I’m very aware that the flowers you received on Valentine’s Day have well and truly wilted by now but love isn’t just a once a year, February 14, endeavour. According to the song, it makes the world go around and it’s something we should all be attempting on a daily basis. I recently came across a book entitled The Five Love Languages that throws up an interesting theory. I was particularly impressed by the fact that it didn’t draw any distinctions between men and women, it just dealt with people. The basic concept is that there are five fundamental love languages, common to both men and women, and if we are not speaking the language of the person we are trying to express love to, then they will never understand us. Although the book was originally intended for couples it appears that the five love languages apply to every relationship we encounter, from the parent child relationship to friendships and work relationships.

The five distinct love languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Gifts, Physical Touch and Quality Time. Although we probably get all five in various ways from various people, we all have a primary language that we prefer over all the others. I was intrigued but not necessarily convinced, so I conducted a very unscientific poll over the weekend with people I knew. Even with this small sample it was quite remarkable how everyone fell into at least one of the categories. When asked ‘how do you know if you are loved’ the responses ranged from, “I like to be told ‘I love you’ often”, another person said, ‘actions speak louder than words, cook for me, then I’ll know’, someone else said they loved hugs, another said they loved to be surprised with small gifts while someone else valued uninterrupted time with the people they cared about.

The Five Love Languages was written by Dr. Gary Chapman who spent twelve years studying the topic. He also admits that he knows what it’s like to be ‘married and miserable’. He states quite candidly that in the early years of his own marriage he felt unloved to the point where he thought that his wife hated him! It turned out that his primary language was Words of Affirmation. He needed to be told verbally and regularly that he was loved or that he was a great husband but his wife rarely did it. Her primary love language was Acts of Service and so she felt that by cooking, cleaning and ironing his shirts that she was saying she loved him loudly. Equally, she felt unloved by the fact that although he told her often that he loved her he never did anything for her, like taking the rubbish out or other household chores. He says that once they discovered that they weren’t speaking each other’s language and changes were made, their marriage also changed for the better.

He says that gender is unimportant and that although there may be many dialects within each language, the five fundamental languages don’t change. He also noted that naturally we tend to speak our own love language, like his own personal experience. So if you like to receive lots of compliments then more than likely you will be someone who is good at giving them.

Words of affirmation don’t always have to come in the form of compliments. It can also be verbal encouragement. Remarking on progress made, saying someone is doing well or being interested in hearing how they are getting on is important. The words of affirmation crowd like to talk and to be told often that people are on their side and think they are great. With the Gift bunch, it’s easy enough also. The actual gift is often unimportant, it is the thought that they appreciate so it can be as small as a bar of chocolate or something you have made yourself and it says the same as something very expensive, so it’s not necessarily about money.

The good thing is that you can learn the five love languages quite easily but there is something else, according to the book, that must underpin each language, and that is motive. Your motives for speaking the language of the other person must come from a place of love. If you are only washing up the breakfast dishes or taking out the rubbish before your wife gets home because you’re afraid of the consequences then that’s not expressing love. The warning is that doing stuff out of obligation will eventually lead to resentment and that is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.

The book is also quick to point out that Physical Touch is distinct and different to sexual touch. Apparently most men automatically believe that their primary love language is Physical Touch but they are just confusing it with sex. Obviously this is an important distinction, particularly if you are trying to show ‘love’ to someone you work with! A pat on the back, a touch of the forearm or a hug is what these people want. However, personally I am loathe to go rushing in and touching people without invitation, but if you are applying this to your partner then you can do it with abandon.

Apparently we start to develop our primary love language at around the age of seven or eight. Sometimes our primary language is learned from what we see around us growing up and other times a primary language will just surface naturally. It is also uncommon that two people in a relationship will have matching love languages. Even if the language is the same, the dialect will be very different.

The book is really interesting and it would be great if we could just figure out the love language of the other person and do it well. However I believe that we also need to appreciate what the other person is doing even if they are not exactly speaking our language. Some people just don’t know how to hug liberally or tell you that you look nice, others would never dream of arriving home with a big bunch of flowers just because it’s Tuesday, but they will probably make you a cup of tea without prompting, take the dog out for a walk without a fanfare or hand over their pay cheque every week without question. If you feel you need to nudge them in a particular direction then get the book, The Five Languages of Love by Dr. Gary Chapman and see if they can figure it out for themselves.