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What are the Five Love Languages?

Shannon has written web content and general interest articles for various clients and websites for over a decade.

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"Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life." ~ Leo Buscaglia


What Are the Five Love Languages?

The five languages are words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. It may depend on the type of relationship how each language is applied, but the languages are still the same. Though we all give and receive love in all languages, a person may not feel fully loved if others do not speak their primary love language. According to Chapman, the secret to love that lasts is keeping the "love tank" of those we love full. When this is reciprocal, love flourishes. Not doing so causes the tank to empty, and an empty tank can lead to total estrangement or the loss of close feelings. A full love tank makes it easier to overcome personal setbacks that have the power to hinder relationships.

Gary Chapman introduced the concept of the five love languages in his 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. As a marriage counselor, Chapman has been helping heal broken relationships for well over twenty years. He maintains that every individual has a preference for receiving love, called a primary love language and that these love language preferences are established early on in life. Each language speaks to the heart of an individual in ways the others do not. His concept holds true for every kind of relationship, not just marriage. Utilizing them can heal broken relationships and strengthen current ones.

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Love is Learned

"Psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists and educators have suggested in countless studies and numerous research papers that love is a "learned response, a learned emotion". . .Most of us continue to behave as though love is not learned but lies dormant in each human being and simply awaits some mystical age of awareness to emerge in full bloom. Many wait for this age forever. We seem to refuse to face the obvious fact that most of us spend our lives trying to find love, trying to live in it and dying without ever truly discovering it."

~Leo Buscaglia

Why Are the Love Languages So Important?

Think about the people who have impacted your life in positive ways. Particular people will immediately come to mind before others - a parent, spouse, or special friends. Likewise, certain people will come to mind when thinking about specific situations - a teacher or some colleagues that stand out more than others. Chances are, those that made the biggest impact made you feel cared for and important, worth their time and effort. True to Maya Angelou’s quote, you remember the way people made you feel even if you forget some of the things they did for you. Though there may be countless other people that somehow left their mark, many of the people holding special places in your heart somehow touched your heart on a level that goes beyond the surface.

Love sends a powerful message. The presence of love or the lack of it can change the course of a life, or at the very least, the course of a relationship. Chapman points out that no relationship is static and that the average lifespan of the "in love" stage of a romantic relationship (possibly friendships as well) is two years. After that point, a relationship either deepens, or it falls apart. Knowledge of your own primary love language and of those you love will help strengthen relationships even as the actual feelings of love ebb from time to time.

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What Happens When the Love Tank Drains?

Sometimes a conflict within a relationship leaves one or both people utterly baffled about what actually happened. It is entirely possible, though, that the real conflict is not being aware of one another's love language. Sometimes we do not recognize the complaints and requests of others for what they truly are, instead taking things as a personal attack because it may be difficult to comprehend the reasons behind the feelings of a loved one well enough. We mistakenly assume and interpret according to our own preferences and desires, forming a subjective perspective of how things should be.

A person who feels loved by quality time may sound demanding when asking for it. A person whose primary love language is affirmations may seem anything from needy to conceited. One whose love language is gifts may come across as materialistic to those who do not understand their significance. Someone who is often touching others or asking for back rubs and holding hands may seem clingy. Moreover, someone requesting assistance with projects or everyday tasks may seem lazy to those who do not understand what motivates the requests. Not understanding why something is requested of someone is just as hurtful to the one being asked as it is to the one asking.

When hurt feelings are more than a petty over-reaction, it causes further complications if those feelings are minimized. Often enough, trying to explain the pain results in further belittling of the feelings; usually unintentionally, but nonetheless more damage occurs. One can only request love, not demand it, and if the person is not paying attention to why another is truly hurt a snowball effect happens instead. The pain multiplies and a relationship is suddenly over, seemingly with no good explanation as to why. The only things remaining are feelings of betrayal and utter confusion. A failed relationship of any kind is one of life’s most profound pains. However, a little understanding may provide revelations about your reactions as well as about the reactions of others. These revelations may be enough to change perspective and perhaps a relationship.

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Words of Affirmation

For some people, actions do not always speak louder than words. Sometimes words have more power to express love than do individual actions. They also have the power to hurt those that speak this love language more than those who speak other languages. People whose primary love language is words of affirmation thrive on hearing words of love and encouragement from those they care about. When words hurt, though, it is not a result of low self-esteem; it is the fact that those words came from someone who is loved and who claims to love. Also, when speaking this love language, it is helpful to know that there are different dialects. A person may be partial to one or more of them.

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One dialect is encouragement. Encouragement goes a long way toward making those who speak this dialect feel loved. It is a powerful motivator to know that someone else believes in their abilities and appreciates their goals. But a casual dismissal of an expressed desire to do something can be just as defeating as outright discouragement. A word of praise is another dialect of this language. Praise for accomplishing something or a sincere expression of happiness over the achievements of someone else is a form of recognition; something everyone needs once in awhile but has even more meaning to those who speak this dialect. Lastly, a kind word speaks a particular dialect of this language. A kind word can be anything from a simple "I love you" to a sincere compliment or words of appreciation. In fact, words of appreciation might even be a dialect all its own. To those who thrive on this dialect, they feel particularly cared about by hearing the things appreciated about themselves.

However, one must also be careful about the feelings of someone whose love language is affirmations. Criticism can be particularly hurtful, as can harsh words. Sometimes it is not even what is said; rather the way something is said is what hurts. A compliment laden with sarcasm, for instance, or a blame-filled apology minimizes feelings. Conversely, an expression of disappointment or hurt can be seen as a kind word of love if expressed in a loving manner. The one expressing the disappointment desires to be known, and the admission of disappointment is an effort to bring authenticity and honesty to a relationship. Be careful not to take offense by this if the one who speaks this language expresses disappointment or hurt and be careful not to express your negative emotions to that person in an angry manner.

To heal wounds of someone speaking this love language, however, words are just as powerful in apology form as when expressing love. A heartfelt apology that sincerely indicates this person's feelings matter is an act of love. Listen to the reasons behind someone's hurt feelings or anger and try to see things from that person's perspective. If you feel you did possibly wrong that person a gentle and sincere apology will likely quickly smooth things over again. If, on the other hand, you feel you have not done anything wrong, kindly explaining your point of view will help build further understanding so that reconciliation can ensue. The emphasis here is on kindly explaining. Keep in mind the goal is not to prove there is only one right interpretation of a conflict. The goal is reaffirming that this person is cared about.


Receiving Gifts

The most important thing to