A staple of marriage counseling is The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
The main idea is that we all express and accept love in different ways.
We’ll follow the story of Mary and Jack.
This article is written for husbands, but wives can learn the principles here as well.
Jack and Mary are having some trouble. Jack says that his wife “just doesn’t care” about him. Mary says that Jack “doesn’t listen.”
Each day, when Mary is making dinner, Jack comes up and gives her a kiss.
Mary gets annoyed, and Jack gets hurt.
Jack plays with and riles up the kids while Mary cleans up dinner. Mary gets upset by this, but Jack can’t figure out why. After all, Mary said that she wanted Jack to spend more time with the kids.
Mary recently saved up some money to buy Jack a nice watch that she thinks looks great on him.
Jack didn’t look too happy when he opened it, and now never wears it.
Jack and Mary are both trying hard to show love to their spouse, but it just isn’t connecting. What’s going on here?
An Introduction to Love Languages
In 7th grade I took a semester of French. It felt fun to learn new ways to say things, but also awkward. And, since I never practiced it, now I don’t remember much besides how to sing “Frere Jacques.”
Learning love languages can be similarly awkward at first. But, it is one of the most important things you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your wife that you want.
Learning love languages, and becoming “fluent” in your spouse’s love language, is one of the most important thing you can do to get the kind of deep, meaningful relationship with your spouse that you want.
Why is that?
Love languages are the way each of us receive love.
If you want your wife to really know that you love her and feel that love for her, you must communicate it to her not in your language, but in hers.
If your wife speaks only French, but you keep telling you that you love her in English, the message will not get through.
And you’ll both get frustrated because you’re trying to show love, but it’s not being received.
For her (and for you) to feel deeply loved, you each need to “hear” it in your own love language.
What are the love languages you ask? And how many are there? Read on!
The 5 Love Languages
Thankfully, there are not thousands or even hundreds of love languages. There are just 5.
And they are much easier to learn than Chinese.
This idea comes from Gary Chapman and his book, The 5 Love Languages. It’s a great read if you want more information on this topic. You can get the book here.
The premise is that people accept and feel loved in different ways. When we feel loved, our “love tank” is full and our relationship is great.
When we don’t feel loved, our love tank is empty, leading to stress and distress.
While most of us will accept or feel loved in each of these ways, Chapman argues that we have a “primary” love language. I’m not so sure about there being one primary, but I think we definitely respond to some more than others.
Without further ado, here are the 5 love languages (in no particular order).
This means spending time together. Date nights, taking walks together, that kind of thing.
Chapman also says that you might know if a love language is important to you by how hurt you feel if the opposite is done. So, if your wife really loves you bringing lunch to her at work or making sure you have date night, she might have quality time as a love language.
If your wife gets really hurt by you spending more time with friends than with her, quality time might be her love language.
Tip: Planning a date will make you golden in her book.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, though there are variations. My wife likes gifts. She says that “it shows me that you were thinking of me.” I think that’s a pretty common reason that people with gifts as a love language appreciate it.
If your wife really lights up at a gift, and feels badly when people forget a gift on a special occasion, gifts might be her love language.
Tip: Flowers, candy, or a little trinket that reminds you of her are great ideas. It doesn’t have to be something big, just something that shows she was on your mind.
Sex is part of this, but also hugs, kisses, holding hands, massages. And for a lot of women, the non-sexual touch is more important to show love (more on this in later articles).
If holding hands or hugs really helps your wife feel loved and she feels emotionally distant when you are physically distant, touch might be her love language.
Touch can be especially tricky after an affair. See my article here about how to rebuild trust after an affair.
Tip: A hug, kiss, dance in the kitchen, or light touch on the arm will show your wife you love her.
Words of Affirmation
If your wife really loves a kind word in a card, note or email, or just a sincere compliment, words might be her love language.
If criticism seems to hurt her more than it does most people, words might be her love language.
Tip: A love note, kind text, or poem would be great for your wife.
Acts of Service
If cleaning up the house or picking up dinner for your wife really melts her heart, she might have acts of service as her love language.
If your wife feels especially hurt and angry by you neglecting helping around the house or with kids, acts of service may be her love language.
Tip: Cleaning things up that are typically “her” job or getting kids ready for school will take you far.
Take some time to figure out what your love language is and your wife’s. It will be one of the best investments that you can do to create a great marriage.
Letting your wife know your love language is also going to be a big help. She may be telling you all the time how much you mean to her, but you may just want her to buy you something nice once in a while.
There are even categories within these categories. For example, my wife really likes when I bring certain foods home, which would be considered a “gifts” love language. But she doesn’t care as much for flowers.
Take the time to find out what “dialect” of love language your wife speaks and you are on your way to a much more fulfilling marriage.
