In our world of empty vows and broken promises, how do we show our love?
After many years of marriage counseling, Dr. Gary Chapman concluded that how we show our love depends on what our emotional love language is. He said:
“It became apparent to me that what makes one person feel loved isn’t always the same for their spouse or partner. I discovered every person understands and receives love in a specific language, one of five to be precise. The other four are just as important and offer [other] ways to express love to each other.”
Why is it important to know how we love?
It is important to know how we love because it helps strengthen the bond in our relationship and avoid miscommunication. In fact, Dr. Tina B Tessina said:
“Understanding your own ways of expressing love, and your partner’s, and understanding how your expressions of love are different or similar means you know when you’re loving your partner the way you want to and when you’re loving your partner in his or her favorite way. You can understand better why some things work between you and others don’t. You can learn to recognize when your partner is sending you love, even if it’s not the way you’re used to.”
So, how do we love? Here are 5 ways:
1. Words of affirmation
According to Dr. Gary Chapman, there are 5 Languages of Love.
One of them is through words of affirmation.
Psychologist and Ashton University psychology professor Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majors explains:
“As human beings, we aspire to feel competent, valued, and appreciated. Positive words have this type of power, creating the solid foundations needed to build strong, productive relationships that resonate clear lines of communications.”
If you feel loved when you hear words of affirmation, it means your “love cup” is filled when your partner verbally compliments and appreciates you, consistently. You need to hear nice words but you’re also quick to know if your partner is not genuine in telling them.
Here are some examples of words of affirmation you love to hear:
- “I just want to let you know how proud of you I am.”
- “You work really hard for us, and even when things may feel tough, I just want you to know how appreciative I am.”
- “I feel so lucky to have you.”
- “I am here if you need me and I want to help support you in any way I can.”
- “You’re doing such a great job. I’m really proud of you.”
- “Wow! You look so good! I really love the new outfit. It looks great on you!”
- “That dress looks incredible on you!”
- “You always make me laugh.”
- “I love your hair today.”
- “I love you.”
- “Thank you.”
- “That was nice of you.”
- “I appreciate what you did.”
Because words mean so much to you, negative or insulting comments can hurt you the most.
Indeed, words can make or break you if this is how you love.
2. Quality time
Quality time is all about giving your partner your undivided attention. It’s the easiest to understand but maybe the hardest to master.
Why? Because just being around them won’t do. They need to have ALL your focus and attention so that means no TV, no cellphone, no Netflix.
Tessina couldn’t say it better when she said this:
“Spending time with your partner is about being together, paying attention to each other, sharing something meaningful together and listening and communicating.”
So if your partner’s way of loving is by spending quality time, you can show your love with these 3 steps:
People who show their love through quality time may not appreciate a sudden change of schedule. They don’t want spontaneity but will appreciate the effort and determination you place into that time together.
Quality time is perhaps the most challenging of love languages. Life keeps us busy with one thing or another.
However, we shouldn’t let it get in the way of what’s important, which is why you should always deliberately prioritize quality time.
According to Cecil Carter, CEO of dating app Lov:
“Date regularly. We tend to get so familiar in our relationships but courtship should never end.”
Being present physically is different from being with your partner mentally and emotionally. What they need from you is the latter.
Remember that more than time, your attention is what’s most important for them. It means your partner is your number one focus.
After planning the time to be together and checking that there are no distractions, what’s left to do is being affectionate. Have fun, be playful, ask questions, and share your dreams with them.
Show them that your world revolves around them and they will be the happiest! Here are some ideas you can try to affirm your love:
- Take a walk around the neighborhood
- Do a puzzle or play a board game
- Find a DIY project to do throughout the week (finishing a little each day)
- Plan out your next vacation together
- Find a new recipe and make it for dinner together
- Take a mini road trip
- Go stargazing
- Make homemade pizzas and eat while you watch the sunset
- Write a country song together about your relationship
- Play “If I Could” at the mall: Go to every store and chose one item they sell that you would buy your partner if you could.
3. Receiving gifts
If you are this person, then you thrive on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind gift-giving. For you, it doesn’t matter whether the gift costs a lot or not – the thought is more important.
It’s not about being materialistic, but it’s about being sentimental. For people who feel loved when they receive gifts, it’s their assurance that they’re heard and noticed.
