Posted by: Debbie Loyd | February 15, 2011

Speaking Different Languages?


If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you know how hard it is. It doesn’t come natural. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, says that communicating love to our partner is much like speaking in languages. We each have different ways that we like to give and receive love. Sometimes we don’t feel loved, not because our partner isn’t being loving, but because our partner is showing their love in what can be described as a different language than our own.

Let me give an illustration that’s similar. At Christmas, I tend to like practical gifts—perhaps something I’ve been wanting but have been reluctant to spend the money on. My husband’s idea is something much more romantic—jewelry, etc. I can receive that and feel misunderstood and unheard, OR I can realize that, to my husband, this is a very loving gift. To him, a practical gift doesn’t feel like much of a gift.

Gary Chapman has expanded this idea farther. He describes five primary ways people express their love.

  • Words of Affirmation. This can include compliments but also general encouragement. It requires seeing the world from our partner’s eyes.
  • Quality Time. Chapman says this involves not just physical proximity but focused attention. Quality time could be talking or doing an activity together. In this language, the enjoyment of the relationship is more important than the actual activity.
  • Receiving Gifts. What makes this a valued language is that the gift is a symbol of the fact that your loved one was thinking about you. The monetary value of the gift is not as important.
  • Acts of Service. Usually this is the small, unglamorous jobs that your partner would like you to do. It can be as mundane as changing the cat’s litter box, but your noticing that it needs done and doing it is a special gift of love.
  • Physical Touch. The fifth language is probably the one most of us think of first. It’s physical touch. Again, there can be quite a range—anywhere from a momentary gentle touch to sexual intercourse. Researchers have long appreciated the importance of physical contact.

How do you know which language is most important to you? Chapman recommends thinking about which ones you tend to use most in expressing love. This may be your preferred language. He also suggests asking yourself what your spouse does or says or fails to do or say that hurts you deeply. This provides important clues.

Just as learning a new verbal language is difficult, it is hard to begin communicating in a new love language. The good news is that as you learn to express love in a way that feels like love to your partner, you and the relationship will grow.

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