Six years ago, while standing in a coffee shop waiting for my spiced chai latte, an elderly man engaged in a profoundly deep conversation with me. He felt compelled to tell me to read a book, The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. He said the book helped bring peace and clarity to his marriage while his wife was dying from terminal cancer. I looked at him with both surprise and tears in my eyes as I had been questioning my own marriage for some time and was at a crossroads. How could this man have known any of this? We were only strangers.
Being the deeply spiritual person I am, I knew it was divine intervention because I had been asking the universe to send me guidance and help me uncover the answers I was searching for.
What are the five love languages?
The Five Love Languages describes the different ways in which a person can receive love and show love to a romantic partner, friend, parent/guardian, or in any significant relationship. How we choose to show love and wish to receive love can be very different, and it’s important to be able to understand these differences in order to meet the needs and hopes of those you care for – as well as have your own needs met!
According to Dr. Chapman, there are five love languages:
Words of Affirmation – This refers to your method of communicating how much you appreciate, care for, and respect another person. This can look like giving compliments, writing love letters/notes, and offering words of encouragement, whether handwritten, texted, or spoken out loud.
Acts of Service – This can look like doing something for another that demonstrates you’re thinking of them and want to help in some way. This could include whipping up their favorite breakfast when you know they don’t have time before an early meeting, grabbing groceries, sending a hot meal, or doing something simple like refilling the soap dispenser or putting away the dishes.
Receiving Gifts – Gift giving is a popular way to show someone you care. For the person receiving the present, they’ll know how much thought and attention went into curating the perfect gift, no matter how small.
Quality Time – Quality over quantity is key here! For those whose love language is quality time, they’ll take extra care to carve out time that is meaningful to the other person. This can look like watching a movie, cooking for date night with no phones or distractions, or any time spent together with complete focus on each other.
Physical Touch – Showing affection through physical touch does not just mean expression through sex; this love language can be expressed through a warm embrace, a hand on the shoulder or back, holding hands, or cuddling.
When we understand our own love language(s), we are able to communicate our needs clearly and can avoid a lot of discomfort, such as an unnecessary break up or conflict. It is important to understand the love languages of the important people in your life for the same reason.
The five love languages in action
The lovely stranger I met at the coffee shop shared that even though he was vacuuming the carpets (acts of service), buying fresh flowers (receiving gifts), reading books by his wife’s bedside (quality time), and telling her how deeply he loved her (words of affirmation), she was never quite satisfied or felt fully loved and supported.
After reading and discussing the book together, it became clear the wife’s primary love language was physical touch. All she truly desired was for her husband to gently touch her. So in her final weeks of life, he massaged her hands, kissed her lips tenderly, and lay naked next to her frail body so she could feel his affection and deepest love.
Why discovering the five love languages was a turning point in my relationship
Let me tell you: That was the best $5 latte I ever purchased! Within seconds, I had ordered two copies of The Five Love Languages online and was ready to dig in. I gave a copy to my husband and said with seriousness and concern, “It is clear we both do not feel loved in this partnership, but today we have been given a gift. Let’s read this book separately and then come together in a month to discuss our primary love languages as a first step in hopefully healing our marriage.”
My story does not end with passionate sex and red roses, but rather a separation and ultimately a divorce. My husband did not open the book. It lay on his bedside table untouched. Once in a while, I placed a note on the cover and set it on his pillow, but it would move back to its comfortable place on the bedside table or sometimes be found on the floor under a pile of laundry.
I read the book and soaked up every word. I became acutely aware that – though just giving is not enough – loving someone is not about what one can gain but rather what one can give. It is important to understand what your partner would like to be given, and not assume you know. As we all grow up in different homes and cultures, and have had our own life experiences, we naturally only know how to give what we ourselves are accustomed. If one grows up in a home where love was displayed through receiving gifts, it would make sense this is how one would think love is to be shown, even if it never felt like love to the giver.
While I was showing love by always making sure the refrigerator was full, preparing delicious home-cooked meals, tidying up after everyone, maintaining our social calendar, and keeping a home fit for a decorating magazine, none of this equated to love, at least not to my husband.
Integrating the five love languages
We should never expect our loved ones know how to love us nor assume we know how to love them. When one falls in love, it is a stunning sensation we wish we could hold on to forever, but when we enter into a domestic partnership, loving someone becomes a practice, a continuous work in progress.
The five love languages can be used in any type of intimate relationship. I have used this concept to better understand my two children, in order to meet their deepest need to feel loving connection. I was not surprised to learn what my son needed most from me was quality time. In knowing this, I do my very best to set aside time each day to have a nice talk, go for a walk, or ask him what he is creating online with his friends. He really lights up when I give this time to him. I also make sure to give him a warm hug because we often forget to touch our boys.
My daughter, on the other hand, surprised me. I thought she needed receiving gifts, but in fact, what she desired most from me was physical touch. Each and every day, we are sure to give each other a warm embrace. I smother her with kisses, and when she observes I have had a long day, she sweetly offers me a hand massage.
How the integration of a healthy and loving relationship enhances health and well-being
I have not been in a significant, long-term, romantic relationship since my marriage dissolved five years ago, but during my marriage, neither my husband nor I were in great health. We did not look unhealthy, as we were both athletes for a great part of our lives, but we felt sluggish and often struggled with inflammation and mood swings.
My husband always had sinus infections and backaches, while I developed cysts and fibroids, regularly undergoing procedures and biopsies. While learning about primary food – the concept that it's not just the food on our plates that is important, but rather all the other areas of our lives that feed us more than food ever could (such as relationships, career, and home environment) – during the Health Coach Training Program at IIN, I connected to the concept that when one struggles in a relationship, it directly affects the way we care for and nourish our bodies.
Healthy relationships play an essential part in our overall vitality and immune health. When our relationships are toxic, so are we. Resources such as The Five Love Languages can be instrumental in healing significant and cherished relationships, whether that means rebuilding a relationship or letting go of a loved one. To learn more about which areas of primary food in your life need nourishing, complete our free Circle of Life exercise!