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Summary of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

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Most people know that language consists of more than mere words — there’s body language, for instance, and tone of voice. Well, the language of love is equally complex. That’s because different people perceive love in different ways, and use different words and actions to express it. Essentially, we all speak a different love language.

So, just like being multilingual can be to your advantage, understanding the different ways love is expressed will help you build a strong, happy relationship. But this requires couples to devote the necessary time to discovering the nuances of one another’s love language. It’ll be worth the effort, though, because that’s the surest route to filling your partner’s love tank — a tool that will help you and your partner excel while supporting your relationship.

Words of Affirmation

Give verbal compliments. This is most effective when done in a simple and straightforward manner; various encouraging, kind and humble words are all part of the words-of-affirmation language. For instance, you might tell your partner that they look great in a new outfit, praise their ability to care for your children or tell them how much you appreciate their sense of humor.

But if you want to broaden your vocabulary, you can keep a notebook in which you write down various affirming words you come across, whether in newspapers and magazines, on TV or in conversation with friends.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that words of affirmation can function beautifully as requests. However, when requests are heard as demands, the potential for intimacy deflates and you risk scaring your partner off. So, it’s important to make sure your words are interpreted as a request, meaning you’re giving guidance, not an ultimatum.

For example, one day a woman entered the author’s office complaining that her husband hadn’t painted their bedroom even though she had been asking him to do so for nine months!

The author’s advice?

He told her to stop mentioning the painting and start complimenting her husband every time he did something that she liked. She was skeptical but followed the author’s guidance and a mere three weeks later she told him it had worked. The trick was learning that giving verbal compliments is a much better incentive than making biting criticisms.

Quality Time

The key to this language?

Undivided attention.

It’s not enough to simply be together in the same room. Quality time is about focusing on your partner and nothing else, even if loads of distractions lurk behind every corner. Furthermore, spending quality time with your partner is a primary way for both of you to feel loved, respected and appreciated.

But remember: lots of married couples think they’re spending time together when they’re actually just spending time near each other. For instance, watching a football game or staring at a computer while chatting with your partner is not giving them the quality attention they need.

So what exactly is quality time?

Either quality conversations or quality activities. You probably have a sense of the former, so here’s what the latter is:

A quality activity is something that one or both people want to be doing; it’s less about the event itself and more about the chance to express love for each other. Not only that, but the more common activities you share, the more memories you’ll have to look back on together in the future. These could be anything from strolling in a park, gardening, seeing a show or even preparing a meal together.

For instance, Emily loves going to bookstores to scour the stacks for her next great read. Her husband, Jeff, is not as enthusiastic about literature, but shares this activity with Emily nonetheless. He even helps her find books that she might enjoy.

Emily’s end of the deal has been learning to identify when Jeff’s patience is at the tipping point and she knows not to spend too long browsing. As a result, Jeff happily pays for whatever books Emily ends up choosing.

Receiving Gifts

If your partner’s main love language is receiving gifts, pretty much every gift you give them will resonate as an expression of true love. That’s because gifts are physical symbols of love that materially express the love one person has for another.

But what kind of gifts should you give?

It’s easy to find out what your partner likes by keeping track of all the presents that brought them excitement or joy over the years, whether they were from you or someone else. It can also be helpful to consult friends and family for gift-giving advice.

And remember: for people who speak the love language of receiving gifts, monetary value is not the main focus. In fact, the value lies in the whole process — from having the idea to give a gift, to going out to get or make it and, finally, the gesture of presenting this symbol of love to your partner.

For instance, Doug used to give gifts to his wife Kate; when they got married, however, he stopped. This was a problem, since Kate’s essential love language was receiving gifts. She quickly began feeling emotionally abandoned. The author asked Doug why he had stopped and Doug said it just cost him too much money.

Luckily, the author explained that the monetary value of the presents is insignificant and Doug began showering Kate with random gifts of affection. This reversed Kate’s feelings of abandonment and gave Doug an easy way to express his love.

