The Love Languages, written by Dr. Gary Chapman, hit the world by storm over 40 years ago. Have you ever read it? I had not. Until very recently. In fact, my sister-in-law gave my husband and me a copy when we got married four years ago. It sat on a bookshelf in my office for quite a while.
Recently, after reading an interesting story about love languages, I decided to pick up the book and read it. Wow! I wish I’d taken the time to read it earlier! It opened my eyes to the idea that everyone has a primary love language and that each person perceives and receives love in their own unique way. And that it might be extremely helpful to learn how to use and bring love languages into my relationships with everyone whom I care deeply about.
A key discovery I found while flipping through the pages relates to incorporating more mindfulness. Because being able to recognize our loved one’s preferences requires us to get out of our heads long enough to see and support our partner, child, friend, etc., in a way that works for them.
Another lightbulb moment: Feeling love for others and knowing how to love them are two different things. So learning more about your loved ones and how to help them to feel loved are key (and something I’m learning right alongside you – I’m still in the trenches here, trying to figure it out!).
Okay, first, let’s explore the five love languages and expressions of love and investigate ways that mindfulness can help us to work with and through them:
1. Words of affirmation – there are so many ways to express them.
- “Perhaps your spouse has untapped potential in one or more areas of life. That potential may be awaiting your encouraging words.”
People with this love language find that words of affirmation are the key to feeling loved. Chapman’s interpretation of the words of affirmation above surprised me! I tend to think of words of affirmation as general expressions like, “I appreciate you” or “I’m so proud of you.”
In the example above, saying, “I’m so impressed by how hard you’re working on your college applications,” or “You’re such a talented chef, and I’m amazed at how well everything turns out when you’re in the kitchen,” are examples of how words of affirmation can make a difference to a loved one. He suggests going deeper and getting more specific.
Responding in this way also requires seeing your loved one where he is and stopping to pay attention. Here’s another example:
- “I felt disappointed and hurt that you didn’t offer to help me this evening,” said with gentle directness, which can be an expression of love.
Having the ability to communicate thoughtfully in this way, to me, is very high level. Chapman suggests that being able to separate from your reactive response and instead choose to speak honestly and with kindness is key.
It’s easy to get caught up in frustration or drama and to lose your center of groundedness. By speaking kindly and directly, you are communicating with love.
- “When your spouse is angry and upset and lashing out words of heat, if you choose to be loving, you will not reciprocate with additional heat but with a soft voice.”
Ummm… this one is hard! But, I have to say that I can see how this is so true. This shift requires a step up – you’re able to see your loved ones and recognize that they are in a state of duress. And, you’re choosing not to take their behavior personally. Instead, you mindfully shift into a loving place and respond accordingly.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: The ability to stay present – and provide comforting words without reacting is key.
Also, we can see our loved ones sometimes feeling unsure about themselves and in need of affirmation. We recognize that our words can act as a salve, moving our partners to a different place within themselves where they feel validated, understood, and loved.
2. Quality time – the most common love language.
- “Time is a precious commodity. We all have multiple demands on our time, yet each has the same hours in a day. ”
Sometimes I need to ask myself, “Am I making time for the people I care about?” In that regard, this one is easy. First, instead of getting lost in my day, I need to be aware of how I’m spending my time.
Often, in our crazy overbooked lives, the day can fly by without any meaningful time spent with a loved one. If someone in your life has “quality time” as their main love language, scheduling time with them matters.
“It means that we are doing something together and that we are giving our full attention to the other person. The activity in which we are both engaged is incidental. The important thing emotionally is that we are spending focused time with each other. The activity is a vehicle that creates the sense of togetherness.”
I love this one, and yet it’s so easy to be distracted while with loved ones.
It’s not about spending time together; it’s about being present while we’re together. We’ve all been there- spending the day with someone yet realizing we never really connected.
One of my friends, a sage woman who has three daughters, once told me how each daughter enjoys doing very different things. Although she prefers some activities to others, she makes it a point to connect with each girl in the way she needs. She removes distractions and chooses to be present, giving each daughter the quality time she needs.
Key Takeaways: Trying to be flexible about the activity you’re doing with your loved one. Remember that it’s about spending time fully engaged. Your loved one wants your attention because to her, your attention equals love.
3. Gifts are a love language, too.
A gift given with thoughtful care and attention can touch someone’s heart.
- A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, he was thinking of me,” or, “She remembered me.”
It implies, “I thought of you when I saw this flower, and I picked it for you. You were on my mind.” Or, “This feather I found on my walk this morning reminded me of you. I wanted you to have it.”
- “Gifts may be purchased, found, or made.”
How true this is – especially when thinking of small children. Who doesn’t cherish those handmade birthday and mother’s day cards from your four-year-old? Maybe that’s why cards mean so much. The card itself is a gift.
- “They require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. But, if done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.”
Giving a thoughtful gift tells your loved one, “I really know you. I know what you love and what would bring you joy. And I’ve taken the time to put this together for you. That’s how much I love you.”
Key Takeaways: The act of selecting that perfect gift or creating that homemade card can be an extension of your love – and the gift carries the energy you feel. Bringing loving energy into the process of gifting takes it to a higher level.
4. Acts of Service – a love language that shows you understand your partner.
- “By acts of service, I mean doing things you know your spouse would like you to do.”
What are the things your partner appreciates? What makes them feel loved? Doing these things requires that you really know your partner and do whatever it takes to bring them joy.
Thoughtful acts of service convey the message: “I’m thinking of you and know how much you value this – so I’m going to do this for you.”
- “The answer lies in the fact that they were speaking different dialects.”
Acts of service vary for different people. Some consider, for example, vacuuming that living room an act of service, while others think baking their favorite cake is a loving act of service. It’s easy to project our views on what acts of service we love, but in doing this we will miss the mark.
Taking the time to understand your partner’s view of the acts of service that bring him joy is key to successfully speaking this love language.
Key Takeaway: We may perform acts of service throughout the day for our loved ones, but only specific actions resonate with them. Mindfully taking time to understand our loved one’s particular needs and preferences is most important.
5. Physical touch – a meaningful love language.
- “A tender hug communicates love to any child, but it shouts love to the child whose primary love language is physical touch. The same is true of adults.”
In some ways, physical touch is the easiest to communicate with loved ones. We only have to know what they prefer. Does your child need a lot of hugs throughout the day? Or does he like a foot rub on a Sunday afternoon?
Chapman suggests that some partners feel loved by holding hands while watching a movie or snuggling in bed at night. Our job is to tune in and provide the kind of physical touch our loved one needs.
The most important lesson I learned from studying love languages is recognizing that each person is wired differently, and actively loving them requires stepping back, seeing them as they are, and expressing myself in a love language that resonates with them.
Communicating love to our loved ones requires us to be in a centered heart space. Of course, this is easier said than done. Daily life and its challenges have us pulled in many directions. To best be able to effectively communicate love, we need to be in a state of alignment. When in this state, we’re able to love freely.
Takeaway: We need to recognize our own love language, particularly our self-love language. It’s important to keep our tank full so that we can love from a place of abundance and generosity. Knowing and loving ourselves is foundational to loving others – in whatever way they need.
Loving others requires having awareness: like shining a soft light upon your loved one that communicates: I see you. I’m here for you. I love you. And I’m going to show you how much I care in a way that you can feel my love. I will communicate with you through your love language.
Does it get any better than that?
And, do you know your love language? Take this quiz and have your loved ones take it so that you can get to work!
Do you have any thoughts on love languages? Please share below! Also, please share with a friend who might enjoy this piece.
(This story was originally published on May 30, 2021 and has been updated for thoroughness.)