Applying The 5 Love Languages™ to healthy relationships

It is easy to assume that we all have the same definition of love, or that our partners know what we mean when we say, “I love you.” Different people can have different ideas about what romantic love means, and how it is or should be expressed. So, what does it mean to be in love? How can we make sure that we are on the same page with our partners even after we have reached the stage where “I love you” feels second nature? Applying The 5 Love Languages™ to healthy relationships may be the way.

What are the 5 love languages™?

Dr. Gary Chapman, a marriage counselor, developed a framework to help couples address some of these questions, and strengthen their ability to communicate effectively in his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. While Chapman’s book focuses on the relationships of heterosexual married couples, the idea of love languages can be applied to any intimate relationship.

So, what are the five love languages, and how do you know what your primary love language is? Chapman developed a love language quiz, which can be taken on his website to help people identify and understand their primary love language.

Discovering your language

Another way to discover your primary love language is to make a list of times you felt loved and appreciated by your partner. Notice any patterns that emerge. Only talking about what is lacking can make your partner feel their love attempts are not being seen or appreciated, and that can feel frustrating. It may be that they just have a different love language from you, and they’re expressing love the way they like to be loved.

One of the most insightful realizations that can come from learning about the five love languages is the ability to more fully see all the ways your partner is showing their love to you, and to then share what expressions of love are most meaningful to you.

digital boundaries background
digital boundaries background
5 love languages
5 love languages

The five love languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

Understanding the 5 love languages™

Each love language exists on a spectrum, and it is possible to learn all five languages. Your primary love language will likely be connected to how love was expressed in your family of origin. Telling your partner how you prefer to love can increase your ability to feel loved and appreciated. Also, knowing more about the five love languages can help you notice how your partner shows love to you, even if they are not speaking your primary language.

Here’s a quick example of how the five different love languages might be related to something simple – tacos.

  • Words of Affirmation – “You’re more beautiful than a taco.”
  • Quality Time – “Let’s make tacos together.”
  • Receiving Gifts – “I bought you some tacos.”
  • Acts of Service – “I made you these tacos.”
  • Physical Touch – “I want to hug you like a taco.”
digital boundaries background
digital boundaries background
5 love languages
5 love languages

The framework of love languages can be useful precisely because it provides a way for you to self-reflect on your wants and needs, and then talk with your partner about these issues in a healthy way.

Examples of the 5 love languages™

When using the love languages framework, it is important to maintain healthy boundaries between you and your partner. It is not okay to use the idea of love languages as an attempt to control your partner’s behavior.

Words of Affirmation – Healthy vs Unhealthy
  • In a healthy relationship, you might hear, “You look amazing in that dress.”
  • In an unhealthy relationship, you might hear, “Wear this dress, it’ll look great on you.”
Quality Time – Healthy vs Unhealthy
  • In a healthy relationship, you might hear, “I love spending time with you.”
  • In an unhealthy relationship, you might hear, “I want to spend my time with nobody but you” or “I want to spend time with you, cancel hanging out with your friends so we can be together.”
Receiving Gifts – Healthy vs Unhealthy
  • In a healthy relationship, you might hear, “I bought you this gift.”
  • In an unhealthy relationship, you might hear, “I bought you this gift, and now you owe me something.”
Acts of Service – Healthy vs Unhealthy
  • In a healthy relationship, you might hear, “I moved your car so it wouldn’t get a ticket.”
  • In an unhealthy relationship, you might hear, “If you loved me, you would move my car so I don’t get a ticket.”
Physical Touch – Healthy vs Unhealthy
  • In a healthy relationship, you might hear, “I want to hold hands.”
  • In an unhealthy relationship, you might hear, “Prove our relationship by holding hands with me.”

While each love language can be expressed in a variety of ways, it’s important to establish boundaries around them. If your primary love language is physical touch, for example, that does not necessarily mean you’ll always and only want love expressed via sex.

Consent is a crucial part of a healthy relationship, and telling your partner, “If you loved me, you would….” is never acceptable. Physical touch could mean holding hands, hugging hello or goodbye. It could also mean sitting close to each other when watching TV, or sitting side-by-side when eating in a restaurant.

Part of learning to speak your partner’s love language is communicating about ways to express love that feel right for both of you. If your partner is demanding that you engage in behaviors that you are uncomfortable with to “prove” your love for them, or if they’re making you feel guilty for how you are attempting to show your love to them, that could be a red flag of emotional abuse.

A healthy relationship can be flexible and adaptable as the people within it grow and change. As with any healthy relationship, communication is key. Talking about love languages and priority shifts shouldn’t be a one-time conversation, but rather an ongoing conversation that each person feels comfortable bringing up with their partner.

Your relationship and the 5 Love Languages™

When the efforts you make to express your love do not seem to be reciprocated by your partner, that may result in confusion. This leads you to question if your partner shares those love feelings. Sometimes, it might be that you and your partner truly are incompatible and that the feelings of love you have for your partner are not enough to sustain the relationship. Sometimes, there is simply a lack of healthy communication. Being open about your wants and needs can improve your relationship satisfaction. Learning more about each other’s love languages could be one way to determine if you can make positive changes. This will help you both benefit from the relationship.

Questions about your relationship

Love languages are one way to address conflicts or emotional distance in a relationship. However, like any communication tool, it only works in a healthy relationship. Love languages can bring you closer together and help you understand each other more, not leave you feeling drained or exhausted.

If you find that no matter what you say or do, your partner is not satisfied. If they are critical or dismissive of your attempts to show love in the relationship, those could be red flags that your relationship is abusive. Learning your partner’s love language should not be a chore. If it feels bad or overly difficult, that could be a sign there are some underlying issues in your relationship that need to be addressed.

If you have questions or concerns about problems you are having in your relationship, or you want to know more about how to express love in a healthy way, reach out to one of our advocates. We are available 24/7 and our services are free and confidential to anyone in the U.S. or U.S. territories.