What Are the Five Love Languages? Simple Explanation + FAQ

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The 5 Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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We know how deep our love is, but we often struggle to know how to express love. What are the best ways to truly demonstrate how much we care? What are the 5 Love Languages?

Use the strategies developed by Gary Chapman and introduced in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts to learn how to express love and, in doing so, create a deeper emotional connection in your relationship.

Express Love Using the 5 Love Languages

If you want to know how to express love, you need to know what type of “love language” your partner (or any intended receiver of your love) speaks.

The Five Love Languages are the way you experience and show love. There are 5 love languages: Word of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Learning to speak your partner’s love language can help you understand how to express love. And learning your own love language helps you understand what makes you fulfilled in a relationship.

The 5 Love Languages

Love Language 1: Words of Affirmation

Words of Affirmation are words or phrases you say to your partner to make them feel good about who they are and what they do. These words can be compliments, words of encouragement, remarks that express kindness, or those that signify your faith in them. This is how to express love if your partner appreciates verbal appreciation.

  • For the person whose love language is Words of Affirmation, a compliment about their appearance or what they do for the family will fill their tank. 
  • Telling your partner you appreciate them in your life will make them feel loved. 
  • Supporting their hopes and dreams by saying, “I believe in you” or “You’re so talented, you can do whatever you want,” will bolster them and give them courage.
  • Asking for their help in a way that stresses their skills or the benefit it would bring to your life can make them feel trusted and appreciated.

Love Language 2: Quality Time

Quality Time is time dedicated solely for the purpose of being with your partner without distractions. A person with this love language wants to simply be with their loved one.

The activity is secondary to the actual act of being together. Time may mean actively engaging in meaningful conversation, participating in an activity that they like, even if you don’t, or having dinner together without watching TV or using electronic devices. This is how to express love if your partner feels most loved just being with you.

  • An evening walk together, whether talking or not, can make your partner feel loved.
  • Taking a cooking class or biking together can express a willingness to be with your partner, which translates into a full tank.
  • Listening to your partner talk about their day and asking questions to understand how they feel will let them know you care and are willing to be there for them.
  • Talking about your past or fears with your partner will tell them you want them to be part of your life completely. 

Love Language 3: Receiving Gifts

Receiving Gifts represents the act of giving a gift as a symbol of love. A gift equates to thought, and to a person with this love language, that thought is felt as love.

For people who speak this of the five love languages, the type of gift is less important than the effort to procure it and the desire to give it. This is how to express love if your partner enjoys getting presents.

  • A small present brought back from a business trip makes your partner feel special because you were thinking of them.
  • A diamond bracelet will elicit the same response as a crocheted scarf. The feeling will still be of being loved enough to receive something from you.
  • Sometimes, your mere presence is the gift your partner needs.
    • If they are in crisis, being there as a shoulder, sounding board, or comforting presence is enough to represent your love for them.
    • Prioritizing a request for your presence over work or previous plans shows them how much their feelings matter. 

Love Language 4: Acts of Service

Acts of Service are things done to make life easier for your partner. Whether you act to remove a burden from their life, help out, or provide space for them to do something else, these acts of service will tell a partner with this language that they and their time are respected. This is how to express love if your partner feels loved when you assist her.

  • Not all acts are created equal. Understanding which acts will serve your partner best means understanding their life enough to know how to help and their expectations enough to know what they want done for them.
    • If your partner frequently complains about a certain task at home, pitching in to remove that task from their day is an act of love.
    • If you know your partner hates walking the dog at night, taking over that duty will fill their tank.
    • If your partner wants more time to themselves, taking the kids out one night a week will speak volumes of love.

Love Language 5: Physical Touch

Physical Touch signifies a person who feels love most through intimate contact. Touches can be large or small and intimate or casual. The most important thing to learn about a partner who speaks this language is their specific preference for touch. This is how to express love if your partner values positive touch.

  • A hand on the shoulder may be desired more than a kiss on the neck. 
  • Physical intimacy may express love more than holding hands, or vice versa. 
  • Touching someone in a way they don’t like is a negative touch, a violation, or abuse.
    • This action does not communicate love. 
  • There are endless ways of expressing love through touch.
  • Have fun learning what sort of touches your partner likes.

How to Express Love by Filling the Love Tank

Now that you know what the five love languages are, you need to figure out how best to express it.

You and your partner are different, even if you have been together for a long time. As individuals, you bring your histories and baggage into your relationship. You have expectations for what you want or should receive from your partner. You have different ways of coping with anger and pain. You have different priorities. 

When your love tank is full, you can meet your partner in a positive place to deal with your differences. With a full love tank, you are able to communicate better and appreciate each other. 

With empty love tanks, the differences can turn to distance and resentment. An empty love tank can remove the desire to treat your partner with respect and compromise. 

