Like any healthy relationship, maintaining a happy marriage takes commitment and attention to detail. Scripture tells us that “Love is patient, love is kind…it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). You can show love and honor to your spouse by learning to “speak” their love language.
The 5 Love Languages and How to “Speak” Each of Them
A love language is a way a person emotionally expresses and experiences love. Dr. Gary Chapman—a marriage and family life expert and author of the best-selling book The Five Love Languages—formulated the love languages that married couples demonstrated during his extensive career as a marriage counselor.
According to Dr. Chapman, people tend to show affection in the same way they like to receive it. In other words, the things that one person does to show love are the types of things that that person would like done back to feel loved. For example, if your spouse likes to sing your praises, then they would feel most loved if you sang their praises from time to time too. Is your spouse a hugger? Then they would appreciate hugs on a regular basis too.
You can uncover your spouse’s love language by observing how your beloved shows love and how they request that you show love in return. Chapman lists the five love languages as follows.
1. Words of Affirmation
Think back to when you were told that you had done an excellent job on something or when someone thanked you for your effort on a project. Perhaps it was a boss, a friend, or a parent who recognized your hard work and verbalized their approval. Those simple words of appreciation may have buoyed you for days or made you feel more connected to the speaker.
For many married people, using words of affirmation like these can mean the difference between an evening spent enjoying your spouse’s company or an evening spent trying to figure out what triggered your sweetheart’s cold shoulder. According to Chapman, words of affirmation make up the most common love language and are also the only love language that involves verbal expression. You can spot people whose love language is based on words of affirmation because those people don’t hesitate to cheer others on and verbalize their appreciation for others. In a similar way, people who espouse this love language are uplifted when you express your appreciation for them verbally as well.
If your spouse’s primary love language centers on words of affirmation, here are examples of affirming words that you can speak or write to make your partner feel more fulfilled:
• Call your spouse at work or at home to say, “I love you.”
• Thank your spouse for something specific they recently did
• Compliment your spouse in front of others, especially family and friends
• Encourage your spouse with supportive words when they doubt themselves
2. Quality Time
In this fast-paced world of short attention spans, it can be easy to forget to look up from your smartphone and wish your spouse a good morning or ask how your day was. Unfortunately, if you aren’t careful, this lack of acknowledgment can easily become routine and usher in resentment in you, your spouse, or both.
Love isn’t just something that you feel, but something that you do. If your spouse’s love language centers on spending quality time together, then nothing will make him or her feel more valued than being the center of your attention. You can do this by being purposeful about spending quality time with your spouse without checking every beep and flash of your smartphone. This will show your honey the type of love they crave and will help make fragile marriages stronger and good marriages great.
To give your loved one the one-on-one time they’re craving, you can:
• Schedule a few minutes of quality time together daily, such as having coffee together before work or catching up on your day afterward
• Silence your phone, make eye contact, and rediscover the lost art of face-to-face conversation
• Plan a date night
• Go to bed at the same time
3. Receiving Gifts
Everyone appreciates receiving a heartfelt gift. Depending on the circumstances, we give gifts to welcome, celebrate, congratulate, and console. When we give gifts to those we hold dearest, we do so to express our love for them.
For some people, receiving presents is their primary love language and makes them feel the most cared about. This love language isn’t to be confused with having a materialistic nature. People who speak this love language are thrilled to receive any gift that shows thoughtfulness and effort, no matter how big or small the price tag. In fact, sometimes, the most meaningful gifts have no price tag at all and are simply a tangible representation of a treasured memory. However, the person who speaks this love language will see right through self-serving or thoughtless gifts that show little attention to detail on your part.
If your husband or wife speaks this love language, make him or her feel prized by giving gifts that:
• Memorialize something your spouse holds dear, such as giving them a beautifully framed photograph of a long-missed loved one
• Show that you listen to your better half, such as buying a box of tea bags or container of coffee grounds after hearing your spouse say that they were down to her last cup
• Make your significant other feel celebrated, such as giving a gift in honor of a birthday, promotion, graduation, or some other milestone
• Cheer your guy or gal up, such as by picking up flowers or a pint of ice cream to share after they have had a rough day
4. Acts of Service
This love language brings to mind the adage that “actions speak louder than words.” For someone whose love language is rooted in acts of service, doing things to ease that person’s obligations is the best way for you to demonstrate your love for them.
For example, people who speak this love language would feel more valued if you filled their car with gas or did the grocery shopping for them than if you wrote them the most romantic of love letters. If you’re stumped with what acts of service may make your honey feel appreciated, don’t hesitate to ask! Those who speak this love language often know exactly what tasks they’d like done to pare down their long to-do list.
Keep in mind that people who resonate with this love language get especially wounded when you do things like procrastinate, break your commitments to them, or give them more to do by dropping the ball on your own responsibilities. What may seem like no big deal to you may be interpreted by your beloved as inconsiderate at best or disrespectful at worst.
Instead, make your spouse feel cherished with simple but meaningful acts of service. For instance:
• Fold the laundry when it’s your spouse’s turn to tackle this chore
• Volunteer to walk the dog, especially when it’s cold or raining out
• Pick the kids up from school or sports practice on your way home
• Make dinner or pack your partner’s lunch for work
5. Physical Touch
When we think of how spouses express love through physical touch, we often think that sex is the most common way to do this. However, the emotional reach of physical touch encompasses so much more. If you’ve ever felt your heart flutter when your spouse holds your hand on a walk, gives you a kiss while walking by, or hugs you from behind as you do the dishes, then you know the emotional power of physical touch. Sometimes an act as simple as a pat on the back or a shoulder rub can speak volumes in the love language department.
Express love through physical touch by doing more of the following:
• Kiss each other hello and goodbye
• Hold hands, especially when speaking
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Bernardbodo
• Put your arm around your sweetheart while sitting next to each other
• Hug more often
When you show love to your spouse in a way that makes them feel the most cherished, you’re speaking your other half’s love language. Don’t presume that the way you feel valued is the same way that your spouse feels valued. Instead, focus on learning what your spouse specifically needs to feel prized. The reward for doing so may just be improved communication between the two of you and a stronger marital bond that will last the test of time!
For a fun activity that you and your spouse can do together to figure out each other’s love language, take the love language quiz here.
Related Resource: Listen to our new, FREE podcast on marriage: Team Us. The best marriages have a teamwork mentality. Find practical, realistic ideas for strengthening your marriage. Listen to an episode here, and then head over to LifeAudio.com to check out all of our episodes:
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/jupiterimages
Dolores Smyth is a nationally published faith and parenting writer. She draws inspiration for her writing from everyday life. Connect with her over Twitter @byDoloresSmyth.