Many of us were brought up being taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated. But what if others don’t want to be treated the same way we would?

We may have carried this teaching into our relationships and find that we repeatedly do what we think our partner would like, based on our own value. If our actions aren’t gratefully received or reciprocated, this may leave us feeling unappreciated or unloved. When we do this, we are acting on an assumption that we value the same thing when in fact, we are all different and so it is only natural that we will have different preferences and ways of expressing ourselves.

The concept of love languages was developed by Gary Chapman who, throughout his work with married couples, identified five different ways of communicating love. He reflected that we may relate to many of them, but we will usually have a stronger preference for one. The idea isn’t to enforce our own love language on our partner but that by learning to recognise our partner’s love language, we can adapt our own actions to communicate love in the way they value most – and vice versa.

Here is an overview of the five love languages:

1. Words of Affirmation

This focuses quite literally on love language, through compliments, praise or explicit declarations of love or appreciation. This may be in verbal or in written form, in a card or letter – or perhaps via text or social media these days! People who prefer this love language, like to be told they are loved and valued.

2. Acts of Service

This involves our actions speaking louder than words! Acts of service may include helping out with tasks at home or running errands to lighten the load, cooking a meal, or bringing you your morning coffee.

3. Gifts

Gifts can be a tangible symbol of love as something that can be kept and act a reminder of a loving gesture. If this is your love language, the value here isn’t attached solely to the material gift itself but also to the time and thought taken into choosing something personal and special.

4. Quality Time.

This love language is about sharing experiences together, enjoying each other’s company, having your partner’s attention and feeling listened to. Conversation, eye contact, and regular time together will be important to someone who has a preference for quality time.

5. Physical Touch.

People whose love language is physical touch will feel loved through gestures of physical affection – a hug, kiss, an arm around them, holding hands, or through sex and physical intimacy.

How This Can Help Us

The bottom line here is that we are different and so it is understandable to expect that we may express our love and feelings in a different way to our partner. However, we tend to assume that others think in the same way we do and this can be problematic. If we have an expectation for love to be shown in a particular way, this can create tensions and difficulties in our relationships if this expectation is not met.

You may assume that love should be expressed in the way you like to receive it and as a result of this, you may feel upset if it is not reciprocated in the same way. For example, if your love language is physical touch, you may want to cuddle up on the sofa in the evening and so may feel hurt if your partner sits away from you. If your love language is gifts, you may spend hours finding the most thoughtful item for your partner and feel offended if they don’t use it or if they don’t put the same thought into a gift for you.

Communication is key in any relationship. By focusing on your own love language and expecting to see these actions from your partner, you may be missing out on their ways of expressing their feelings for you. By reflecting on your partner’s love language, you can express love in the way they like to receive it and so are more receptive to. You can also become more open to receiving their expression of love that are different to yours.