The Golden Rule Does (Not) Apply
Learning about Love Languages was a big paradigm shift for my husband. He had always tried to show love in the way he likes it, but he eventually realized “the Golden rule” didn’t seem to be working. He loves gifts, but I really don’t. I could appreciate the effort and thought, but then hated feeling obligated to pretend I loved whatever he bought me. Through some frank discussions I was able to help him realize that I’d much rather spend an evening in good conversation with him, rather than him wasting time at a store, spending money on something I probably didn’t want while I sat home alone. Once that clicked- Game Changer!
Stacy S, Utah
This is tricky because my husband KNOWS my love language, but still won’t speak it. He prefers speaking *his* language. I wish he *really* REALLY understood that love languages are real, and they are what fills the other person to their core. I wish he didn’t just figure “Eh, it’s all going to fill the need.”, because it isn’t true. I NEED *my* specific need met in a specific way.
Jill H, California
Have you ever tried to do something nice for your spouse, only to find out that they didn’t really care?
I like surprise parties. My two favorite birthdays of all time have both been surprise parties. So, early in our marriage, I decided to give my wife the best party: a surprise party!
I put a lot of time and effort into getting people invited, food made/brought, arranging everything for the surprise event. As we walked up to the door to the surprise, I couldn’t wait.
But, once she opened the door, her face told me that she didn’t like this kind of thing as much as I did. She was nice about everything and kind, but the end result was a lot of stress for my wife.
If we don’t think about it and make a conscious effort, we tend to show love in the way that we like to receive it. This is normal and natural, but doesn’t lead to the best connection or “full love tanks” for spouses. Usually, it just leads to frustration as you feel like you’re showing love, but it isn’t received.
It takes conscious effort to determine your wife’s love language and yours, then to speak that language in a way she recognizes and appreciates.
The following are real responses from nearly 500 wives I surveyed. See if you can figure out which “love language” each woman speaks. Some are trickier than others and some are saying more than 1 love language:
- Just simply saying I love you every day.
- I have shared with him how important it is to me for us to talk without distractions. He knows it’s important to turn off the TV, our down his phone, and talk with me about any subject. He’s also learned the power of chocolate to make me happy! He brings home treats for me when he knows it’s been a hard day.
- I wish he would just listen. I am pretty open about what I want yet that doesn’t seem to matter because he doesn’t show love that way. Example: I don’t want flowers I want a clean house….I still get flowers because that is nice of him.
- Talk to me, pay attention to me, dance with me, be intimate without expecting intercourse
- Flirt with me and hug/kiss me more
Here’s the answer key:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Acts of service
- Probably quality time and physical touch
- Physical touch
#4 is probably the trickiest. If your wife gives you an answer like this, you may want to explore more with her which of the love languages resonate with her.
Also, we’ll get into this in later articles, but emotionally connecting with your wife through deep communication is one of the biggest things wives crave from their husbands.
If you feel like you don’t know how to do this, don’t worry. You’ll learn how in later articles.
Just when you thought you had it figured out…
The most attractive thing that he has done, & continues to do, is realizing that my love language changes over time & changing his expression to suit it. Love languages are fluid not concrete & it has meant more to me than I can ever express that he stays aware of me to notice when they change without me having to tell him (sometimes I don’t realize they change either!)
-Mary S, Arizona
Our love languages can and do change over time. So, if all of the sudden your gifts of flowers aren’t doing it for her, don’t automatically assume something is terribly wrong. Your wife’s love language may have just shifted.
It’s a great topic to bring up with your wife and to discuss how you both feel most loved in the present.
The 5 love languages is a good start, but can’t be everything you do to save your marriage or bring back the passion. See my review of marriage counseling here.
Discovering your love languages
Hopefully you can see just how valuable learning your love language and your wife’s can be.
You can download an exercise to help learn your love language and your spouse’s here.
You can also take the test straight from the 5 Love Languages Website here.
This, by the way, is a great exercise for a date night.
If for some reason your spouse doesn’t really want to participate in this, that’s ok. You can do the exercise on your own.
Also, feel free to experiment! Try each of the love languages and see how your wife responds. You’ll likely be able to pick up on what means the most to her.
Consistency is King
Once you learn the love language, make sure you keep it up and stay fluent. Speak it often to keep your wife’s “love tank” full.
One of the biggest findings from the survey was that while some men knew their wife’s love language, they didn’t consistently speak it.
That’s like knowing your wife speaks Chinese, but continuing to speak to her in English.
It’s going to be hard for her to feel loved.
I’ve found it helpful to set reminders on my phone to do certain things my wife appreciates, like send a text during the day.
The 5 Love Langugaes Summary
- Each person feels loved in different ways
- A helpful framework to understand how we and others feel loved is by using The 5 Love Languages
- The 5 Love Languages are gifts, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and words of affirmation
- Make sure you’re expressing love in your spouse’s language, not yours