Know Your Love Language: Reignite the Spark in Your Relationship
Invite more joy, love, and longevity into your relationship
It’s addictive. That feeling of falling in love. Many of us have felt it. We can’t think of anything else but the person. We can’t wait to see them. To do things for them. To buy for them. To cook for them. Laugh. Flirt. Make love. They become our best friends. Our lovers. Our soul mates.
Floating on clouds of euphoria is one of the most beautiful, happy feelings we can feel. It’s no wonder we spend many years of our lives — and do the most ridiculous things — looking for love. But what happens after the initial euphoria of being in love?
I’m 14 years into my relationship, married for 9 with a kid in tow — and we love each other. It’s lovely. We don’t yell at each other, we hold hands while we sleep, we have date nights. We work as a team. Then lockdown happened. And our relationship broke down.
Lately, we’ve mulled over questions with our marriage counselor: what the f*ck happened to the fun and intimacy we enjoyed in the first 5 years of our relationship. When did it all get so serious? When did we start to feel comfortable speaking more deeply to our friends than we do to each other? Why don’t I want to be touched anymore? We seem to repel each other more often than draw closer.
And I wonder: What hope is there of a long-lasting relationship when the in-love feeling has a depressingly short lifespan of up to 2 years? What could we possibly gain from staying in a relationship for 5, 10, 20 years, or more? How the hell do we avoid getting bored, annoyed, and resentful with each other? Is it possible to keep up the excitement, laughter, and seduction we enjoy at the start of our relationships? These are common questions — and it seems many of us face the same challenges trailing after the elusive love boat repeatedly throughout our lives.
Our journey has led us to explore the insights of Dr. Gary Chapman, an author, speaker, and counselor. As a marriage counselor, he realized couples had the same complaints “I feel like he doesn’t love me.” And their partner would share, “I don’t know what else to do! I’m doing everything I should be doing”.
Chapman delved into his counseling notes to understand what someone actually wants when they say “I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me”. He was surprised to find their answers fell into five categories, what he termed 5 love languages: Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. He shared these in his New York Times bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages. The foundation of his discovery is this:
What may help one person feel love emotionally isn’t necessarily what makes another person feel loved emotionally. Yet they give love the way they want to receive it, then get confused when the other person doesn’t respond to their love. This happens because they’re not speaking each other’s love language.
To keep love alive, Chapman tells us couples need to fill each other’s love “tanks”. And to do that, we need to understand our own love language and that of our partner. This can give us another choice than the 2 most common relationship choices: to stay in a relationship in misery. Or jump ship.
It seems so simple, yet it obviously isn’t an intuitive way of loving. I didn’t want my husband close physically because he wasn’t spending quality time with me or giving me the words I needed to feel loved. I wasn’t getting these from him because he wasn’t feeling close to me physically. We weren’t using each other’s language and were missing the mark with our love. Constantly reaching out to each other, getting rejected, then withdrawing. And over time, it built up hurt, resentment, and frustration. Disconnect.
The lightbulbs have switched on in our minds and we’ve been giving this a go over the past month. It’s brought us closer as we’re slowly understanding that we each feel emotionally loved differently — so we need to change the way we’ve been giving each other love.
Here’s a rundown of the 5 love languages, including a few to-dos that may help you and your partner start closing the gap in your relationship, as it has for us:
The 5 Love languages
1. Words of affirmation
Compliments and words of appreciation such as “You look hot in that dress”. “Thank you for folding the clothes, that really helps”. “You always know how to pick the best dishes when we go out”. “Thanks for always paying the gas bill.” Simple, straightforward statements are best. Swap criticisms with compliments. Use words that are humble, encouraging, and kind rather than making demands or nagging.
What does your partner want to do but doesn’t feel confident about? Encourage by practicing empathy and listening to what’s important to them rather than forcing your will on them. Use kind, soft, understanding words rather than keep a score of wrongs and the need to be right. Payback brings on judgment and vindictiveness — intimacy and love become impossible.
Chapman shares that “forgiveness is the way of love”.
TO DO: Make a list of appreciative words and practice using them with your partner.
2. Acts of service
When a couple starts dating, there’s almost nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. After the in-love euphoria is lost, little things start getting on each other’s nerves. How do we get our partners to do what we’d like done? Chapman suggests we avoid demands: “requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love”. Focus on giving love freely as no one responds well when forced to do anything.
Communicate what acts are most important. For instance, your partner might take the rubbish out and sweep the garage each day. But perhaps you’d feel more love from them if they bought take out and put the kids to bed without you asking when you’re tired.
TO DO: Make lists of what you’d appreciate each other to help out with. Share those lists.
