Written by Cynthia Thomas
Edited by Amy Young
When I first learned about the 5 love languages during a women’s Bible study several years ago, I was fascinated. That information shed light on every relationship I had. It helped me understand the people in my life as well as how to best show them love. If you have been in Christian circles for any length of time, you have likely already heard of the love languages. Whether new or review, read on! These concepts are guaranteed to improve your relationships!
This theory was first introduced by Dr. Gary Chapman, a pastor and counselor. His book, The 5 Love Languages, came out in 1992, has sold over 12 million copies, and has been translated into almost 50 languages. After counseling married couples at his church for many years, he recognized patterns in miscommunication and identified different ways that individuals express love.
The theory states that people prefer to express love in one of 5 different ways: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time or physical touch.
Words of affirmation are encouraging words: “You look beautiful today,” or “You did a great job on that test,” or “Excellent presentation!” People with this love language need to receive verbal encouragement regularly.
People who have the love language of gifts will not necessarily give big, flashy gifts. It can be small gifts like sharing coupons they thought you could use, baking you cookies, or giving you a book they thought you would appreciate. They can also be known for giving very thoughtful or generous gifts.
People who have the love language of service prefer to do things for you. They might prefer to clean for you, take you to appointments, bring you meals, or help you move.
A person with the language of quality time will want to spend time with you. They might prefer to talk to you on the phone, grab a cup of coffee, or go to a concert together.
And lastly, some people prefer physical touch. They express love and want to receive love by way of hugs, kisses, and physical affection. Cuddling on the couch or at bedtime can really fill their love tank.
In a 2011 article in the NY Times, Chapman said, “Each of us has a primary love language and often secondary or tertiary ones. To help identify your language, focus on the way you most frequently express love. What you give is often what you crave. Challenges in relationships arise because people tend to be attracted to their opposites. In a marriage, almost never do a husband and wife have the same language. The key is we have to learn to speak the language of the other person.”
“Adults all have a love tank. If you feel loved by your spouse, the whole world is right. If the love tank is empty, the whole world can begin to look dark,” says Chapman.
The problem is everyone fills their love tank in different ways.
To illustrate, Chapman told the crowd at a Nashville marriage conference a story of a couple on the verge of divorce who came to see him. The man was dumbfounded. He cooked dinner every night for his wife; afterward he washed the dishes and took out the trash. “I don’t know what else do to,” the man said. “But she still tells me she doesn’t feel loved.”
The woman agreed. “He does all those things,” she said. Then she burst into tears. “But Dr. Chapman, we never talk. We haven’t talked in 30 years.”
In Dr. Chapman’s analysis, each one spoke a different love language: he liked to perform acts of service for his wife, while she was seeking quality time from him. (Bruce Feiler, “Can Gary Chapman Save Your Marriage?”)
Understanding the 5 love languages has helped me understand why I had frustrations in some relationships with family and friends. They were loving me in their own love language which was not the same as mine. It helped me to understand that they did love me in their own way. My primary love languages are encouraging words and quality time. Others might say gifts. So they would give nice gifts but not be encouraging or spend time with me. While I still felt frustrated, it helped me to understand that they did appreciate me; they just had a different way of expressing it.
What can you do to better love those around you? To strengthen relationships with your spouse/child/family members/friends/neighbors? Figure out their love language and show them love in THEIR language. You can be sure this will have a great impact on the relationship. They might feel loved by you for the very first time! I struggle with physical touch. But I realized that some people around me craved that love language. So I started going outside of my comfort zone and giving more hugs. And the more I did it, the more comfortable it became. God helped me with this weakness, and He can help you too!
Click here to take the love language assessment. Asking your spouse/loved one to take the assessment can provide valuable information as well!
Now what about applying love languages to our children? Dr. Chapman has 2 books for that as well: The 5 Love Languages of Children and The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. Children need all 5 love languages, especially in those early years. Children need physical touch, words of affirmation, service, quality time, and gifts. But as they mature, their primary love languages will emerge as well. Be sure to identify this specific love language and love them in that way! Otherwise you will have one frustrated child!
Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
During an interview for the audio version of The 5 Love Languages, Dr. Chapman shared the story of a family who had a 10 year old son who had become very obnoxious. The parents did not understand what had happened or how to help their child. After reading The 5 Love Languages of Children, they realized their son’s love language was words of affirmation. They had spent years saying very critical things to him and realized they were tearing down their child with these harsh words instead of building him up. They immediately started looking for areas to give him praise, and within 2 weeks they had a completely different child.
Once these concepts are understood, they can be applied in every relationship, personal and professional! Dr. Chapman has used these concepts to help not only married couples and children, but also single adults, military personnel, men, and people in the workplace. Many of these books can be borrowed at your local library or can be listened to for free through Hoopla.
Expressing love is so important. If you love someone, but do not express it, that person will feel unloved. It will be as though you don’t love them at all. Many Bible verses touch on this critical topic.
Matthew 22:36-39 (NIV)
36 “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ 37 Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Colossians 3:14 (NIV)
14 “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
On his website, Dr. Chapman states, “A number of years ago, when I wrote the book: The 5 Love Languages, I realized rather quickly that all of these love languages flow from God’s love. He speaks all five languages fluently. The Bible is filled with ‘Words of Affirmation’ where God verbalizes His love to us. Christmas reminds us that He gave us the greatest gift of all when He sent His son. Yes, God is a ‘Gift Giver’. What about ‘Acts of Service’? That is what the cross is all about. Christ paid our penalty. Follow the life of Jesus and you see Him speaking the love language of ‘Physical Touch’. And for all who want it, God is ready to spend ‘Quality Time’. Turn your thoughts toward him and you will find his thoughts are already on you. God is love.”
1 John 4:8 (NIV)
8 “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
Expressing others’ love languages and asking God’s help to reflect how He loved us and continues to love us, are wonderful ways to nurture all relationships in our lives. At the end of the day and the end of our lives, how we loved God and others will be what mattered most.
Feiler, Bruce. “Can Gary Chapman Save Your Marriage?” New York Times. New York Times, 19 November 2011. Web. 17 January 2020.