Acts of Service

Does your partner often wish you would clean up after dinner, take out the trash or wash the car? If so, their primary love language might be acts of service. But how can you attend to this language?

The best way is to intentionally do helpful things for your partner. These acts of service are essentially things you know your partner would appreciate your handling — things like vacuuming or paying the bills, for example, or maybe grocery shopping, helping the kids with their schoolwork or taking the dog to the vet.

But just as you can’t demand love, you can’t demand acts of service from your partner. Nor can they from you. To be truly legitimate, such acts need to be voluntary. So, instead of asking what your partner can do for you, ask what you can do for your partner.

However, keep in mind that asking this question might require you to take a look at, and maybe even adjust your views on, traditional gender roles. For instance, running a home and caring for children is not necessarily a task for women; learning about acts of service requires you to decide for yourself what your responsibilities are, regardless of stereotypes.

Just consider Mark, who was raised in a family with a father who never lifted a finger to do household chores. His dad saw such tasks as women’s work and couldn’t imagine himself cleaning the floors or changing diapers. Mark, on the other hand, saw how important it was to his wife Mary that he lend a hand around the house, so he let his gendered stereotypes go.

This allowed him to overcome his stereotypical understanding of his own behavior and communicated to his wife a great deal of love and respect.

Physical Touch 

Did you know that babies who are caressed, held and kissed go on to lead healthier emotional lives than those who aren’t? It’s true, and it should come as no surprise that physical touch is some people’s primary love language.

If it’s your partner’s main language you can communicate your love through physical touch — things like holding hands, kissing, embracing and sexual intercourse. It’s easy to incorporate such gestures into everyday life by holding your partner’s hand when in church or on your way to the movies. You can also try hugging and kissing your partner when someone else is around; it’s sure to make them feel extra appreciated.

For instance, Jocelyn Green is married to a military man. Although she and her partner often can’t be together physically, she’s found ways to feel connected to him while he’s overseas. If you and your partner also spend a lot of time away from one another, try to find a way to feel close. Things like wearing one of your partner’s old shirts while skyping, or sending them a picture, can work wonders.

But when you are with your partner, you can try touching him or her in unexplored places and asking for feedback about what’s pleasurable. Just remember, your partner is the only one who can say what feels good to them. In fact, it’s key for both people in a relationship to take the time to learn how to touch and please each other. If you’re looking for creative ways to do so you might find it helpful to study massage or read up on sexual techniques.

It’s also essential to work hard at understanding which subtler forms of physical contact can fill your partner’s love tank. Vary the pressure of touch. Experiment! And of course, when it comes to touch, what’s appropriate and inappropriate can only be determined by you and your partner.

All right, now you know the five love languages, but how can you tell which one is your primary one? It’s actually pretty easy to find out:

First, ask yourself what you most often request of your partner. It’s likely that the things you ask for the most are the things that you find most emotionally fulfilling. Then follow your instincts and consider what comes to mind when you want to feel truly appreciated. Perhaps it’s spending time with someone or receiving praise.

Once you know what feels good, consider what your partner does that hurts you. In fact, painful relationship experiences can be an accurate guide to finding your love language. Just think back on what your partners have failed to do for you in the past.

For instance, if someone you were close to caused you serious pain or failed to show you love in the way you wanted, perhaps that person simply failed to understand the way you desired to be loved. If all such instances fall in the same category, there’s a good chance that that category is your primary love language.

But your upbringing also has a major effect on the development of your love language. So it’s helpful to consider how your parents made you feel loved (or unloved) while you were growing up. Such memories are another path to figuring out which language you speak.

For example, Ella’s main love language is receiving gifts, but to figure that out she had to think about bad experiences from her childhood. Specifically, she recalled a Christmas morning when she was a little girl:

Her older brother put little effort into choosing her present and, to save time, gave her something he’d found lying around the house. By recalling this moment and remembering the emotional pain it had caused her, Ella saw how important receiving gifts was (and is!) to her.

And remember: once you pinpoint your and your partner’s love languages, be sure to use that knowledge. After all, communication is what true love is all about.


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