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Let’s Have a Word About the 5 Love Languages

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10 min

Let’s Have a Word About the 5 Love Languages

I bet you know about the love languages theory. It’s like the Kardashians: you may not follow them, but you’ve definitely heard of them. The book that theorizes about the five ways people want to be loved—their love languages—came out over 30 years ago and is still popular. Recently, however, the theory has been increasingly criticized.

So, stay tuned as I break down the concept of love language, how to apply it in your life, and how to tell your partner your love language.

What is the 5 love languages theory?

The five love languages—a concept from Gary Chapman’s popular 1992 book—has taken the world by storm. With over 20 million copies of the love language book sold globally and translated into over 40 languages, Chapman set out to help people connect and build lasting relationships. White, heterosexual, and neurotypical people, that is.

But where did he get the love languages list? Chapman, a pastor and self-proclaimed relationship counselor, found that the people he counsels express their love differently.

So, he discovered that we all have certain types of love languages that influence how we want to give and receive love. Chapman encourages people to understand that “my partner is not me” and to learn to express love in their language, not just our own (a very sound approach, I’ll give him that).

In plain English, the 5 love languages theory is a guide to expressing and receiving love that promises to create a strong foundation for lasting relationships.

Here is Hannah Schlueter, Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, shares some insights about love languages theory The concept of the five love languages are a helpful foundation, but should not be taken as absolute. It’s essential to examine the gaps in Chapman’s work in order to incorporate more diverse, multicultural considerations into the various types of relationships in our present world. The premises of open communication and reflection of both yours and others needs can be used to bring more empathy and fulfillment to all types of relationships.

 So, what are the five love languages? The book suggests they are:

  • Acts of service
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts
  • Physical touch
  • Words of affirmation

Let’s look at how to speak each of them, according to Chapman.

Acts of service

Let’s start from the top: the first love language is acts of service. Do you know why it’s the first one on my list? Because acts of service are actually the favorite language for expressing love in the US, according to research by Preply.

Whether it’s making breakfast or leaving sweet notes, these small acts are the language of love known as “acts of service.” It’s not about the specific task but the message behind it because, for some people, they’re all acts of love.

Acts of service are all about making life easier for that person. This can mean doing the dishes, running errands, letting them sleep in while you play with the kids, picking up their parents from the airport, or planning their weekly meals when they’re tired.

The most important thing is that you go out of your way to help.

If acts of service are your love language, hearing “let me do that for you” is music to your ears, especially when a task feels overwhelming. If it’s your partner’s, you can help with chores, share responsibilities, or simply offer a helping hand.

And try to avoid breaking promises, not pitching in, or adding more work to your partner’s plate. Remember, it’s the little things that speak volumes.

Quality time

Number two is Americans’ favorite language for receiving love, according to Preply’s research. You guessed it—it’s the quality time love language. This isn’t about grand gestures or expensive vacations but about spending undivided time with your partner. If your partner longs for more time together, this could be their love language.

The beauty of quality time lies in its simplicity. You don’t have to plan anything elaborate—just take an hour to spend with your partner.

A coffee in the morning, a weekly date, or a walk after work—these moments of undivided attention can make your partner happier. What they don’t like are prolonged separations, distractions during your time together, interruptions, or dismissive behavior.

Showing love through quality time means actively listening, planning activities together, and creating lasting memories. The key is to find simple pleasures you can share.

Let’s Have a Word About the 5 Love Languages

Receiving gifts

No, not everyone who enjoys gifts is materialistic. Often, the people who appreciate this love language are all about the sentiment. They find joy in something concrete, a token that reminds them of love and affection.

With this love language, it’s not the price that matters but the care and effort put into the gift. A well-chosen present conveys the depth of your feelings, while a generic or thoughtless gift suggests the opposite. See it as an opportunity to show that you’ve been paying attention.

When it comes to the gift-giving love language, meaning is vital: focus on thoughtful gifts, crafting something special, planning nice surprises, and making celebrations memorable.

Here’s a tip: keep a list of your partner’s hints and ideas throughout the year, which can serve as a guide for holidays and anniversaries.

The most important thing is that you make your partner feel seen, heard, and appreciated with these thoughtful gestures.

Physical touch

If your partner speaks the language of physical touch, even small gestures can mean the world. A simple hug, a sweet kiss, or a gentle touch on the arm is a tangible reminder that you see and appreciate them.

You don’t need to be all over them to master the touch love language. A squeeze before work, holding hands in a quiet moment, or a light touch during a conversation—all these tiny gestures show love for your partner.

And, of course, you should avoid neglecting physical intimacy, prolonged periods of distance, or any form of physical abuse if you want to make your partner happy.

Words of affirmation

For some, the language of love involves actual words—words of affirmation. These people not only want to hear but also vocalize their feelings, so you’ll often hear “I love you,” “You’re awesome,” and “I’m so glad I found you.”

If your partner loves words of affirmation, you should express your love in face-to-face conversations, text messages, or DMs.

