In every encounter we either give life or we drain it; there is no neutral exchange.” – Brennan Manning

Are you familiar with idea of “love languages”? This concept first came out in 1992 with Gary Smalley’s book, The Five Love Languages. (And there’s now a version for parents, teachers and caregivers as well, The Five Love Languages of Kids.)

The idea is that we each speak and receive love in specific ways that fall into five different love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch.

Understanding your own love language gives you insight into what makes you feel loved as well as how you naturally show love to other people.

Understanding and speaking someone else’s love language, on the other hand, shows them that you notice them, that you care enough to pay attention, and that you really know them. It’s not enough to say you love someone if your actions don’t demonstrate that love, and if you’re speaking a different language, they may not be getting the message.

For example, if two women meet for coffee but one speaks German and the other speaks Swahili, no matter how hard they try to communicate, something will be missing from the conversation. If they’re both really trying to understand and be understood, they can probably have a vague kind of conversation about simple topics. But it would be much easier if each was able to speak the other’s language.

Similarly, when we try to show love by speaking our own love language, the other person may simply miss our message unless they’re trying really hard to see it.

That presents two challenges for us:

1. To try to understand and speak the language of the people we love.

2. To do our best to see when those people are communicating love to us in their own way, even if it’s not the way we normally receive it.

That doesn’t mean that you should never tell someone in a close relationship what you need—because being honest develops intimacy in a relationship—but trying to understand the language being spoken rather than assuming the other person is not showing love at all ultimately strengthens the foundation of any relationship.

Although I can’t do this justice in just a few paragraphs (it is, after all the subject of two separate books!), let’s take a brief look at the five love languages:

Words of Affirmation
This is my top love language, and it’s they one I speak and hear well. To me, there are no sweeter words than “Thank you” or “You’re doing a great job” or “I love you” or “You’re beautiful,” and I try to be just as generous with those words for the people I love.

Quality Time
Quality time is about doing and experiencing things together. For someone speaking this love language, words aren’t necessarily important just as long as you’re together, side by side, and sharing a moment without distractions.

Acts of Service
Acts of service isn’t about demanding that other people do things for you; it’s the burst of love and joy you feel when you have the opportunity to do something unexpected for someone else or they do something just because they know it will help you.

This one is tricky because if someone is doing acts of service for someone whose love language does not fall into that category, it’s easy for them to feel unappreciated when those acts aren’t seen as little acts of love or fully appreciated, even beyond typical division-of-labor conversations.

Gifts
Someone whose love language is gifts doesn’t just want stuff to acquire stuff; they love to pick out the perfect gift for someone else, and nothing makes them feel more loved than receiving a thoughtful gift, regardless of price or occasion.

Physical Touch
Physical touch doesn’t just mean sex, of course—it can mean a hug or a pat on the back, holding hands or cuddling. It’s a physical connection of some sort.

That said, sex is at least part of the equation in a marriage, and for many women, physical touch comes at the bottom of the totem pole. It’s especially common for women raising little ones to feel “touched out” by the end of the day so that touching their husbands is the furthest thing from their minds. Meagan talks more about sex in this post, but I think the part worth repeating here is that it is often one of those things that you enjoy more the more you do it, so it’s worth the effort even when you don’t feel like it!

It may be easy to identify your primary love language(s) just by reading the descriptions, but how do you figure out the love language of your spouse, friends, siblings, etc.? Chances are that the things they complain about in your relationship (or other relationships in their life) point to their primary love language. For example, “You never appreciate the things I do for you!” likely points to Acts of Service. “Can’t we just spend time together without the TV on?” likely points to Quality Time. And so on.

For kids, it’s a little trickier since kids love all five of those things, but it’s a good time to be watching and evaluating to see which develops as their primary love language over time.

ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS

  1. What is your primary love language? If the short descriptions above weren’t enough for you to decide, you can also take this online test to pinpoint the top 1-2 love languages that you speak and receive the best.
  2. Take some time to think about the people you’re closest to (husbands, kids, friends, etc.). What do you think their love languages are?
  3. Where are you speaking a different language than someone close to you? How can you make an effort to “speak” their language this week?
  4. Where is someone you love speaking a different language than you? How can you make an effort to “hear” their love language this week?

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