If you’ve taken a psychology class in college (or any dating quiz in existence), chances are, you’ve heard of the five love languages at some point. It was coined by therapist Gary Chapman, Ph.D. in his bestselling book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts; the book’s premise being that everyone gives and receives love in different ways based on their personalities. According to The 5 Love Languages™ website, understanding these preferences can help you “learn to identify the root of your conflicts” and “connect more profoundly” with people in your life. The five love languages include physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service; and while you typically have a “primary” way of giving and receiving love, you likely experience a combination of many.
Whether you want to make your Valentine’s Day date feel extra special this year or you’re searching for the ideal birthday gift for your college roomie, understanding their primary love language can help strengthen your relationship overall. If your partner’s love language is “touch,” they might appreciate a cuddle session after a long day of classes. If your roomie’s love language is “words of affirmation,” she might appreciate a handwritten note of encouragement before your upcoming exam. See where this is going?
To discover your primary love language, you can either read Dr. Chapman’s book or take a quiz to discover how you prefer to receive love best. In the meantime, here’s what the five love languages are, what they mean, and why they matter, according to a licensed therapist.
If you know someone whose primary love language is physical touch, nothing means more to them than exactly that (when the touch is consensual, of course). According to Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a licensed mental health counselor, author, and founder of Our Treatment Center, there are many ways to make a person with this love language feel affirmed.
“A person with this love language feels loved through physical affection,” she tells Her Campus. “Aside from sex, you can make your partner feel loved by showing physical affection in other ways like holding hands, hugging often, giving a pat on the shoulder, or a relaxing massage.”
If you’re not dating the person, a hug or gentle squeeze may feel reassuring to them. Subtle forms of touch can feel like a minor gesture, but to the other person, it’ll likely feel more meaningful than you realize.
According to the Five Love Languages model, some people feel the most loved when receiving a gift of some kind. “Gift-giving goes straight to the heart,” Dr. Holland-Kornegay says. So if you’re dating someone who adores gifts, know that the gesture goes a long way — whether you buy them a nice candle, some cozy apartment decor, or surprise them with a nice bottle of wine at their next party. Add a handwritten card to your gift to let them know why you thought of them, and your person will appreciate the sweet gesture.
Dr. Holland-Kornegay adds that gifts don’t have to cost a fortune, and for many people, the intention matters equally as much as the item itself. “To a partner whose love language is receiving gifts, they will feel loved and treasure not only the gift itself but also the time effort you put into it,” Dr. Holland-Kornegay adds. “Gift-giving doesn’t need to cost a fortune, but make sure you put some time and effort into it.”
When was the last time you spent time with a friend or special someone without any distractions? Quality time can be hard to come by these days, but for some people, it’s their primary love language. The key to this love language is that being completely present with someone can make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated (it’s also a great lesson in mindfulness!).
“Quality time is a love language that is expressed when someone gives someone else their undivided attention,” Dr. Holland-Kornegay says. “This means making eye contact and actively listening. Your partner will feel loved if you let him/her feel you are present and focused.” She adds that this love language is all about the quality of the time you spend together, and not the quantity — think putting your cell phones away for a while and having an uninterrupted coffee date or engaging phone conversation.
Acts of Service
For some people, actions speak louder than words. Whether it’s giving your friend a ride to Trader Joe’s on the weekend or helping your partner do laundry one night, an act of service — no matter how seemingly small — can go a long way.
“If your partner’s primary love language is acts of service, he/she will feel more loved and appreciated if you offer to help with even the simplest tasks like house chores, cleaning the car, or brewing coffee,” says Dr. Holland-Kornegay. If you know someone with this love language, be sure to pay attention to anything that might make their life a bit easier; whether it’s helping with the dishes, calling to schedule an appointment for them if they’re super busy, or helping them study for final exams.
Words of Affirmation
Have you ever received a sweet DM from your crush, or even a handwritten note from a friend that said “Have a great day!” and it made you feel extra special? If so, your love language might be “words of affirmation,” which is exactly what the name describes — making others feel affirmed through words. Communication is key with this love language, and even a few words can go a long way.
“This love language is about expressing affection through spoken words, praise, or [verbal] appreciation,” says Dr. Holland-Kornegay. “If this is your partner’s primary love language, he/she will enjoy kind words, encouragement, compliments, uplifting quotes, love notes, and cute text messages.” If your friend appreciates words and language the most, send them a text with a positive affirmation or congratulate them on something they’ve accomplished lately.
Whether your partner had a rough day at work and you want to cheer them up or you’re stumped about what to buy your bestie for Galentine’s Day, ask the people in your life to share their primary love language and see what you can do to “match” it. If an act of service is your roomie’s jam, try picking them up from class one day or buying them dinner. If your boo loves words of affirmation, leave them a cute note on the mirror, and if they appreciate touch, be sure to give them a hug before they head to their internship each day. There’s nothing more meaningful than feeling genuinely seen, appreciated, and loved — so take the time to learn about someone’s top love language today. You’ll be surprised how much your efforts will mean to them!