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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How do I speak the Words of Affirmation love language? Why should I? What if it’s my partner’s love language, but not mine?
The Words of Affirmation love language is a way of communicating with loved ones using words or phrases to make them feel good about who they are and what they do. The concept of the Words of Affirmation love language was introduced in Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages.
Learn how to speak the Words of Affirmation love language, even if it’s not your love language.
The Words of Affirmation Love Language: Why You Should Speak It
For people whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, supportive and complimentary words make them feel the most loved. Actions and physical intimacy are not as important as affirming words. Speaking the Words of Affirmation love language to your partner means finding small or large ways of expressing approval and gratitude for who they are and what they do.
Affirming words are immensely useful when trying to express love.
- When you receive a compliment or words validating your person or actions, you feel good and respected. The same is true for the people you give affirming words to.
- When you show appreciation for your partner, those words embolden them with confidence and contentment.
Within the Words of Affirmation love language are varied dialects, meaning there are different categories of affirming words. Certain types of words of affirmation will strike different chords depending on the dialect your partner speaks. All Words of Affirmation are beneficial to one who speaks this language, but learning which particular dialect they speak will make the effort more fruitful.
Words of Affirmation Dialect: Compliments
Complimentary affirmations can be simple expressions of flattery or approval. This is one dialect of the Words of Affirmation love language.
For instance, telling your partner they “have a great sense of style” or “you are proud of how they handled the rude server” gives them a spark of pride and assurance in who they are.
Likewise, telling your partner how thoughtful they are for picking up dinner or taking the trash out lets them know you see their efforts and appreciate them. When people feel as though their efforts are appreciated, they are likely to do more things to be appreciated for.
Genuine Compliments Are Not Manipulative
The point of affirmation words is not to manipulate your partner. When you give your partner compliments, you are doing so because you know that is their love language. You know that through your affirmation words of respect, your partner will feel loved. If your partner feels loved, they are more likely to continue putting forth effort.
Instead, if you compliment your partner only as a way to get them to comply to something, you are putting your own needs before theirs. For instance, if you compliment your partner’s cleaning skills knowing it will make them clean more—so you don’t have to—the act is disingenuous. Your partner may realize your lack of sincerity, and their love tank may begin to drain.
When giving a partner whose language is the Words of Affirmation love language a compliment, be sure it is genuine and done simply to make them feel loved.
Words of Affirmation Dialect: Encouragement
When you provide encouragement to someone whose language is the Words of Affirmation love language, you are bolstering their spirit. You are telling them you believe in them. Your belief helps them feel strong and motivated. Encouragement is another dialect of the Words of Affirmation love language.
Encouragement is the act of inspiring courage. All humans have moments where courage is required. Sometimes, you are not able to find the courage you need. In those moments, you miss out on something you want or that brings goodness into your life. A lack of courage can lead to a lack of prosperity.
When your partner lacks courage, they aren’t able to achieve their full potential. These feelings of lost potential put a strain on their emotions and serve to drain the tank.
Providing encouragement for who your partner is or what they want to do will help them find the strength to reach that potential. Your partner may feel an inkling to do or create something, and they may be waiting for your encouragement to do so.
- For instance, if your partner expresses dissatisfaction with their job, saying, “I believe in your judgement. You always make the right choices,” may help them feel more confident in making a change.
- Likewise, telling your partner how talented they are before a performance or how skilled they are before a job interview can give them the strength they need to succeed.
When your partner reaches their full potential and knows you helped them do it, their love tank will fill up.
If you constantly criticize your partner, make an effort to stop. Find a way to support them through more positive affirmation words. Your partner will notice the change and feel loved. You will benefit from their empowered attitude.
Inspiring courage is not the same thing as pushing your partner into something. The desire for change must already be present in the other person for your affirmation words to be encouraging.
- If you want your partner to have a different job, forcing them to look for something better is not encouragement.
- When you try to force your partner in a certain direction, the resulting feeling is one of you not respecting or accepting part of their life.