Love language examples here include praising your partner in front of others, using kind and encouraging words, and complimenting them often. Secretly slipping a love note in their pocket also works.

These people value open and honest communication and expressions of love, gratitude, and respect. However, this makes them particularly susceptible to negative words, so you should be careful of how you express yourself and avoid criticizing them, especially in public.

Now that you’ve unlocked the love languages meaning stage, it’s tempting to think you have the magic key to every relationship door. But the book doesn’t give you all the answers, nor is it a cure for relationship woes.

All these different types of love languages are just a roadmap for you to understand what kind of attention your partner prefers.

Love languages in everyday life

Do I hear a question from the audience? “Are the five love languages only used in romantic relationships?” I’m glad you asked. The concept was developed for couples, but you can use it as a universal relationship language guide with your kids, friends, parents, or colleagues.

For example, take the same types of love languages and apply them to yourself:

  • Words of affirmation or self-love quotes: giving yourself pep talks, journaling
  • Physical touch: going for a massage, doing yoga, skincare routines
  • Acts of service: delegating work or chores
  • Receiving gifts: buying yourself tickets, clothes, makeup
  • Quality time: making time for your hobbies
  • A little self-discovery: Try Breeze tests to discover more about yourself; it’s the best path to self-love and care.

You can make a similar list of your children’s love languages

These can be:

  • Physical touch: making up special handshakes
  • Acts of service: bringing them snacks, helping with projects
  • Receiving gifts: organizing treasure hunts
  • Words of affirmation: speaking highly of them, praising them
  • Quality time: going on walks, and playing games together

Now, we’ve talked a lot about giving love following the language the other person enjoys. But what are the love languages you speak? 

How to tell your partner your love language and find out theirs

Nobody’s a mind reader, not even Derren Brown. So, if you want your love language to be heard, you have to speak up and explicitly tell your partner what you like. What’s that you say? “What’s my love language?” Well, there are several ways to find out.

A little self-reflection is key. Think about what makes you feel most loved. Is it when your partner does something unexpected for you when they take time off work to spend some extra time with you, or is it that Harry Potter-inspired necklace they knew you’d like? These tips will help you define your love language.

But remember, just because we expect a certain form of affection doesn’t mean our partner will understand and, more importantly, enjoy it. Here’s what you can do to find out your partner’s love language:

  • Ask them directly—this is usually the most straightforward way 
  • Pay attention to how they express their love for you—maybe it’s the way they want to be loved
  • Experiment with different love languages to find out which one appeals to them the most
  • Look into their previous relationships—they may mention where their ex-partners failed

And finally, don’t worry if your love languages don’t match. Because you know what? The idea of the five love languages isn’t perfect. Here’s why.

Critique of the 5 love languages theory

Are you skeptical of any system that divides everyone into just a handful of categories? (Yes, zodiac signs, I’m looking at you). If so, you’re not alone. The 5 love languages theory may have millions of fans, but there are critics, too.

For one, the five love languages oversimplify complex relationships and lack empirical evidence that they actually help improve relationships. The book also suggests changing one’s needs instead of finding common ways to love in relationships.

So, instead of encouraging open communication and understanding or acknowledging the complexity of relationships, we’re advised to blindly respond to our partner’s needs.

Next, the rigid categorization of five love language types doesn’t do justice to the fluidity and diversity of relationships. I mean, why not 7 love languages?

Some people think that giving your partner space, making them laugh, or getting along with the partner’s friends are also love languages. Why aren’t they on the list?

Not to mention that love languages can change depending on context, environment, enmeshment trauma, and other life events. I mean, if you’re mad, and he says, “I love you,” it can irritate you, even though your love language is words of affirmation.

In the Preply survey I mentioned, 65% of respondents said their love languages had changed over the course of their lives. Think about it: if a person’s love language is acts of service, does it stay the same when they hire someone to clean, cook, and run errands for them?

Also, since Chapman is a pastor at a Baptist church, the concept is geared toward a specific white, Christian, and heteronormative demographic, limiting its relevance to a diverse population.

People with PTSD, specific medical conditions, or neurodivergents may accept and express love in unconventional ways. But all love languages are valid if they aren’t abusive.

What about gay, ace, or interracial couples? The book doesn’t say what you should do when whole cultures speak different love languages on top of the actual spoken languages.

And finally, there’s a big problem with dividing love into love languages where some are more important than others. These are not different ways of loving someone.

When you love someone, all the love languages you know combine. You can’t have quality time without physical touch, and not getting any words of affirmation from your partner is also rare.

Not to mention that physical violence should not be present in any healthy relationship (but rather toxic relationships). Even if you haven’t read a book that says it’s bad.


Knowing what makes you feel loved and how your partner wants you to communicate romantic feelings is very important. And it doesn’t matter if you follow the 5 love languages list. Or think it’s inadequate to describe the ways of love found in modern relationships.

As long as you’re both willing to work on your relationship and choose each other every day, you’ll thrive.

Hannah Schlueter, MA, LAC photo

Reviewed by Hannah Schlueter, MA, LAC

Hannah is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She sees kids, teens, and adults...