The need to feel loved is a primary human emotional need and fulfills our desire to find intimacy with a person that we are compatible with. This creates a sense of belonging and harmony in a relationship.
The word love is ubiquitous in our society. We use the word to describe our deep affection towards someone (e.g. partner, spouse), animals (e.g., dogs, cats) and even objects (e.g., flowers, nature). We even use love to rationalize our behavior or actions, like doing something out of love for someone. As love may be expressed in many forms, some more visible than others, how do we communicate love in a way that others would want to receive?
The New York Times bestseller “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” features Dr. Gary Chapman’s theory of the five love languages as a tool to guide how one might want to receive affection from our partners.
According to Chapman (1992), there are five primary ways where people may speak and understand love or emotions. These five love languages include: words of affirmation (encouraging messages and validating feedback), quality time (spending time engaged together in shared activities), gifts (tokens of affection), acts of service (helping with completing important tasks) and physical touch (physical intimacy from holding hands to intercourse). Most people tend to have one or two preferred love languages and use this to improve relationship satisfaction.
Although Chapman’s theory of the five love language has gained popularity across the globe, there has been a lack of scientific evidence supporting the notion that having compatible or matching love languages promotes relationship satisfaction. A 2017 study found that having a partner with similar love languages, that is being able to provide and receive love in the same way one would do so, did not in fact improve relationship satisfaction (Bunt & Hazelwood, 2017).
Instead, it was only if partners could change their modes of affection to suit their partner’s different love language, which improved relationship satisfaction.
This research sheds light on the common misuse of the five love languages. Rather than a self-focused way of discovering one’s affection needs or finding a compatible partner, Chapman invented these five love languages as a tool to learn about others’ love languages and modifying one’s behaviour to suit the others’ affection needs. This is supported by a recent study where partners who perceived that their significant others were using their preferred love language well reported greater love and relationship satisfaction (Hughes & Camden, 2020).
Regardless of whether partners’ love languages are matched or mismatched, partners are incompatible when they are unwilling to understand and respond to their significant other’s needs. Thus, instead of using the five love languages solely as a way to tell your partner what you want, it serves as a helpful guide to improve relationships by making your partner feel loved. By understanding your partner’s needs, you can communicate the love you are trying to make your partner feel and express it in a way that is the most receptive by your partner.
Chapman, G. (1992). The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
Bunt, S., & Hazelwood, Z. J. (2017). Walking the walk, talking the talk: Love languages, self‐regulation, and relationship satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 24(2), 280-290.
Hughes, J. L., & Camden, A. A. (2020). Using Chapman’s Five Love Languages Theory to Predict Love and Relationship Satisfaction. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 25.