by Shanyn Hosier
According to therapist Gary Chapman, PhD and author of The 5 Love Languages, each of us have a preferred way of expressing and experiencing affection. Our primary preference surfaces during toddlerhood and remains the same, for the most part, throughout our lives. Most folks have a strong secondary preference, too, and depending on your emotional history, it’s possible to develop an aversion to one or more of those “love languages.”
According to Chapman, the five modes of communicating love are:
- Words of Affirmation—Verbally showing love with sincere compliments, encouragement, and appreciation, not flattery.
- Quality Time—Focusing attention on a loved one without interruption or distraction.
- Receiving Gifts—Offering thoughtful (not necessarily expensive) presents that demonstrate how well you know a loved one.
- Acts of Service—Readily offering a helping hand with daily chores, not occasional heroic efforts.
- Physical Touch—Nonsexual physical contact like hugs, holding hands, and massage.
What’s your dominant language? Try the process of elimination: ask yourself which one you could live without until there’s only one left. The choice gets difficult pretty quickly, because most of us enjoy all five love languages to some extent. I can do without gifts—they sometimes stress me out with a feeling of obligation to reciprocate. And I’m anal enough to prefer doing most daily tasks my way (which is the right way, wink-wink), so when others jump in to lend a hand, I can get uptight. I enjoy quality time with my spouse and family, but only in short bursts—if the hyper-focus lasts too long, I get squirmy and often wind up putting my foot in my mouth. While I admit to fishing for compliments and relish genuine praise, I’m mature enough to feel embarrassed about it. But when it comes to hugs and snuggles, I cannot get enough. Bingo! I’m a Physical Touch person with a strong secondary preference for Words of Affirmation.
Your dominant language of love applies not only to romantic relationships, but with anyone you feel affection for: parents, siblings, children, close friends, even coworkers. And keep in mind, some adjustment will likely be necessary when it comes to expressing love to the adolescents in your life: the gifts and phrases that worked great when they were little won’t succeed as well now. In all cases, it takes time and patience to do it right.
What happens when our preferred way of speaking love doesn’t mesh with the one we’d most like to converse with? Lots of tension and frustration, according to Chapman. You feel like your gestures of affection are unrecognized or unappreciated, while they feel like you don’t understand them. Try an experiment by asking yourself three questions. First, how does your loved one express their love for others? Next, what do they complain about within your relationship? Finally, what does your loved one ask for? These are clues to what love language they prefer. And making the effort to speak their preferred language, not just your own, is a powerful demonstration of your love for them.
Incidentally, this stuff is great information for romance writers! What a fabulous way to give your characters’ relationships depth and tension.
For more information about this concept (a quiz is available!) please visit www.5lovelanguages.com.