It is often said that longtime partners develop their own language, a shortcut to building a strong bond. In a similar vein, consider the five languages of love, which are acts of service, gifts, physical contact, quality time, and words of affirmation.
I interviewed relationship experts about how they use this concept in their work and how it could be useful in improving relationship satisfaction.
Do you use the 5 love languages in your work and find them useful?
Bela Gandhi, founder of the Chicago-based Smart Dating Academy, regularly uses love languages, but she pointed out that there are misunderstandings about how best to use them in relationships. She suggested that most people want all five, but their preferences vary by day and context. A continuous single preference is a myth, she said.
“I find that these love languages are not absolute,” Gandhi said. “We may favor one at a given time, but it may also vary over time.”
Berman finds the languages of love a useful starting point for educating his clients. Love languages allow people to realize, she suggested, that love alone is not enough. It must be implemented in such a way that the partner feels loved and seen.
“What I love about love languages is that they are great incentives to talk with your partner,” Gandhi added. “We tend to understand our own love languages. But in my work and in my own relationship, people often don’t go out of their way to do the same for their partner.”
Gandhi and Berman agreed that love languages are useful because they allow an individual or a couple to assess where they are in a relationship. “I encourage my clients to consider whether they are doing a good job in all five languages,” Gandhi said, “even if one or two of them is preferred by your partner.”
Is it important for couples to have the same love language?
“No, not at all. Love languages are as varied as it gets,” Berman said via email. She indicated that there were actually many more than the five traditional languages.
She said she thinks finding a partner with the exact same language might be impossible, but more importantly, love languages aren’t about people learning to love in exactly the same way as their partners. On the contrary, love languages theory is about learning that we all experience reality differently and have unique and sometimes mysterious inner lives.
The way to achieve longevity and satisfaction isn’t to speak the same love language as your partner, Berman said, but to honor the fact that your partner may experience the world differently from you and to commit to look for ways to make your partner feel loved. It’s about bringing the energy you want to experience into your relationship, rather than waiting for a happy ending to be offered to you, she said.
Is it important to know and respond to your partner’s love language?
Gandhi agreed that it is important to respond to a partner’s preferred love language, but also to recognize that there is not just one playbook. One day your partner might need time to quality from you. But on their birthday, for example, they might want a present. They may need physical affection another day.
And with the five love languages, other needs can arise in relationships, including good listening skills or knowing when to give your partner space, whether physically or emotionally.
Instead of following a love language manual, Berman said, partners should be curious about how to satisfy each other. Vulnerability is a necessity, so focus on learning the barriers you may have erected to prevent yourself from being seen or heard.
Can it be problematic not knowing your partner’s love language?
It’s problematic to have a relationship that doesn’t rely on communication, consistency and shared intentions to protect and nurture your bonds, Berman said.
“Love languages are just one resource you can use to deepen your connection, but for many people, they just take the online love language quiz and somehow forget about it. If you actually use the information to actively make choices to celebrate your love and nurture your relationship, it can be very helpful,” she said via email.
Gandhi agreed but emphasized the usefulness of discussing the five languages. She suggested couples speak all five languages and understand what each partner feels is their or perhaps the two most important.
A discussion might start with, “Hey, I know quality time is really important to you. Do you think we shared enough quality time together?
All in all, it is useful for couples to speak love languages and ensure that they are satisfied with the love they receive. And to maximize satisfaction and longevity, open communication around relationship needs is essential.
After all, as I know from my own practice, couples want their partner to feel loved the way they want to be loved. Speaking through the languages of love may not be the only answer, but it is a start.