Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language
By Gary Chapman
My conclusion after many years of marriage counseling is that there are five emotional love languages — five ways that people speak and understand emotional love.
Part 1: Learn to Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language
- Learn to Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language
- Meeting Your Spouse’s Need for Love
- Understanding the Five Love Languages
- Discovering Your Spouse’s Love Language
Series About: Communication and Conflict
What is your primary love language? What makes you feel most loved by your spouse? What do you desire above all else?
If the answer to those questions does not leap to your mind immediately, perhaps it will help to look at the negative use of love languages. What does your spouse do or say — or fail to do or say — that hurts you deeply?
Ignoring our partner’s love languages is like ignoring the needs of a garden: If we don’t weed, water or fertilize, it will die a slow death.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
When you’re trying to figure out your primary love language, it helps to look back over your marriage and ask, “What have I most often requested of my spouse?” Whatever you have most requested is probably in keeping with your primary love language. Those requests have probably been interpreted by your spouse as nagging — but in fact, they have been your efforts to secure emotional love from your spouse.
Another way to discover your primary love language is to examine what you do or say to express love to your spouse. Chances are what you are doing for her is what you wish she would do for you. If you are constantly doing acts of service for your spouse, perhaps (although not always) that is your love language. If words of affirmation speak love to you, chances are you will use them in speaking love to your spouse. Thus, you may discover your own language by asking, “How do I consciously express my love to my spouse?”
But how can we speak each other’s love language when we are full of hurt, anger and resentment over past failures?
Love doesn’t erase the past, but it makes the future different. When we choose active expressions of love in the primary love language of our spouse, we create an emotional climate where we can deal with our past conflicts and failures.
The “in-love” experience is on the level of instinct. It is not premeditated; it simply happens in the normal context of male-female relationships. It can be fostered or quenched, but it does not arise by conscious choice. It is short-lived (usually two years or less) and seems to serve for humankind the same function as the mating call of the Canada goose.
The “in-love” experience temporarily meets one’s emotional need for love. It gives us the feeling that someone cares, that someone admires us and appreciates us. Our emotions soar with the thought that another person sees us as number one, that he or she is willing to devote time and energy exclusively to our relationship. For a brief period, however long it lasts, our emotional need for love is met.
In time, however, we come down from that natural high back to the real world. If our spouse has learned to speak our primary love language, our need for love will continue to be satisfied. If, on the other hand, he or she does not speak our love language, our tank will slowly drain, and we will no longer feel loved. Meeting that need in one’s spouse is definitely a choice. If I learn the emotional love language of my spouse and speak it frequently, she will continue to feel loved. When she comes down from the obsession of the “in-love” experience, she will hardly even miss it because her emotional love tank will continue to be filled.
Meeting my wife’s need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional needs will be met, and she will feel secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank.
“What if the love language of your spouse is something that doesn’t come naturally for you?” I am often asked this question in my marriage seminars, and my answer is always, “So?”
When an action doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a greater expression of love.
We are talking about love, and love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself. Most of us do many things each day that do not come “naturally” for us. For some of us, that is getting out of bed in the morning. We go against our feelings and get out of bed. Why? Because we believe there is something worthwhile to do that day. And normally, before the day is over, we feel good about having gotten up. Our actions preceded our emotions.
The same is true with love. We discover the primary love language of our spouse, and we choose to speak it whether or not it is natural for us. Love is a choice. And either partner can start the process today.
Part 2: Meeting Your Spouse’s Need for Love
Most of us enter marriage by way of the “in-love” experience. We meet someone whose physical characteristics and personality traits create enough electrical shock to trigger our “love alert” system. The bells go off, and we set in motion the process of getting to know the person. The first step may be sharing a hamburger or steak, depending on our budget, but our real interest is not in the food. We are on a quest to discover “love.”
Sometimes we lose the tingles on the first date. Other times, however, the tingles are stronger after the burger than before. We arrange for a few more “together” experiences, and before long the level of intensity has increased to the point where we find ourselves saying, “I think I’m falling in love.” Eventually we are convinced that it is the “real thing,” and we tell the other person, hoping the feeling is reciprocal. If it isn’t, things cool off a bit or we redouble our efforts to impress, and eventually win the “love” of, our beloved. When it is reciprocal, we start talking about marriage because everyone agrees that being “in love” is the necessary foundation for a good marriage.
At its peak, the “in-love” experience is euphoric. The person who is “in love” — we’ll call her Jen — has the illusion that her beloved is perfect. Her best friend can see the flaws — it bothers her how he talks to Jen sometimes — but Jen won’t listen. Her mother, noting the young man seems unable to hold a steady job, keeps her concerns to herself but asks polite questions about “Ryan’s plans.”
Our dreams before marriage are of marital bliss: “We are going to make each other supremely happy. Other couples may argue and fight, but not us. We love each other.” Of course, we are not totally naïve. We know intellectually that we will eventually have differences. But we are certain that we will discuss those differences openly; one of us will always be willing to make concessions, and we will reach agreement. It’s hard to believe anything else when you are “in love.”
Welcome to the real world of marriage, where hairs are always on the sink and little white spots cover the mirror, where discussions center not on “Where should we eat tonight?” but “Why didn’t you get milk?”
What happened to the “in-love” experience? Did we really have the “real” thing? I think so. The problem was faulty information.
The bad information was the idea that the “in-love” obsession would last forever. We have known better. A casual observation should have taught us that if people remained obsessed, we would all be in serious trouble. The shock waves would rumble through business, industry, church, education and the rest of society. Why? Because people who are “in love” lose interest in other pursuits. That is why we call it “obsession.”
Once the experience of falling “in love” has run its natural course (remember, the average “in-love” experience lasts two years), we will return to the world of reality and begin to assert ourselves. He will express his desires, but his desires will be different from hers. He wants sex, but she is too tired. He dreams of buying a new car, but she flatly says, “We can’t afford it.” She would like to visit her parents, but he says, “I don’t like spending so much time with your family.” Little by little, the illusion of intimacy evaporates, and the individual desires, emotions, thoughts and behavior patterns assert themselves. They are two individuals. Their minds have not melded together and their emotions mingled only briefly in the ocean of “love.” Now the waves of reality begin to separate them. They fall out of “love,” and at that point either they withdraw, separate, divorce and set off in search of a new “in-love” experience, or they begin the hard work of learning to love each other without the euphoria of the “in-love” obsession.
Some couples believe that the end of the “in-love” experience means they have only two options: resign themselves to a life of misery with their spouse; or jump ship and try again. Research seems to indicate that there is a third and better alternative: We can recognize the “in-love” experience for what it was — a temporary emotional high — and now pursue real love with our spouse. That kind of love is emotional in nature but not obsessional. It is a love that unites reason and emotion. It involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth. Our most basic emotional need is not to fall “in love” but to be genuinely loved by another, to know a love that grows out of reason and choice, not instinct. I need to be loved by someone who chooses to love me, who sees in me something worth loving.
That kind of love requires effort and discipline. It is the choice to expend energy in an effort to benefit the other person, knowing that his or her life is enriched by your effort, you too will find a sense of satisfaction — the satisfaction of having genuinely loved another. It does not require the euphoria of the “in-love” experience. In fact, true love cannot begin until the “in-love” experience has run its course.
That is good news to the married couple who have lost all of their “in-love feelings.” If love is a choice, then they have the capacity to love after the “in-love” obsession has died and they have returned to the real world.
Part 3: Understanding the Five Love Languages
Words of affirmation
One way to express love emotionally is to use words that build up. Solomon, author of ancient Hebrew Wisdom Literature, wrote, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21, NIV). Many couples have never learned the tremendous power of verbally affirming each other.
Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are powerful communicators of love. They are best expressed in simple, straightforward statements of affirmation, such as:
“You look sharp in that suit.”
“Do you ever look incredible in that dress! Wow!”
“I really like how you’re always on time to pick me up at work.”
“You can always make me laugh.”
Words of affirmation are one of the five basic love languages. Within that language, however, there are many dialects. All of the dialects have in common the use of words to affirm one’s spouse. Psychologist William James said that possibly the deepest human need is the need to feel appreciated. Words of affirmation will meet that need in many individuals.
By “quality time,” I mean giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television together. When you spend time that way, Netflix or HBO has your attention — not your spouse. What I mean is sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking, devices put away, giving each other your undivided attention. It means taking a walk, just the two of you, or going out to eat and looking at each other and talking.
Time is a precious commodity. We all have multiple demands on our time, yet each of us has the exact same hours in a day. We can make the most of those hours by committing some of them to our spouse. If your mate’s primary love language is quality time, she simply wants you, being with her, spending time.
Almost everything ever written on the subject of love indicates that at the heart of love is the spirit of giving. All five love languages challenge us to give to our spouse, but for some, receiving gifts, visible symbols of love, speaks the loudest.
A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, he was thinking of me,” or, “She remembered me.” You must be thinking of someone to give him or her a gift. The gift itself is a symbol of that thought. It doesn’t matter whether it costs money. What is important is that you thought of him or her. And it is not the thought implanted only in the mind that counts but the thought expressed in actually securing the gift and giving it as the expression of love.