If you do not speak the Words of Affirmation love language, you may find giving encouragement challenging. You may believe the need for those words is childish. But you can learn to be encouraging, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Learning what is important to your partner is the first step.
- You must see the world through your partner’s eyes.
- You must try to understand their wants or perspective and empathize with them.
- When you encourage through the lens of your partner’s ideals, you are telling them you see them and care about them. You show them you believe in them.
Words of Affirmation Dialect: Kindness
Kindness is another dialect of the Words of Affirmation love language. When we want to express love, the only place we can come from is one of kindness. Kindness means showing consideration, respect, and warmth toward others.
Phrases that are amicable or show affection, such as “You’re a loving parent,” “You bring so much joy to my life,” or “The way you are is wonderful,” go a long way in making someone feel special and respected.
By its nature, love is a positive feeling. Love is not inherently cruel or mean. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being kind through verbal communication is a tremendous way to give love to someone who speaks the Words of Affirmation love language.
Using kind language is a choice and must be sincere.
The tone of the affirmation words is as important as the words themselves. People pay more attention to tone than words, so the tone must match the sentiment. You can say, “You’re a great guy,” but if the tone is snarky or sarcastic, the words carry a different meaning.
When said disingenuously, kind words can express contempt. When said sincerely, words express love.
Tone also makes less positive statements expressions of love. For example, It’s easy during disputes to express our hurt or anger in hurtful or angry ways. To a person whose love language is Words of Affirmation with a dialect of kindness, those expressions will cut like a knife and drain their love tank.
- Rather than saying, “You’re always so selfish. You never listen to what I want,” changing your tone and words to kind ones can still reflect love.
- For instance, you might say, “It hurts me when I feel like the things I want are not important to you.” If these words are said kindly and softly, they will encompass the energy of communication and healing.
When you speak to communicate and heal, you are expressing love through your decision to approach your partner with kindness. That effort is love and will be experienced as such.
Likewise, when your partner approaches you with kindness, understand that their choice to do so stems from love.
You always have the choice to choose kindness. Even when your partner is speaking cruelly to you, your response can still be anchored in love.
- You can choose to listen and try to understand where the anger or hurt is coming from.
- You can try to understand the emotions your partner is feeling.
- You can then respond by acknowledging those feelings, apologizing if necessary, and explaining your perspective to find a solution.
Often, arguments are caused by miscommunication or unmet expectations. Being able to address those calmly and positively will lead to reason and reconciliation. Real love is accepting your partner for who they are and working to find a balance with sincerity and kindness.
Focus on Healing
You sometimes make mistakes or behave inappropriately. You know you are not perfect, and neither is your partner.
Bad or hurtful things are going to happen. There is no way around it. You can’t change what has already happened. You can only seek understanding and forgiveness and move forward better equipped for what lies ahead.
If you choose kindness, intimacy can be found. If you choose resentment, there is no room for love to be created.
Leave the past in the past. What happened yesterday doesn’t need to affect how you live today.
Words of Affirmation Dialect: Humility
If your partner speaks the dialect of humility, yet another Words of Affirmation love language, they feel loved when you hold as much respect for their life as your own. Humility means understanding that your needs are not more important than your partner’s. It’s recognizing that what you want is not a right, but a desire.
When attempting to ask for something or elicit a certain response from your partner, humility means stating your desires as requests. When you request something, you are expressing an acknowledgment of your partner’s time and skills. You are expressing your faith and belief in their ability to meet your request successfully and on their own terms. When you make a request, you acknowledge your partner’s sense of agency. You are treating them as an adult.
Examples of humble requests:
- “It would mean a lot to me if you could clean the gutters sometime soon.” You’re letting them know what you trust them to complete the task and do so when the time is right for them.
- “The garden could use some tending. Do you have time to help with that this weekend?” You let them know what you want and give them the space to feel good about meeting your needs.
Humility Does Not Issue Demands
On the contrary, when you make a demand, you are saying what you want is more important than what they want. You are saying you don’t trust your partner to handle things on their own.
