Could you and your partner’s romantic spark use a boost? Whether you’re living together or are worlds away, letting your special someone know how much you treasure them (and feeling that affection in return) isn’t always easy. If it’s ever felt like you two are speaking different languages when it comes to how you communicate love, the truth is, you very well might be!
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s groundbreaking work, “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Commitment to Your Mate,” he categorizes five general ways romantic partners express and experience love:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Physical Touch
To help explore what each of these means and how to incorporate them in your own love story, we reached out to Donna Keehn, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Keehn frequently utilizes the concept of love languages when working with her clients, and considers them a wonderful tool to play with. As it turns out, the insight they offer can bring both immediate and lasting positive change to any relationship dynamic.
Meet the Expert
Donna Keehn is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in California. Her private practice specializes in depression, anxiety, substance abuse, trauma, anger management, relationships, and attachment disorders. Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, Keehn held corporate roles at IBM and New Balance.
“So much of the time, especially in working with couples, each partner has no idea of their own love language, let alone their partner’s love language, which can leave both feeling continually disregarded, unappreciated, and unloved despite trying hard to connect,” Keehn explains. “That’s why I believe it’s so important to understand our own love language, as the more self-awareness we have, the more emotional intelligence we have...the more we can connect to others, including our romantic partner, in healthy ways.” Below, Keehn dives into all five categories with tips for integrating each into your life and recommends paying close attention to which category best reflects how you like to give and receive love.
Words of Affirmation
“Typically, people who connect with this love language value feeling appreciated, loved, and understood by their romantic partners through verbal acknowledgments (aka showing affection through words),” says Keehn. To get a sense of this love language in action, she shares how “tender ‘I love you’s,’ heartfelt compliments, and words of encouragement, support, and appreciation” are all perfect examples.
As for incorporating this love language into your relationship, Keehn has good news: “This love language can be so easily expressed, and in so many ways!” She suggests using a variety of mediums to share meaningful words with your partner, such as social media platforms, texting, handwritten notes, and, of course, simply speaking to them directly.
“People who resonate with this love language value feeling fully seen, accepted, and adored through sharing intentional time with their partner free of phones, television, and social media,” says Keehn. Laughing, she adds, “Just step away from the screens!” While sometimes difficult to cultivate given all of the distractions around us, there are plenty of ways big and small to honor this love language and find one on one time: “A brief moment of intense connection, deep conversations with focused eye contact, a planned getaway where privacy abounds adds up...anything that fosters active and intentional time to connect give undivided attention is perfect.”
Acts of Service
You know the phrase “actions speak louder than words”? That’s this love language’s motto! “Acts of Service is the love language of doing things for your partner, most often in an attempt to make their lives easier,” explains Keehn. “If this is your primary love language, you value feelings of being deeply cherished, appreciated, and not being taken for granted.” To connect with a partner who “speaks” this love language, try to provide comfort in times of stress, and proactively look for opportunities to lighten their load “even if it means having to go out of your way” encourages Keehn.
Receiving Gifts is the love language of gift-giving and, don’t stress, a gift’s worth isn’t attached to a price tag here. As Keehn explains, “A common misconception of this love language is that the gift must have a dollar value (the higher the monetary value, the better the gift) but, in reality, it’s all about the perceived value in terms of thoughtfulness.”
Receiving gifts doesn't refer solely to physical presents. Whether it’s a giant bouquet of your love’s favorite flowers or a text of that same flower’s emoji at a random hour, it genuinely is all about the thought that counts.
She adds, “People who have Receiving Gifts as their primary love language often talk about the symbolism behind the gifts, and the emotions they invoke, including joy, laughter, and feeling really seen and valued.” The key to being a gift-giver in this dynamic is in making sure a gift really “reflects your partner’s world, their interests, their desires, their favorite things/experiences, etc.”
“First things first, let’s get this clear,” laughs Keehn, “the love language of Physical Touch encompasses so much more than sexual intimacy!” She explains, “Physical Touch can also be thought of as Meaningful Touch, and this love language is really about showing love through physical expressions [such as] holding hands, kissing, hugging, cuddling, and more.” What people who have Physical Touch as their primary love language ultimately value is “the deep emotional intimacy they experience with their partners when touch is involved, whether it be non-sexual or sexual in nature.”
As for a fun way to explore this love language? “I tell couples to turn in toward each other (full-on eye contact) along with some physical touch (such as holding hands), for thirty seconds (I set a timer),” says Keehn. “Without fail, they are shocked at how deeply connected they can feel in that short of time [and how] the feeling of connectedness carries them through thick and thin and beyond!”