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What Is Your Love Language?

Image of two tortoises kissing - Oakland Therapist EMDR Therapist

Do you know your love language?

The idea of Love Languages was conceived and popularized by Gary Chapman in his bestselling book, "The 5 Love Languages". As a therapist, I find many self-help books to be under-informed and oversimplified when it comes to understanding human psychology, but Chapman has provided us with an extraordinarily useful way of understanding how we show up in our intimate relationships and how simple adjustments can lead to much greater fulfillment for both partners.

"Love Languages" are, simply put, the ways that we as human beings express love and affection. Each person enters adulthood with a preferred way to both give and receive love, usually based on the particular economy of love in their families of origin. Chapman identified five main Love Languages, and said that most people feel most strongly drawn to one or two of them, although some people may resonate with them all. I have found this to be true in my work with clients.

Below are the five that Chapman identified:

(1) Words of Affirmation include giving compliments, expressing appreciation and gratitude, providing encouragement and reassurance, telling your partner "I love you" or "you are beautiful", expressing gratitude, and any other spoken message that conveys to your partner your love for them and their special role in your life.

(2) Physical Touch includes cuddling, holding hands, massage, having physical contact during sleep, placing your hand on your partner's body lovingly, wrestling/playfulness and of course, sex. Importantly, sex is not intrinsically more important than any of the others.

(3) Quality Time is doing activities together, talking together, going on trips together, hanging out with mutual friends together, and any other time spent together that has the focus of connecting, playing and interacting. (The word "Quality" is important here; watching TV together or sitting across the dinner table while you're each absorbed in your smartphones, though it is technically time spent together, is not "Quality Time.")

(4) Acts of Service include house chores, managing the kids, mowing the lawn, running errands, cooking dinner and other mundane tasks of daily living that may not seem like much, but are actual conscientiousness

(5) Receiving Gifts like flowers, jewelry, tasty treats, books on a favorite topic, a beautiful object from nature - obviously there are endless forms of gifts - can make some people feel especially loved.

It is critical to understand that the love language that you most like is not necessarily the same as the one your partner likes.

One of the many unconscious assumptions with which we enter relationships is that our partners are like us. Take the following example: Tim might feel really touched when his partner Mike cooks dinner for him (Acts of Service), and may try to reciprocate by cooking dinner for Mike another night. Mike, meanwhile, might just as soon have ordered in, and feels resentful that Tim is cooking instead of asking him about his day (Quality Time). When Mike expresses his resentment, Tim feels hurt and defensive because, in his mind, he was doing something loving.

If this sort of situation sounds familiar, do the following: identify what your top love languages are, communicate them to your partner, and then express appreciation when they "speak" them. Then ask them what theirs are and make a sincere effort to make them feel loved the way they most want to be loved.

Not doing this results in a tremendous amount of wasted effort, confusion and resentment.

I would love to hear from you if you have an idea for how Chapman's list could be expanded - do you or your partner have a love language that he didn't account for? Let me know in the comments section!

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