Demands feel like a slap in the face. Demands stem from ego. Demanding is the act of ruling, and your partner will feel oppressed and like a child. Intimacy cannot grow in a romantic relationship if that relationship becomes that of a parent and child.
Examples of demands:
- “Clean the gutters this weekend or else.” You act as if you’ll punish your partner and have the right to do so.
- “I need you to work on the garden this weekend.” This makes the act a chore, rather than a contribution.
- “How long are you going to let me drive on flat tires?” You’re accusing them of failing you.
That feeling only leads to resentment or low self-worth. The result is an empty tank.
You may get what you want from a demand, but your partner won’t feel good about the act or loved. If they comply, the action will not be one of love but of fear or guilt. Love cannot grow from those feelings. This is not how to speak the Words of Affirmation love language.
Requests are Helpful Signals
Requests also provide your partner with guidance on how they can make you happy. You are telling your partner they can be of use or provide something meaningful to your life.
If you say, “Do you think you could put air in my tires, please?” you’re telling your partner you trust their car maintenance skills and would benefit from them. You are saying you recognize that they are more adept than you are to fill your tires properly. This sort of statement fills them with pride and tells them you trust them.
If your partner fulfills your request, you and they both know it was an act of love. If they don’t, their choice not to do so speaks to their own failings at love or understanding, not yours.
Showing humility when addressing your partner who speaks this language will let them know you care. That feeling can fill their tanks and make them feel worthy. This is an excellent way to speak the Words of Affirmation love language.
How to Speak the Words of Affirmation Love Language if It’s Not Your Love Language
You may not understand why affirmation words are important to your partner if they aren’t to you. You may not know which words are the right ones if you never need to hear them. Learning to speak the Words of Affirmation love language can be tricky if you are uncomfortable with affirmation words or don’t understand how to give them. But there are ways to improve your affirmation vocabulary.
1) Keep a notebook of positive words and phrases.
- Write down words of affirmation you overhear from others.
- Write down words and phrases you hear on television or movies.
- You will begin to amass a list of affirming words and phrases from which to draw.
As you start to speak the Words of Affirmation love language, your partner will receive it as love. Your success in creating this love in them will help guide your knowledge of which words are the right words.
2) Speak positively about your partner to others.
If you say affirming things about your partner to others, they will likely lead back to your partner. They will feel your unprompted love and know it was sincere.
If you say affirming things about your partner to others in front of them, it will have the same effect.
Always give credit to your partner when something good happens to you.
- For instance, if you win an award, give your partner credit for loving you and making your achievement possible.
- Your partner likely supports you in more ways than you realize. Acknowledging that fact will fill up their love tank and create intimacy.
3) Write affirmation words.
Writing a loving note or a list of things you notice and respect about your partner lets them know you appreciate their specific contributions. They can return to these items again and fill their tank many times.
Words of Affirmation Example: Mark and Andrea
After twelve years of marriage and two children, Mark and Andrea had grown apart. Neither felt satisfied in the relationship, and they created a distance between them to avoid conflict. Andrea’s issues stemmed from the amount of time Mark spent working. Mark felt annoyed that his hard work was resented, rather than being seen as his way of providing for the family.
Because Mark spoke the Words of Affirmation love language, it hurt him that Andrea never mentioned how much he did for them. He complained that he did so much to make sure the family was supported and had a good life, but she never appreciated it. Because Andrea didn’t speak the Words of Affirmation love language, she focused more on the ways his work took him away from the family instead of how it helped.
To address this problem, Andrea made a list of things she respected and appreciated about Mark. It turned out that many of the items centered around his business prowess and the stability she felt in their quality of life. She realized she did appreciate how his work provided for them.
Every week for two months, Andrea gave Mark a sincere compliment about something she recognized as a contribution he was making to the family. After a while, Mark started to feel strong and worthwhile, rather than like a failure at home. As a response, his love tank filled, which helped him find ways to address Andrea’s needs more. This is an excellent example of how to speak the Words of Affirmation love language.
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