3. Physical touch
A common situation in long term relationships is less intimacy: from kids, being busy, tired, stressed. This can break a relationship for a person who needs touch to feel love. Words or quality time won’t be remembered as much as touch.
For a person whose primary love language is touch, to touch is to be close emotionally, to withdraw is to detach emotionally. Touch comes in many forms, from sex and massages to holding hands or brushing against each other walking by. Be sensitive to what your partner likes — rather than assume they feel pleasure the same way as you.
TO DO: Make a list of ways to touch your partner during the day, not necessarily in a sexual way.
4. Acts of giving
These are physical symbols of love. Though one person might not value physical gifts, what matters is whether the other person feels loved through gifts. When you fill your partner’s love tank, it’s an investment in your relationship and fulfils your emotional needs along with your partner’s.
Physical presence is also an act of giving. It helps to tell your partner when it’s important to you that they show up for you — to a dinner, a funeral, a birth. Don’t expect them to know and get angry when they don’t appear.
TO DO: Pay attention to what your partner says they like. Surprise them with it. Get creative: gifts can be symbolic, not always expensive.
5. Quality time
Plan ways to give your loved one undivided attention. It’s a powerful way to express love. It shows you care for each other, like being together, and enjoy doing things together. Treasure those moments. Each moment you have together will never happen again the same way. Chat to each other with a genuine interest in understanding your partner’s feelings, throughs, and desires without interruption, nagging, or judgment. Notice body language, make eye contact, listen for feelings.
Put work into perspective. “I’m doing it for us” is a common thought from partners who spend a lot of time at work. Will your accomplishments be worthwhile if they cost you your partner because you’ve sacrificed valuable time away from them?
TO DO: Make a list of activities you know your partner would like to do together. Schedule time to do them.
A deeper dive into the love languages
Relationships will include elements of all the 5 love languages. It’s useful to discover which ones are more important to you and your partner — and get clear about exact ways that will help each of you feel loved.
Knowing the specifics of each love language are what Chapman refers to as dialects. It’s not enough to say any words just because your partner thrives on positive words. Just as there are dialects within a language, there are dialects within love languages.
We need to know exactly what will fill our love tanks — and share it with our partners. At the same time, learning what they need will help us fill theirs. For instance, find out what specific compliments make our partners feel good. What activities they’d like to do together — perhaps he prefers hiking over shopping, or she prefers fine dining instead of eating at a family restaurant when the kids are being babysat.
TO DO: Use a 1–10 ranking to tell your partner how full your love tank is 3 times a week. Get them to do the same. If less than 10, ask each other what can be done to fill your tanks.
Chapman discovered 3 fascinating truths:
1/ How each person acts after being married or after being together for a long time isn’t how they acted “in love”. We’re affected by our parent’s marriage, our desires, needs, emotions, and personality. The euphoria of being in love lasts around 2 years — and it isn’t a good indication of how we will act afterward. Chapman shares that we’ll eventually assert ourselves. We’ll be less likely to agree and have no problem telling each other. He wants that pool table. She thinks “we can’t afford it”. She wants to visit her family. He prefers to tinker around in the garage.
2/ Love is a choice — you can’t make your partner want to love you. They might do what you want if you criticize, nag, or demand. The love languages can be used to hurt if not used sincerely, with love. For instance, saying what the person wants to hear or doing the laundry to get more sex. There needs to be an honest, genuine want to give each other the emotional love they need if the relationship has a chance of working.
3/ Our partner’s criticisms give us an idea of their love language. What we get annoyed about with our partners may tell us what we value. For instance, if she feels upset and angry when he talks down to her or judging the way she does things, her love language may be words of affirmation. This is one way to figure out your love language. Next we’ll explore more ways:
How to figure out your primary love language
- Think of what you often ask your partner to do
- What does your partner do or not do that hurts you most?
- How do you often show love to your partner?
- Take the online love language quiz: it helps to do it more than once
It’s possible to have 2 love languages, which Chapman describes as being bilingual. This gives your partner more ways to show you love — and for you to do the same for them. Share your results and brainstorm ways to regularly show love for each other.
My husband and I have started our own book club. We’ve found it helpful to read each chapter of The 5 Love Languages separately. We discuss the situations of couples we relate to. We share ways we like to be loved. And we practice showing each other love — in the different ways we most feel love — during the day. It’s only early days, yet we’ve felt a positive change in our relationship, for the better. We’re closer. We feel more understood. More loved.
It’s common for you and me to love the way we’d like to be loved, yet often it’s not how our partners want to be loved. We each have a primary love language that when met, will fill our love tanks. Which is yours? Words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, acts of giving, or quality time? What’s more, it’s important to delve deeper to understand the dialect within our love language.
Be curious, communicate, and get creative to discover each other’s love language — and reignite the spark in your relationship.