ever heard someone mention a love language, you may wonder, “What is a love language?” followed by, “What is my love language?” And if you’ve asked a love language enthusiast, it’s possible to be quickly overwhelmed by the deluge of information shared. Let’s break down what the love languages are, what they mean, and how you can answer your “What is my love language” question.
What are the Five Love Languages?
The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts is a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman that took the world by storm. It hits the New York Times bestselling list year after year, has sold over 5 million copies, and has been translated into thirty-eight languages.
Chapman defines “love language” as how we give and receive love to and from each other. There are five broad categories, aka the five love languages. There are dialects within each love language, the ways individuals express love within that language.
Here are the five love languages:
Acts of Service
Words of Affirmation
It’s important to note that while we give and receive love in all five areas, there are usually one or two that take priority for us. Once we know and understand our personal primary and secondary love languages, we can learn the love languages of our spouses, family, friends, and co-workers.
When my husband was a youth minister, we held a love languages class with our students and helped them figure out their love languages. Some of the teens were easy to figure out; others were more of a challenge. This process helped us understand the kids’ needs better, and we were able to grow a deeper relationship with them because we knew what to do (and not to do) for each of them as individuals.
For example, for the students who were high with Words of Affirmation, we made more effort to tell them we were proud of them, thank them, and verbally encourage them. For students who were high with Quality Time, we needed them to feel included, even something as simple as sitting next to them for a few minutes before or after the lesson to ask about their day.
On the flip side, knowing someone’s love language means knowing where you can hurt them the easiest. Sarcastic teasing might affect someone high with Words of Affirmation differently than someone who has it lower on their list.
Likewise, if your spouse’s love language is Acts of Service and you’re consistently leaving laundry on the floor or a mess on the table, it might hit their heart differently than someone who is just annoyed that you’re a messy person. For more on how love languages in a marriage are biblical, check out Heather Riggleman’s article.
A tricky love language to learn can be Physical Touch, which is essentially non-sexual touch. With anyone outside your immediate family, this can be a delicate line between wanting someone to feel loved and getting hit with a lawsuit. Our middle son scores super high with Physical Touch. His first reaction when he feels loved is to lean in for a hug. Conversely, when he gets upset with his brothers, his initial reaction used to be to hit them. Justin and I had to be extra diligent during his early years—with three sons, all two years apart, play-wrestling becomes fighting really fast. We needed to redirect this instinct into a healthier way of handling his frustration.
And finally, Receiving Gifts doesn’t equate to expensive and over-the-top extravagance. Sometimes, the little gifts mean the most: the dandelion picked by chubby toddler fingers, a $5 gift card, or a shirt you found at the thrift store that is totally your BFF’s style.
Are There Only Five Love Languages?
While Chapman has defined five overall love languages, it’s important to understand that each love language contains dialects. Within Words of Affirmation, as an example, different dialects can be the tone of voice, word choice, sarcasm, teasing, or lying.
For my husband, whose Acts of Service level is off the charts, he doesn’t mind if a towel gets left on the floor, but it hits his love tank in a big way if one of the kids (or me) borrows something of his and doesn’t put it back. And as silly as it might sound to me (someone low on Acts of Service), if I have a glass of water waiting for him when he comes home, his love tank overflows. That’s part of his dialect, and it took time for both of us to figure that out.
Also, certain character traits not included on the list may make us feel loved, like loyalty. We can show loyalty in all five love language-y ways by showing up, verbally advocating, participating, helping out, and putting our money where our mouth is (in certain situations).
Helping Your Children Understand the Five Love Languages
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” As parents, we have the chance to love and discipline our children in the best way for them, to train them as individuals in the way they need.
Look for opportunities to show love to them in the way they need, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. Here are some suggestions:
Acts of Service: make their lunch for them, help with homework (also falls under Quality Time), assist with a chore, use reward stickers for their accomplishments
Receiving Gifts: grab a candy bar at the checkout and sneak it into their lunch, add extra bows on birthday presents, give flowers for no reason
Quality Time: grab a milkshake after a doctor’s appointment on the way back to school, spend a few extra minutes at bedtime asking about their day, and watch them play their video game for a little bit…those mines aren’t going to craft themselves.
Words of Affirmation: noticing when they’ve done something and saying it out loud, leaving notes in lunchboxes or backpacks, being specific with compliments
Physical Touch: lots of hugs, hand squeezes, cuddles, and pats on the back
Naturally, we show love to our children in age-appropriate ways. Similarly, we show love in appropriate ways with our friends and co-workers.
How Do I Find my Love Language?
If you aren’t sure what your love language is, you can take a free test at 5lovelanguages.com. There are multiple spin-offs of the original 5 Love Languages book: for kids, for military families, for spouses, for the language of apology (sooooo good!), for appreciation, and more.
Along with the quiz, you can learn more about each love language in these Christianity.com articles:
What is the Love Language of Words of Affirmation?
What is the Love Language of Quality Time?
What is the Love Language of Receiving Gifts?
What is the Love Language of Acts of Service?
What is the Love Language of Physical Touch?
Another way to determine your love language is to think about your first instincts when showing someone you love them. Do you praise them? Hug them? Want to get a surprise gift? Is your idea of an ideal night sitting on the couch and watching a show together? Are you always looking for ways to help out around the house?
Strangely enough, you might also be able to figure out your love language by thinking about what hurts you the most. When our middle son was two, he took a swing at his older brother, who was teasing him. Through the negative (trying to hit, aka physically touch, his brother), we realized that more positive touch was needed to reinforce good behavior.
Likewise, our oldest son was mischief-personified, especially as a toddler. Little swats on the behind were ineffective, but time-out was a godsend. Not surprisingly, Quality Time is his highest love language, so we learned how to love and discipline him by paying attention to his responses.
Additionally, love languages can change over time. Receiving gifts was pretty low on my list until I met my best friend, who is off the charts with that love language. As a result, I became more intentional with gift-giving with her. Not surprisingly, it has moved up in my rankings as a result.
There’s a reason that The Five Love Languages has become a global phenomenon. It speaks to the core of who we are and how we can best show love to those around us. Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Reading The Five Love Languages was a game-changer for my marriage, and I wish I’d read it when we were dating. I’m so thankful we can use it as a guide for raising our kids and making sure our friends and co-workers feel loved and respected.
Figure out your love language and that of those closest to you.
Talk about your dialects.
Explore the ways you can show love (and what you might be doing that is causing the other person to feel less loved).