The Language of Love

By February 28, 20114 Comments

Soon after Ike and I got engaged my dad presented us with two books: His Needs Her Needs, by Willard F. Harley, and The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. I had already read parts of The Five Love Languages, so we decided to start with His Needs Her Needs (which we really enjoyed and I highly recommend!). Only last week did Ike and I crack open The Five Love Languages and read it cover to cover.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this classic book on marriage, it is founded on the premise that there are five primary ways to express and receive love from others: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Although most of us like to show and receive love in all five “languages,” most individuals gravitate toward one in particular. For instance, my primary love language is words of affirmation, which means that I feel most loved when Ike affirms me verbally. It also means that I am most likely to show him love by affirming him.

However, your spouse is likely to have a different love language than you, so the key is to discover one another’s love languages and express love to them according to their own inclination. My husband, for example, is a big quality time guy, so as much as I praise him and affirm him it doesn’t mean quite as much as my time and attention.

I knew all of this prior to reading the book, but upon reading it this week I made an interesting realization: Before getting married, I had diagnosed my primary love language incorrectly. As I already mentioned, I had read parts of the book before and I was very familiar with the categories. My misdiagnosis had nothing to do with a misunderstanding of the terms. Instead, I had misunderstood myself.

You see, when I was dating Ike I felt very frustrated in the “physical touch” department. I had concluded, mistakenly, that my primary love language was physical touch because it felt like the most passionate expression of my love. It also came easiest. And so I felt incredibly frustrated. Since Ike and I were committed to keeping our relationship pure, there were certain lines we could not cross. As a result, I was discouraged that I could not express love to Ike in the way that, I thought, came most natural to me.

Two years later, I now see that physical touch is NOT my love language. Of course, one glance at my platonic friendships would have made this truth painfully clear. I am not a hugger. Hugging people does not come naturally to me. It’s a learned discipline that I have picked up over time because it’s such a wonderful expression of hospitality. But it’s not my comfort zone. I have also never been the girl who likes to braid other girls’ hair or sit real close to people. Don’t get me wrong, I love when Ike holds my hand and I love sitting close to him on the couch. But is it my primary love language? Definitely not.

It turns out that what I thought was an inclination toward physical touch was instead physical attraction. Lust, as you may have noticed, is not one of the five love languages, but it is easy to confuse with physical touch.

I share all of this as a piece of retrospective insight to my readers who are currently in dating relationships. Whether or not you gravitate towards the love language of physical touch, I hope you can avoid making the same mistake I did by confusing the emotional exhilaration of physical attraction with a studied understanding of love and communication, or an honest assessment of yourself.

In addition to that point, I want to close with a lesson my dad shared with me when he gave me the book. Not only did he find it helpful for his marriage with my mom, but he also felt that the five love languages are a reflection of the five ways Jesus loved others. Jesus spoke words of love and affirmation to his disciples; he spent quality time with his followers, eating with them and listening to their hearts; he served his disciples by washing their feet and ultimately dying for their sins; he presented his followers with the gift of his presence; and lastly, he touched the untouchables.

My dad was right. Jesus exemplified all five love languages, which means we are to do the same. It also means that while these five love languages are typically discussed within the context of romance, we should also love our neighbors and our enemies according to the breadth of these five, just as Christ did. For Christians who are single, dating or married, that is a wonderful challenge for us all!


  • Blake says:

    I feel like physical touch might have been one of my own original primary love languages before I got into Josh Harris early in high school and set Puritan-like boundaries. Late in college I read some PostSecrets that got me to realize how much I missed touching people and being touched since I would sometimes go months without intentional human contact. I started being more intentional about hugging close friends regularly and found I enjoyed it besides needing it. I’m still really careful, but I can’t help but wonder if I’ve forgotten my primary love language or if I’m misdiagnosing myself. How might I come to discern the difference?

  • Joanna says:

    I think you are very right that the five love languages is very applicable to non-romantic relationships. It has been incredibly helpful in understanding my friends. Physical touch ranks very low for me (I tend towards quality time) whereas for some of my friends physical touch is very much their thing. I’ve had to learn that for them being huggy is not a quirk but a meaningful expression of love. I’ve also had to learn that just hanging out is probably a lower priority for friends who don’t rank highly for quality time.

  • Katie says:

    Over the years I’ve tended to have a very negative reaction to the concept of “love languages” precisely because whenever they come up the immediate follow-on is “well MY love language is…” The focus is on me and how you can meet my perceived needs. An article I read by Ed Welch a long time ago convinced me that the focus on what I need from you isn’t usually terribly helpful and is nowhere found in Scripture. David Powlison, while acknowledging the value of the Five Love Languages, said simlar things in his critique. Both also point out that while love is valuable, feeling loved won’t solve our problems.

    When a discussion about love languages is a small part of how couples, families, and friends can love one another with a focus on serving the other person I have no problem with it. If we walk away from this blog post and it makes us think “hm….that dear friend of mine/my mother/my roommate, how do I think she’d most like to be served, even when it’s tough for me to do so?” then I think it’s great. It’s especially great when you don’t want to do that act of service or say that kind word and you sacrifice to do it.

    When, as I have all too often seen, love languages become an excuse for selfishly griping “So-and-so knows that I really appreciate gifts, but he got my nothing for my birthday! He really doesn’t think to love me in the way I need!” I really start to bristle.

  • EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    Love languages have been a helpful concept for me, as a single, when my husband and I were getting to know each other and now. Physical touch is a biggy for me (and I do tend to touch and hug others quite a bit), as is quality time and words of affirmation. For DH, the elements are similar – words of affirmation, physical touch and quality time. Gifts don’t matter much at all to me – they matter a whole lot to his family though. Interesting dynamics and helpful to understand, like Katie said, so we can seek to serve, rather than demand to be served, though.

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