If you’re not well-versed in how love languages work, you might not immediately grasp how important they can be to the well-being of a long-term relationship. Unfortunately, misunderstandings around (or simply unawareness of) love languages can actually lead to a couple breaking up.
“Miscommunication happens a lot due to love languages,” says Caraballo. “Sometimes we totally miss how someone might be fervently showing us love because it doesn’t appear in the way that we expect.”
“I didn’t do any tests about love languages while I was with my ex, mostly because I thought he’d think that they were bunk. It wasn’t until I was seeing a therapist after the relationship that I found out mine, and figured out how wildly they were incompatible with my former partner’s. My ex is a very thoughtful person who would often do nice things for me, pick out great gifts for my birthday, and supported my professional goals, but he could be wildly insensitive and shied away from direct communication. He refused to compliment me or express any kind of verbal appreciation, because he viewed my desire for affirmation as a character flaw.” – Robin, 27
“If you don’t ‘see’ enough of your love language being played out in the relationship, you’re likely to feel underappreciated and even insecure,” adds Caraballo. “Being able to show up and show love in a way your partner can understand is so important. Intention is one thing, but sometimes the actual outcome (them being able to recognize and feel that love) is paramount.”
On the flip side, giving affection in a way that registers as loving to you but feels strange or unpleasant to your partner can potentially lead to conflict.
“If you don’t understand how your partner perceives love, and gives and receives love, you risk not communicating at all,” says Tessina. “Loving gestures can actually be perceived in a negative way.”
RELATED: 5 Things Guys Misunderstand About Love
For instance, if your primary love language is quality time and that’s the last thing they care about, you might end up overwhelming your partner.
“My main love language is physical touch, so I’m always very physically present, but quality time is lower on my radar, so I don’t necessarily think about it as much. That was an issue early on in my relationship — I’d be physically present with my partner but distracted by something and she really didn’t like that. It took a discussion about love languages, and her taking the test, before we realized what was really happening. Now, I feel like the relationship’s a lot easier to navigate for both of us. Little instances of hurt like that happen less often, and when they do, they’re easier to understand and remedy.” – Eric, 32
“Waiting around for your partner, wanting to be together every minute, can seem loving to you, but if it’s more intimacy than your partner wants or is used to, it may feel very smothering and demanding,” explains Tessina. “If your partner seems to be avoiding you, ask why and listen to the answer. Anything done from your perspective that doesn’t take into account how your partner feels about it or views it will feel intrusive to your loved one.”
At the end of the day, love languages aren’t a cure-all, but O’Reilly notes that an understanding of them certainly can’t hurt — even in finding solutions to problems outside of the relationship.
“Any discussion that helps you to better identify and communicate your own needs can help your partner to understand how to meet them,” she says. “And you may also look for additional ways to meet your own needs, as opposed to relying on your partner.”
“I don’t think my husband and I have talked explicitly about the concept of love languages, but we’ve been constantly adapting to the other’s needs. For example, physical touch and acts of service are important for him, but I knew that before I knew what a love language was. That being said, acts of service and dividing up the chores does come up quite a bit in our marriage. I feel like maybe I’m not seeking to be ‘loved’ through acts of service so much as it’s a chore and we just need to organize ourselves around the tasks, but I suppose if one day I woke up and he had the entire kitchen cleaned and sparkling that would be truly romantic.” – Melissa, 32
“If your dominant love language involves physical affection and your partner feels smothered by your desire to connect physically, you might find a balance and look for other sources of touch to meet your needs,” says O’Reilly. “You might hug friends more often, snuggle with your kids or pets, or book a professional massage. You cannot expect your partner to be exclusively responsible for fulfilling every one of your needs.”
Integrating Love Languages Into Your Relationship
Now that you have a better sense of the importance of love languages, how can you make them work for you? Firstly, there’s no need to go overboard with them.
RELATED: How to Be Romantic, Explained
“I think it’s good to add that tool to your relationship toolbox,” says Caraballo. “Knowing your partner’s love language doesn’t mean that you need to only show love that way, but it’s important to sometimes demonstrate your appreciation for their perspective by showing them love in the way they’re likely to appreciate most.”
Knowing your partner’s primary love language or languages can be like knowing their favorite color, whether they prefer jazz or heavy metal, or which flavor from a bag of candy they’re most likely to covet. It doesn’t need to dominate the entirety of your thinking about them, but it sets you up to make them happier.
“Look for ways to communicate in the languages that appeal most to them,” suggests O’Reilly. “Get creative, ask them for suggestions, crowdsource or Google specific ways to express your love. Ask for feedback and be open to providing and receiving suggestions.”
You Might Also Dig: