Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Languages of Love

Now that all the introductions are out of the way, let's get to the juicy stuff of this blog: a bit about love.

I think we can all agree love and relationships take work. They don't just maintain themselves. And in fact, one of the most important parts of a relationship is communication. I minored in communication in my undergrad, which instilled a deep appreciation for communication skills and developing those skills. Thus, I wanted to explore the importance of communication in our interpersonal lives. And if good communication is paramount to a successful relationship, then what happens when two people cannot communicate well (even if they are "in love")?

As my first real post, I want to discuss a book that I absolutely love (no pun intended), and not many people in Lebanon have heard of. All you LOVEanese out there, meet Dr. Gary Chapman's (2004) book, The Five Love Languages.

Pictured above: awesomeness

Surely if any of you have spoken with me long enough about relationships, I've mentioned this book. It's actually quite incredible. Let me give you the abridged version of it since it's not available in Beirut (although I do have a copy with me!)

According to Chapman, the way we communicate and express love and affection can be divided into 5 umbrella categories: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Gift Giving/Receiving.

Physical Touch: Includes everything from hugging, kissing, and sexual intercourse, to a light pat on the shoulder or a touch of a hand. Someone that communicates through physical touch will appreciate a lot of physical intimacy, but not just in a sexual way. Kissing, hugging, touching their face, playing with their hair, etc. are all things they like, especially if they are tired or stressed. This is a very tangible language that almost everyone can identify with, either as being very much so or not at all. But if someone is PT, they can get hurt if they feel like they do not get enough physical affection from someone, or if someone withholds physical affection.

Quality Time: Referrers to that complete and undivided, uninterrupted time with someone where two people can talk, relax, eat, spend time together, do shared activities together, etc. Someone that communicates through quality time will greatly appreciate it when you make time for them, keep your scheduled time, and focus on the things that are said and done while you are together. Things that would hurt them include not spending enough time with them, not giving your full attention to them while you are together, or neglecting planned times to spend time together (such as a dinner or a trip).

Words of Affirmation: Include the verbal (and written) expressions of love such as complimenting someone (e.g., “you are so beautiful,” “you have pretty eyes,” “you are really intelligent”) to saying such loving things as “I miss you,” “I am so proud of you,” “I love you,” “you mean the world to me,” “I care about you,” “I appreciate you,” etc. Someone who is a WofA likes to hear your love and admiration, or read it in the form of notes, comments, love letters, etc. And it is not narcissistic either! But these individuals value verbal communication. It would hurt them if you said something mean or hurtful, or if they did not get enough verbal affirmation.

Acts of Service: Include those things we do for someone including something as small and cheering someone up, or making them laugh, to completing tasks for someone to make their life easier, much of which is unsolicited by the other person such as picking up something from the store, cleaning a room in a shared living space, picking up kids, getting up earlier to make coffee for someone, cooking for them, etc. Someone who communicates through AofS appreciate it when they can rely on someone to help them with tasks in their life, and also appreciate it when someone they love does something without them asking. A great example would be getting up 15 minutes before someone to make them coffee when they wake up, or getting them something that you know they need (such as more olive oil). It hurts them when they feel like someone does not help them, or they always have to ask to get someone to do something.

Gift Giving/Receiving: Are the things which one gives to another, but can range from something cliché such as a birthday present or a new car, or could be something small and mundane for no reason, such as picked flower, or a very small item which reminded him or her of someone. Someone that is a Gifter puts a lot of him or herself into the gifts they give, and always loves a surprise. However, it would hurt them very much to never receive gifts, to receive gifts that were not well thought out, or a missed birthday, anniversary, etc. This New York Times article has some great, research-based insights on gift giving that might be helpful as well.

You can find out more about each of the languages here, but let me tell you about the context of the book. First of all, Chapman is a Baptist minister, but throughout his time as a minister, he has spent over 35 years engaging in relationship counseling. Although he wrote the book with some religious undertones, it is still a fairly secular book, and it appeals to a wide audience--religious or not. Secondly, he does write the book with married couples in mind, but it is still very easy to identify with the core of the book regardless of your marital status. Third, he writes the book based on American couples, and he is writing to an American audience. Lastly, while the book has a focus on romantic relationships in general, the primary message of the book can easily be applied to platonic and non-romantic relationships as well, such as those between siblings, children-parents, grandparents-grandchildren, friends, and even colleagues.

The most important part of the book is not merely outlining each of the languages, but he explains how problems in communication are often a problem of speaking different languages. And the way that one expresses love is often the way they want to receive it. Basically what happens is that if you are speaking Physical Touch, and I am speaking Words of Affirmation, we are on two different wavelengths. Just like if I were speaking to you in Japanese and you were speaking Spanish we would have a very hard time at understanding each other. The same occurs with communicating love, but understanding each other's love language can help to make the other feel more love. So if you are an Acts of Service individual and I am a Quality Time individual, then I need to make sure I'm doing things without you asking me, and you should make time for us to spend time together. Analogously, this is clearer if you think of it in this way: if I ask a question in English, I (understandably) expect an answer in English. The same goes for love!

This is the part that takes time. If you're dating someone that is "touchy-feely," that probably means they are a physical touch person. But if you're not, it's important to still show them love physically. But also, they need to be more aware of what makes you feel loved. Regardless of your love language (henceforth, L.L.), however, unless you both share the same one, it is something that you have to work at to show the other person. How often do you communicate with someone in the way that is really meaningful to them?

According to Chapman, in general, everyone has a dominate L.L. and a secondary L.L. (try and guess what mine are!). Two things, however: First, of course everyone exhibits a mixture of the them depending on the situation, but generally, everyone has a dominate one (or two). Second, it is actually something that is very rewarding for both when they make an effort to speak each other's languages because it leads to more happiness for both, and better reception of their actions. And the best part is this is regarding communication, not compatibility. So, even if you don't share the same L.L., you can learn to communicate love in the way that others like and vice-versa. And it can even be fun and fulfilling!

And as I said, the five Love Languages are not limited to a romantic relationship. The same can apply to friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, etc.

That is not the end of it either! A study found that, although he was not writing academically, his L.L. actually are consistent with established research! Egbert and Polk (2006: 19) indicated that "significant relationships between the love language factors and Stafford, Dainton, and Haas’ (2000) relational maintenance typology [exist], suggesting that Chapman’s Love Languages may reflect behaviors performed to enact intended relational maintenance."

Also, Chapman's book indicated that American women tend to be more Acts of Service oriented whereas American men tend to be more Physical Touch oriented (according to the individuals he has counseled). When I did a project for one of my graduate courses in the fall of 2009, I found that out of the 16 individuals I interviewed, the majority of the male interviewees indicated that Acts of Service were their primary Love Language, while the female interviewees indicated that Words of Affirmation (closely followed by Physical Touch) was their primary L.L. (Oghia, 2010, unpublished manuscript).

Food for Thought:
  1. Why do YOU think this is? 
  2. What role does culture play in the development of these? 
  3. Do you think his categories are applicable to those outside of the US?
  4. What do you think your Love Languages are? 
  5. Do you think this is something relevant to your life? Let me know!

More information can be found on the website as well as an assessment of your L.L. Also, let me know if you need clarification, or want more information. But just remember: the next time you're fighting, disagreeing, arguing, or just having a miscommunication, think about how you are (or not) speaking to their L.L. Because a lot of times, these arguments are not really about what's at face-value, they are often about more meaningful things that are not discussed in the process of fighting out the issues. Speaking a L.L. to someone else can impart trust, appreciation, admiration, fulfillment, and of course, love, while also helping to fix problems in general with communication. SO, try it; you definitely have nothing to lose!

Spread the love,

P.S. Check out the LOVEanon Facebook Page for updates, cool links, and new blog posts!


Chapman, Gary D. 2004. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (New Edition). Northfield Press.

Egbert, Nichole, and Denise Polk. 2006. "Speaking the Language of Relational Maintenance: A Validity Test of Chapman’s (1992) Five Love Languages." Communication Research Reports, 23(1): 19-26.

Oghia, Michael J. 2010. "Lebanese Youth Perceptions of Love and Marriage: An Exploratory Study." American University of Beirut: Beirut, Lebanon. Unpublished manuscript.

Stafford, Laura, Marianne Dainton, and Stephen Haas. 2000. "Measuring Routine and Strategic Relational Maintenance: Scale Revision, Sex Versus Gender Roles, and the Prediction of Relational Characteristics." Communication Monographs, 3: 306-323.


  1. Hi Ogie,

    This concept is very interesting! It sounds like a great book and I'm happy you summarized it so I don't have to read it ;-) I will definitely spend some thoughts to find out which type of love language I use most...

    And my guess concerning you is that you are a words of affirmation and physical touch person, is this right?

  2. Thanks Isabella! It's a great book, and I think it's been translated into German :)

    And you are correct! Wow, I'm impressed you know me so well! Indeed, I'm a PT and a WofA, and they are pretty equal, I can't really divorce one from the other. Good job :)

  3. Michael,

    I think you are having a problem with the category Gift giving/ receiving. Personally, it is something that I enjoy doing a lot, but that I didn't consider setting as my primary love language because I think that regardless of how often one might do it, it is highly improbable that you will shower your gf/bf/etc with presents every time you see them. So, it is common sense that one would employ other (less expensive) ways to show their affection far more regularly, namely one your previous 3 love languages that actually sucked up all 31 votes. Cheers!

  4. First of all Lama, I completely understand what you mean. In my experience, I've never met many GG/Rs so this for me has always been the least important one in general. But others might disagree of course.

    In the end, I wasn't the one who made the category, Gary Chapman did, and in the book he describes it in much more detail. And gifts do not have to be something big or bought. Even just making them a card expressing your love, picking them a flower on your way home, seeing a little trinket that reminds you of them and getting it for them... it's these things, and with GG/Rs, it really is the little things that matter. And also, dates are important to them (e.g., anniversaries, birthdays, etc.). Is that a little clearer now?

    Although I understand your point, unless someone identifies love in one of the other ways, it might not be as commonsensical. Love is constructed and perceived differently by everyone :)