Twenty-one years ago, Gary Chapman wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages. In his book, he argued that there are five different ways that we can show someone that we love them, and that each person has their own unique preference for us to show them that love. That is, each person has his or her own love language.
Chapman’s five love languages are:
- Using words of encouragement
- Providing acts of service
- Giving gifts
- Offering quality time
- Reaching out with physical touch.
He suggests that to discover a person’s language of love we should watch the way that they express love towards others, and consider what they ask for from their significant other the most. If they’re a gift-giver, that’s the sign that their language is gifts. If you give them gifts, you’re showing love in their language. If they make themselves available and spend time, that’s what they’ll respond to best.
Are you speaking my language?
Often we have problems in our relationships (including with our children) because we show love in our preferred love language, but our loved ones seem unresponsive. They speak a different language and so they’re not aware that we are trying to show them love.
We reach out to touch our teenager and he says, “Hey, don’t touch!” Or we give and give and give to our school-aged children and they never say thanks or show any love to us, because they want our time instead.
An alternative arrangement?
While I really like the idea of love languages, there is a lack of research to support the ideas. Current research gives us clues as to how these love languages can be modified to strengthen relationships and improve the way we show love. Here’s how I would arrange them - rather than having five languages to choose from, I believe that all people (including partners/spouses, and children) have two universal “love languages”.
- time (which Chapman identifies)
In addition, I see three additional languages that may or may not be applicable to others. Some may respond well to one, while others may respond well to all three. They are:
- show me (which consolidates Chapman’s acts of service and receiving gifts).
- tell me (which includes words of encouragement but goes further).
- touch me (again shown in Chapman’s initial five).
How they work
I believe that every single person on the planet – and especially our children – respond to the two languages of time and understanding. An old saying reminds us that “to a child, love is spelled T-I-M-E.” I know of no intervention more powerful than simply spending time with another person to create a strong and positive relationship.
I have written dozens of articles about understanding. The idea features consistently in my books. But when our children are struggling, we rarely show them high levels of understanding. Instead, we often find ourselves reprimanding. Alternatively, we turn away from them and tell them, “you’ll be right”, or if we are less charitable, “toughen up, princess.” I believe that it is more important to humans to feel understood than to feel loved.
The three additional languages work like this:
Some people, children included, feel most loved when we show them our love. Sometimes this might be by giving gifts. Other times it may be by making some kind of sacrifice or special effort to help them or please them. (We should remember that children have a tendency to simply expect us to do things for them, so we may not see this as their language of love until they’ve left home and become adults themselves!).
Being told “I love you” is all some children (and adults) need to feel loved. They don’t need gifts or special or expensive experiences. A love note, an acknowledgment, a statement of appreciation or affirmation; these are the expressions of love that create a sense of love in a “tell me”.
The “touch me” language is simple. These are the huggers, the snugglers, the strokers, the caressers. These are the ones who, if you walk past them without squeezing their elbow or running your finger across their shoulder or neck, will wonder if they’ve done something wrong. The touch me language craves physical contact to express love.
What are your family members’ love languages?
Sometimes it can be tricky to work out what language of love your family members respond to best, and understand the most. Focus on the first two, and experiment with the next three. Watch how they respond. And look for the ways that they express their love. It may help to make your family happier.
What love language do you use with your kids or significant other?