One of the things I always want to know when I’m dating someone is what they consider to be their love language. That way, I know exactly how to communicate how I feel to them. At the same time, I want them to know what my love language is (giving and receiving gifts, for anyone taking notes). I've always found this information to be a really useful tool in relationships, especially when my partner needs extra support. It’s like a roadmap of how to make them feel validated and cared for. But here's the question: Are love languages real? Are they really as helpful as I think they are? Do people really fall into the categories of words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, receiving gifts, and physical touch? Or are they just some sort of pop psychology?
To answer that question, I needed the insight of actual experts, so I reached out to Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, and sex therapist Dr. Stefani Threadgill. Both agree that love languages are, in fact, real, and that understanding each other's love languages can really help strengthen a relationship. Here's what else the experts had to say.
Love Languages Are Real
How important are love languages, really? According to Chlipala, not only are love languages real, but they often come up in her sessions with couples. “I see how important they are in the love lives of my clients," she tells Elite Daily. "People do have a preference for how they feel loved and cared for by their partner."
“Love is both a noun and a verb,” Dr. Threadgill tells Elite Daily. “We express and receive love in various and unique ways.” So, in seeking to understand each other’s love language, it helps us to become fluent in one another’s way of feeling and giving affection, which is really helpful in building a healthy and fulfilling relationship together.
They Can Be More Complicated Than They Seem
Knowing your partner's love language is just the first step in understanding it, Dr. Threadgill explains. “The idea of the five love languages can be limiting and the verbiage can be oversimplified,” Threadgill says. “If I expand ‘receiving gifts’ to include ‘attention to detail’ or envision a lover remembering an item their partner mentioned months prior, I might identify with it as my ‘love language.’” Basically, don't take your partner's love language super literally. Just because they like receiving gifts, doesn't mean they won't consider your thoughtfulness or attention to detail a gift.
A love language can also be a way to identify deficits in the relationship. “Unmet needs can affect how I might identify with a particular ‘love language,’” explains Dr. Threadgill. “Many men identify their love language as physical touch, likely as a consequence of a perceived lack of touch and sex in their relationship. Yet many describe a lack of attention, affection, and admiration — needs that are often satisfied through nonsexual and sexual touch. And other means [like] noticing the other person [or] compliments,” she says.
It’s for this reason the Chlipala suggests checking in with one another about your love languages annually. “Love languages can change, and sometimes a change in a love language can indicate which one is being neglected,” she warns. There's also a handy dandy quiz you can take to discover your love language, here.
How To Put Them To Use In Your Relationship
Once you know one another’s preferred love language, can you actually use that knowledge to improve the relationship? Chlipala says yes, because it can bring you closer. “When my couples tell me they feel disconnected, I have them take the five love languages quiz. Sometimes they have opposite love languages. Other times, couples might share the same [one or two] top love languages, but they haven't made it a priority in their relationship, which can also lead to disconnection,” she explains.
Chlipala adds that in order for love languages to be helpful, it’s essential for both partners to be open and honest. “Be as specific as possible with the behaviors that your partner can engage in to make you feel loved. For instance, for some, quality time is having their partner in the room, even if they're occupied with different activities. For others, quality time is about having their partner's undivided attention,” she says.
After all, if you could know exactly what your partner needs to feel appreciated and cared for, wouldn’t you want to know? Ultimately, that's the entire purpose of love languages. They are real, they are effective, and they are a great way to improve and strengthen the love you and your partner share. How awesome is that?