1 September 2020

Speaking the language of love

Derek Boylen

Derek Boylen

Derek Boylen · Relationship Counsellor, Educator, Researcher and Director at the Centre for Life, Marriage and Family

US researcher Gary Chapman realised that couples and families have different needs and wants around love. He understood that couples in love will support each other because they want their relationship to work. But there are times they don’t connect and can't seem to get it quite right. This happens in all relationships.

Chapman’s research led him to Love Languages which has become very popular in recent years. He discovered that what makes one person feel loved by their partner and/or their children, isn’t necessarily the same thing that makes them feel loved. Love Languages fall within these five themes.

Words of Affirmation; Physical Touch; Quality Time; Acts of Service; and Receiving Gifts.

In my marriage to Karen, Words of Affirmation is my Love Language. People who have this as their primary Love Language show their love through their words. They say, ‘I love you’, ‘You mean the world to me’, ‘I missed you today’, ‘You look so beautiful’, ‘This meal tastes amazing’.

And that is typically the way I show Karen that I love her.

And I feel most loved when Karen says to me, ‘Oh, you look so handsome in that suit’, or ‘I really missed you today’, or ‘you’re such a great dad’. My head swells. I can barely fit out the door. I feel loved because she’s talking to my Love Language and I’m feeling it.

The second Love Language is Physical Touch where people show their love through touch. Whereas I’ll use words, they’ll show their love through a hug, a kiss, an arm around the waist, or holding hands. And they feel most loved when their partner reciprocates with a touch of their own.

The third Love Language is Quality Time. Couples and families show their love by making time for their partner and for others. For example, they may have 20 minutes at the end of the day to sit down with their partner, have a cup of coffee and talk about what happened during the day.

Or they may plan a weekend picnic or decide to play a game instead of watching television at night. A warm space is created so the couple are together and become more connected.

Acts of Service is the fourth Love Language. It took me a long time to realise that while Karen washes the dishes, it’s not a chore she enjoys. She does it because she knows if there is one job I hate, above all other jobs, it’s doing the dishes. She washes the dishes because it’s an act of love. She’s showing her love for me by doing something I loathe.

If Karen has a close second Love Language it would be Receiving Gifts, the fifth Love Language. If Karen’s had a tough day, I will stop at a shop on the way home and pick up a mango because Karen loves mangoes. I cannot stand mangoes, but Karen really likes them.

Receiving Gifts has nothing to do with diamond rings, Ferraris, money or any of those sorts of things. Receiving a gift says, ‘I’m thinking about you’, even when you’re not around. I love you and I want you to be happy. It can be as simple as a text during the day, or an email, that says, ‘I miss you’.

In fact, some people might prefer the flowers you stole out of the next door neighbour’s garden because of the trouble you took to show your affection. Not that I’m advocating stealing from people’s gardens, but it’s the thought that counts. The action is saying; ‘even when you’re not here, I care about you’.

Love Languages is not only for couples, but other family members also benefit. Chapman’s work includes Love Languages for children and for teenagers. And every family has its own unique Love Languages. The Love Language for one of our sons is Words of Affirmation while another of our children prefers physical touch.

It’s important you tell your children how much they mean to you through words and actions.

When I was growing up my family wasn’t big on hugs, cuddles and kisses. While Karen grew up in a family where there was plenty of physical touching, I didn’t. Karen brings an innate knowledge about physical affection and touching to our relationship.

Physical touch means more to some people than it does to others, in the same way that words of affirmation mean more to those people who have that as their Love Language.

If I see my sons sitting at the table doing their homework, I’ll put my hands on their shoulders. For those who like physical touch, this connection is affirming and saying to them, ‘you’re here and you care about me and you’re interested in my life’.

It’s never too late to discover new ways of loving someone better. When we learn someone’s Love Language, it communicates to them a powerful and sincere desire to see our relationship with that person grow and develop. It speaks powerfully and directly to that person’s way of experiencing love.

The key point is that the things that make me feel loved aren’t necessarily the things that make other people feel loved in our family. Every family member is different and has a different Love Language.

It’s important to understand what makes them feel loved so that we can love them in the way they need to be loved. Love Languages provides a great framework for thinking about those things. It highlights the five main areas where people encounter and experience being loved.

And if we can work out how to do that better for our family, it’s only going to support our relationships, help us to feel more connected and therefore be better understood.

And it’s a great way to strengthen family life.


This story is an edited version of a Focus Session on Love Languages with Derek Boylen and David Ahern recorded as part of the Figuring out Families podcasts series. You can access this podcast and others at: majellan.media/figuring-out-families/

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