  • An argument with an empty love tank can become hurtful, violent, and damaging. 
  • An argument with a full love tank can become a platform for growth and companionship. 

Divorce is prevalent in society, and the cause is likely numerous love tanks that were allowed to drain.

  • The loss of the initial high of falling in love can leave some feeling lost and empty. 
  • Falling in love is easy. Keeping love requires thought and effort.

If your tank is empty, your partner’s tank is likely not far off. Taking time to learn each other’s love languages can start the process of rediscovering what love means to you and the enjoyment of building it and living with it every day. 

Common Questions about the 5 Love Languages and How to Express Love

1. What if I can’t figure out my love language or my partner’s?

Consider the 5-week experiment. Monday through Friday, try speaking one of the languages consistently with your partner. Take Saturday and Sunday off.

Try a different language of the 5 love languages in each week. You may notice a stronger reaction in your partner one week than another. Whichever week they seem to respond more strongly may indicate which language they speak. This will show you how to express love to your partner.

The week you were most comfortable speaking one of the languages or found the most joy in performing the specific acts can also speak to your preferred language.

2. Will my love language change over time?

Like any inherent part of our personalities, our preferred love language tends to be developed when we’re young and stays with us. However, changes could occur if your priorities change.

  • You may love to be touched, but if you have a demanding workload, you might find you desire or appreciate acts of service by your partner more.
  • You may seek quality time with your partner and desire that most often, but if your schedules don’t allow for it, or you are in a long-distance relationship, words of affirmation or receiving gifts may begin to satisfy you.

3. Do children speak a certain love language?

Yes! Children definitely have a preference for how they receive love the most, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need love in all ways. How children are loved will go a long way in determining how they love as adults and how they want to be loved. 

Ensuring your child is loved through all languages will help build a well-rounded emotional individual. 

Pay attention to how they behave with certain acts of love, and you can begin to understand what their primary language might be. This will help you determine how to express love to children.

  • Your child may love bedtime stories and play days at the park, but if your child always requests a kiss goodnight or initiates hugs frequently, they may experience physical touch more deeply than anything else.

As a child grows older, their language is not likely to change, but they way want to receive love may change. 

  • A child who loved compliments may still love them, but the type of compliment they desire may change.
    • If your child used to gush when you said how smart or cute they were, those comments might now make your teenager embarrassed. 
    • They might want compliments that focus on their growing individuality instead, such as “You’re developing a nice style” or “You’re getting really good at Math/Soccer/Painting.”
  • Look for signs that signify your child’s changing attitude about receiving love to ensure your love is always felt.

4. Are certain languages more common among men and women?

The love languages stem from an emotional place inside us. Although stereotypes of men seeking physical touch more than women or women desiring affirming words more than men abound, each person is different. What makes a person feel loved has less to do with gender than with emotional satisfaction. 

Because there are so many ways a certain love language can be spoken, the unique nature of the act for your partner may be vastly different than another act within the same language for someone else.

  • Your partner may feel loved most when you compliment their handiness around the house, while another person might prefer to be told they are attractive. 

5. What if my partner doesn’t respond to my speaking their language?

Sometimes we wonder how to express love because what we’ve tried hasn’t worked. There are many reasons why your partner may not respond to your efforts to speak their language.

  • They may hold resentments and don’t believe in your sincerity.
  • They may not believe your behavior will last.
  • You may be speaking the wrong language.
  • They may have turned their heart to something or someone else.

If your partner is not responding, the easiest choice to make is to give up. It’s not working, so why keep trying? But if you give up, you may be affirming your partner’s suspicions or convictions that your actions weren’t true or lasting. You may also stop too quickly, around the time when they were starting to come around or believe. 

Instead, allow your partner time to get used to your new behavior. Communicate to gain an idea of how your efforts are being received.

Speaking your partner’s language is about showing them love, and you don’t need their approval to do so. Keep loving them as best as possible. If it looks like things are too far gone or they are unwilling to change, at least you know you loved them the best you could.

6. What if my partner won’t speak my language?

You cannot force your partner to love you more or better. All you can do is communicate your needs and desires. If you partner knows how you want to be loved and doesn’t comply, you may need to rethink your relationship, including what you want from it and what you can or cannot live without. 

7. Is it ever too late to rekindle love in a relationship?

If love was there once, it can be there again if both people make an effort to learn to love the other well. If love has faded, it is likely because of hurt feelings or a perception of the other’s love fading as behaviors change. 

If you figure out how to express love to your partner, you can begin to fill his or her tank. If your partner is willing to do what is necessary to fill yours, as well, love can start to be rebuilt. 

What Are the Five Love Languages? Simple Explanation + FAQ

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Here's what you'll find in our full The 5 Love Languages summary :

  • How to figure out what your love language is, and what your partner's is
  • Why arguments happen in relationships, and how to stop them
  • How to speak the right love language, even if it's not yours

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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