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Love Languages and the Psychology Behind It

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Ever wondered why some relationships just don’t seem to work out? Maybe you’re one of those people who has had relationships that seemed great at first but, as time goes by, the spark and the feelings little by little faded away? Ever wondered why there are people who have been together for a long time and still the spark is there?

According to Dr Gary Chapman, relationships grow better when we understand each other. Lasting relationships take intentional commitment over time, however, it is much harder or even impossible if we don’t understand each other.

That’s why he authored a book called, The Five Love Languages. According to Dr Chapman, every person has a different love language or a person’s way of giving and receiving love. These are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, physical touch, and giving/receiving gifts.

Words of affirmation

Words of affirmation, according to Dr Chapman, is the expression of love through verbal communication that is supportive, encouraging, appreciative, and affirmative. These can also be shown in written messages such as love notes, love letters, and such. 

According to Dr Kathryn Lively, affirmations are used to reprogramme the subconscious mind to help us create the reality we want, such as love, beauty, wealth, etc. Essentially, affirmations encourage us to believe certain things about ourselves or about the world.

One of the things that we aspire to as human beings are to feel valued and appreciated. When we feel valued, appreciated, and good about ourselves, we attract positive things and build stronger and productive relationships, as the proponents of the ‘law of attraction’ often refer.

Another concept from positive psychology suggests that using affirmative words improves our brain functions resulting in an increase in cognitive reasoning and strengthened frontal lobes.

Quality time

People whose love language is quality time feels much loved, cherished, and prioritised when they spend meaningful time with their loved ones. It is the love language that centres on togetherness. According to Dr Chapman: ‘Quality time is giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television. I mean sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other, and talking.’ 

Building strong relationships comes from meaningful connections. In other to do this, one must be intentional in spending quality time. Most people see each other but still feel alone inside. Being in the same place doesn’t constitute quality time. There must be a connection with each other, otherwise, it can leave a feeling of being alone and empty.

Acts of service

Another love language is acts of service. According to Dr Chapman, it is the non-verbal form of love that can be time-consuming and exhausting, but if it’s what your partner needs, then it’s worth the effort. It is described as doing something for your spouse or partner that you know they would like, such as cooking them their favourite food, cleaning their car, taking care of your partner’s loved one after having a stroke, etc. In other words, this language is about demonstrations of love.

It is also described as selfless acts. If we relate this to psychology, it is because we, as humans, like to feel that warm, fuzzy feeling we get from selfless acts. Neurobiologists also found out that selfless acts activate the reward centres of the brain. This means that positive feelings created by compassionate actions reinforce selfless behaviours.

Giving/receiving gifts

Giving and/or receiving gifts is another way we give love and feel loved. It is showing affection through gift-giving and is the most common among all the other love languages. According to Dr Chapman, this love language is not about the items that you give. It’s about showing them the effort and proving that you are thinking of them and that you listen and care for them.

According to Dr Jeral Kirwan, Program Chair of Master of Arts in Psychology at Ashford University, gift-giving increases feelings of satisfaction and helps reinforce relationships by positively acknowledging each other.

Love language is often misunderstood. For other people, receiving gifts can be sort of greedy because, for them, the recipient is more focused on the ‘gift’ than the thought behind it. But we all know the phrase that we have been told since childhood ‘Attention is more important than a gift’ – and a gift may not be tangible. For example, your partner has been hinting to you for a half year that he wants to go on a trip with you, and you don’t have much money to fly somewhere to rest. It’s not a problem. You can rent a tandem kayak, put it on a sturdy kayak rack for a truck and go to the nearest lake or even a river to spend time with your loved one.

In this sense, Mark Williams, a licensed mental health counsellor and relationship coach explains that the true meaning of gift-giving is sentimentality. A person who feels loved through these items might cherish the gift, however small, more than another who speaks a different love language. Every time they see it, it will serve as a reminder that they are loved. Thus, it is the thought that counts.

Physical touch

Physical touch is the physical expression of love. It is the non-verbal love language that focuses more on intimacy. It could be holding hands, laying your head on your partner’s shoulder, or simply a hug. Since this love language is physical in nature, some people tend to think it’s simply about satisfying sensual needs, but desiring physical touch is usually more than sex and sensual needs.

Having physical touch as your love language can be tricky at times since most of the time, your partner may not understand what you want, thus creating frustration and confusion.

In psychology, touch is the first sense that we acquire when we are infants. It is our first form of communication with the world. Hence, it is critical in our social and behavioural development. One research says that by touching, we have the ability to send and receive emotional signals from other people.

Another research also shows that touch can communicate multiple positive emotions such as joy, love, gratitude, and sympathy. It is also proven that a person giving a hug gets just as much benefit as a person being hugged. Hence, we can say that there are really proven physiological benefits of physical touch.

Lastly, according also to one study: ‘Touch is crucial in creating and strengthening romantic relationships. Tactile physical affection is highly correlated with overall relationship and partner satisfaction. Moreover, conflict resolution is easier with more physical affection including hugging, cuddling/holding, and kissing on the lips.’

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