But if this is not how you love, take this tip from Chapman:
“The thing that works best is picking the right gift that shows you understand your partner and the effort you made to express love. Think about finding a gift that your partner has been asking for or would enjoy receiving and plan for a special way of giving it; make it a surprise.”
Remember that it’s not all about the gifts. It’s about the effort, love, and thought behind it.
(Check out our new comprehensive guide on emotional affairs.)
4. Acts of service
When I say “acts of service”, I actually mean doing things you know your partner likes you to do. You seek to please and express your love by serving.
Why do people validate love in this way?
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According to University of Texas at Austin professor Raj Raghunathan, one of the reasons is because this is how we show that we value our relationships.
“There are at least three reasons why those who practice generosity experience a boost in happiness levels. First, because people have an inherent propensity to be fair to others, recipients of generosity feel pressured to reciprocate it.
“Thus, when you are generous to others, you attract generous behaviors from them in return.“
Most of the time, these are the people who say “actions speak louder than words.” They’re not much into words because for them, anyone can talk the talk but only the serious ones can walk the walk.
They show their love through actions – mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, or getting up in the middle of the night to take care of the little one, letting you sleep.
Tessina offers some valuable insights for this:
“It says you want to make your home and relationship more livable and you want to ease your partner’s burden.”
However, acts that supersede expectations are the most powerful types. They will not appreciate it if they’ve already grown accustomed to that particular act.
The acts should spontaneous or unique. Here are some ways to show how you love:
- Give your partner a shoulder massage.
- Give your partner a glass of water or refill their current glass.
- Find a comb and brush your partner’s hair.
- Clean up one thing in the room you are currently in.
5. Physical Touch
If you show your love through touch, chances are you’ve been misunderstood. Maybe some avoid you because they think you’re a maniac or just because it’s not how they love.
By physical touch, contrary to what you might think, is not all about sex. It does not also mean that if your partner loves through “touch”, all he or she wants is sex.
It’s all about intimacy and feeling loved through simple touches like a caress on the face, holding hands, or simply a hug. With friends, it can be just a simple tap on the shoulders and you’ll feel much better.
Science actually has a perfectly good reason to support this.
According to biological anthropologist Helen Fisher:
“What I say to people is stay in touch. We are just built to touch—the brain is built to do this. We’ve evolved all kinds of brain mechanisms to fall madly in love and stay in love.”
When we are touched by someone we love, our brains give off hormone oxytocin, or the “love hormone,” which helps us keep feelings of deep attachment.
If your partner thrives on touch, here’s a tip from Chapman:
“Be intentional about finding ways to express your love using physical touch: giving hugs, touching their arm or hand during a conversation; offer to give a neck or back rub.”
Physical touch is the most direct way to communicate how we love. Dr. Tessina said:
“As long as it’s done in an atmosphere which is loving and not oppressive, physical touch can be the most effective of the love languages. It calms, heals and reassures.”
Understanding love language matters, but it doesn’t mean it’s everything.
While Dr. Chapman’s concept of language has been widely accepted, there’s actually very little research on how it affects the happiness of couples.
One study found that couples who shared the same love language were no happier than couples who are mismatched in their love languages.
Furthermore, the study also found that while the participants did indeed show a deep and even intuitive understanding of their partner’s love language, it didn’t mean affection was displayed any differently.
Love alignment can help—it may even make things easier. But it isn’t necessarily what makes or break a relationship.
Even if you and your partner don’t share the same love language, you can still be in a happy and healthy relationship with each other.
So don’t get too caught up on being love language-compatible.
What’s more important is that being in tune with your partner’s varying and changing needs and preferences, and trying your best to fulfill them.
According to relationship expert and DePaul University professor, Tim Cole:
“Decades of empirical evidence show that having a secure style of attachment and being responsive to a partner’s ever-changing needs lead to the outcome most couples desire—long-term happiness and satisfaction.”
At the end of the day, it’s how you choose to love— not how you prefer to love.
The thing is that NOT everyone expresses and feels loved in the same way.
Miscommunication happens are not receiving love in the way you feel is right for you. That is why being aware of the different ways of how we love can help you understand your relationship better.
Falling in love is not difficult – staying in love is a different story.
But, if you meet your partner’s needs and make her/him feel loved, then you’re on your way to happily ever after.
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