But what of the person who says, “I’m not a gift giver. I didn’t receive many gifts growing up. I never learned how to select gifts. It doesn’t come naturally for me.” Congratulations, you have just made the first discovery in becoming a great lover. You and your spouse speak different love languages. Now that you have made that discovery, get on with the business of learning your second language. If your spouse’s primary love language is receiving gifts, you can become a proficient gift giver. In fact, it is one of the easiest love languages to learn.
Acts of service
Michelle’s primary love language was what I call “acts of service.” By acts of service, I mean doing things you know your spouse would like you to do. You seek to please her by serving her, to express your love for her by doing things for her.
Consider actions such as cooking a meal, setting a table, emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming, changing the baby’s diaper, picking up a prescription, keeping the car in operating condition — they are all acts of service. They require thought, planning, time, effort and energy. If done with a positive spirit, they are indeed expressions of love.
A willingness to examine and change stereotypes is necessary in order to express love more effectively. Remember, there are no rewards for maintaining stereotypes, but there are tremendous benefits to meeting the emotional needs of your spouse. If your spouse’s love language is acts of service, then “actions speak louder than words.”
We have long known that physical touch is a way of communicating emotional love. Numerous research projects in the area of child development have made that conclusion: Babies who are held, stroked and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact.
Physical touch is also a powerful vehicle for communicating marital love. Holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse are all ways of communicating emotional love to one’s spouse. For some individuals, physical touch is their primary love language. Without it, they feel unloved. With it, their emotional tank is filled, and they feel secure in the love of their spouse.
Implicit love touches require little time but much thought, especially if physical touch is not your primary love language and if you did not grow up in a “touching family.” Sitting close to each other as you watch your favorite television program requires no additional time but may communicate your love loudly. Touching your spouse as you walk through the room where he is sitting takes only a moment. Touching each other when you leave the house and again when you return may involve only a brief kiss or hug but will speak volumes to your spouse.
Once you discover that physical touch is the primary love language of your spouse, you are limited only by your imagination on ways to express love.
Part 4: Discovering Your Spouse’s Love Language
The desire for romantic love in marriage is deeply rooted in our psychological makeup. Books abound on the subject. Television and radio talk shows deal with it. The Internet is full of advice. So are our parents and friends and churches. Keeping love alive in our marriages is serious business.
With all the help available from media experts, why is it that so few couples seem to have found the secret to keeping love alive after the wedding? Why is it that a couple can attend a communication workshop, hear wonderful ideas on how to enhance communication, return home and find themselves totally unable to implement the communication patterns demonstrated? How is it that we read something online on “101 Ways to Express Love to Your Spouse,” select two or three ways that seem especially helpful, try them and our spouse doesn’t even acknowledge our effort? We give up on the other 98 ways and go back to life as usual.
My academic training is in the field of anthropology. Therefore, I have studied in the area of linguistics, which identifies a number of major language groups: Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Arabic, Greek, German, French and so on. Most of us grow up learning the language of our parents and siblings, which becomes our primary or native tongue. Later, we may learn additional languages — but usually with much more effort. These become our secondary languages. We speak and understand our native language best. We feel more comfortable speaking that language. The more we use a secondary language, the more comfortable we become conversing in it. If we speak only our primary language and encounter someone else who speaks only his or her primary language, which is different from ours, our communication will be limited. We must rely on pointing, grunting, drawing pictures or acting out our ideas. We can communicate, but it is awkward. Language differences are part of human culture. If we are to communicate effectively across cultural lines, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate.
In the area of love, it is similar. Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese is from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other. Being sincere is not enough. We must be willing to learn our spouse’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.
My conclusion after many years of marriage counseling is that there are five emotional love languages — five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics, a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five main emotional love languages, there are many dialects. The number of ways to express love within a love language is limited only by one’s imagination. The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.
Seldom do husband and wife have the same primary emotional love language. We tend to speak our primary love language, and we become confused when our spouse does not understand what we are communicating. We are expressing our love, but the message does not come through because what we are speaking to them is a foreign language. Once we discover the five basic love languages and understand our own primary love language, as well as the primary love language of our spouse, we will then have the needed information to apply the ideas in the books and articles.
Once you identify and learn to speak your spouse’s primary love language, I believe that you will have discovered the key to a long-lasting, loving marriage. Love need not evaporate after the wedding, but to keep it alive, most of us will have to put forth the effort to learn a secondary love language. We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it. If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language.
Dr. Gary Chapman is a family counselor, radio host, associate pastor and author of several books, including The Five Love Languages and One More Try.
Adapted from The 5 Love Languages® by Gary Chapman, © 2015, Northfield Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission.