Healthy relationships require open and honest communication, this is something we all know. But there are certain ways to ensure your communication is 10/10 – and learning about the five ‘love languages’ is a super helpful way to do that.
Never heard of love languages before? The concept is best known thanks to Gary Chapman, and his bestselling book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. The book acts as a guide for couples to help them identify, understand and then speak using their partner’s ‘love languages’ – and it’s thought to be the key to a happy and healthy partnership.
The five love languages are something many relationship counsellors and therapists use in their work with couples. Although they don’t use that term specifically, it’s a framework by which they help couples understand each other more deeply.
Cosmopolitan UK spoke to Gurpreet Singh, a relationship counsellor at Relate, who explained why you need to know about love languages. “In a relationship, peoples’ styles of thinking are very different, so it would follow that what their needs in a relationship could be different,” he says. “Therefore, it’s important to understand what your partner’s language of love is. Because if you don’t know that, it’s likely you’ll get it wrong. And without wanting to, you might end up hurting each others’ feelings. Or, your actions might not be as well received as they would be if you spoke a language they understood.”
The essential building blocks
“There are two people in the relationship, their expectations are different, their needs are different, their way of communication is different,” Gurpreet explains. “Everything about them is different. There are similarities of course, but opposites attract quite a lot. When you’re attracted to someone that’s different to you, it is almost necessary you will run into things about the person that grate on you. That’s always the way. Someone leaves the cap off the toothpaste and the other person gets irritated, all these things manifest themselves in relationships.”
That’s why, Gurpreet says, understanding each other’s love languages can be vital to building and maintaining a healthy relationship. But first, it’s important to have the ‘building blocks’ in place. “There needs to be love for each other, there needs to be trust, and there needs to be a desire to communicate with each other,” he says.
“For example, in a good, healthy relationship, somebody saying, ‘You don’t tell me you love me,’ is them talking about the language of love that’s relevant for them. They’re saying the love language known as ‘words of affirmation’ is really important.”
What the five love languages are
Words of affirmation: Put simply, telling someone you love them.
Acts of service: How you demonstrate that you are thinking of someone. “You could open a door for them, or remember if they’ve eaten or not, or demonstrate some care for them,” Gurpreet says. “Even remembering they love cheesecake, and bringing one home could be an act of service.”
Receiving gifts: Gifts are very symbolic, he explains. “If somebody started talking about the value of gift, that would lead you down a different road. This gift is just about remembering someone.”
Quality time: Yep, it’s about spending time with each other. Gurpreet often hears clients say their partner “can’t ever be bothered to sit with me”. This is often down to technology. “It acts as a big deterrent in a relationships because people are often on their phones, and quality time tends to diminish, so that tends to lead to a lot of hurting these days,” he explains.
Physical touch: Gurpreet’s clients will often complain their partner never holds their hand, for example. “This can mean anything from sex to just holding hands, to stroking someone’s hand, kissing,” he says. ” Some people like a morning kiss and an evening kiss, and other people don’t necessarily need that.”
How to identify your partner’s or your own love languages
“Identifying your love languages is part of the communication process among the couple,” Gurpreet says. “When counsellors see clients, we don’t ask them what their ‘language of love’ is specifically. Instead, we ask, ‘What will make you feel loved and cherished in the relationship’?”
Their answer will fit into one of the above five languages, and you can use this to understand your partner. “It gives you a framework of understanding the other person’s needs,” Gurpreet says. “It gives you some bullet points, and it’s worth finding out, but it is not the gospel of love.”
Essentially, you need a healthy amount of those five things, with a preference for one.
You should also remember that people speak more than one love language. Gurpreet explains, “If my language, for example, was quality time, does that mean I don’t like being touched? No. It’s that one language might be preferred, but there might be other things you enjoy as well in the relationship.”
Talking (and actually listening) to your partner
It may sound obvious, but first you should make some time to talk. “People often think making time means turning up and being there,” Gurpreet says. “But you need to be present. If you’re always on your phone when talking to your partner, that’s not being with them. If you start talking, and you’re always denying everything, that is not talking.
“Remember, there are two parts of communication, one is talking and the other is listening. If you’re only there to talk, it’s not going to work. If the relationship is important, then trying to understand what is important for your partner should be just as important to you.”
When it’s time to seek help
Gurpreet explains it’s definitely worthwhile seeing a counsellor if you want to build a healthy relationship with your partner. But there are other signs it would be beneficial to seek professional help.
For example, “If you have unresolved issues, or find your arguments are circular and you’re arguing about the same thing over and over again,” he says.