As someone who reads, thinks and talks a lot about relationships, I think it’s high time that we talk about the 5 love languages, which is a framework for thinking about how we give and receive love popularized by Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, which has been a NYTimes bestseller for about 10,000 years now.
The 5 love languages framework posits that we all give and receive love in 5 different ways:
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- receiving gifts
- quality time
- physical touch
Per Chapman, you can have one or more predominant ways but tend to have one main way that works best for us.
A 2006 study by Nicole Egbert and Denise Polk suggests that the 5 love languages might have some degree of psychometric validity, meaning, my nerds, that there is a study that shows that the 5 love languages may be legit.
While I’m not here in support of or to negate the validity of the love languages, what I’m here to say is that these kinds of tools can be a helpful starting place.
We should relate to them as such, instead of making them into absolutes. Instead of saying “this is the only way to show me love” because as humans we are not static animals, we are dynamic and ever changing. Our preferences and relationship to loving and being loved will change as we change and because we can use thought work to relate differently to the ways we are shown love by ourselves and others.
Finally, as someone who is all about that neuroplasticity, I believe we should be careful to not box ourselves in and to say a definitive “this love language works for me, this other one is garbage.”
I believe that the love languages framework can be a super helpful to tool we can take to our thought work to help reveal the ways in which our habitual thought patterns allow or block us from experiencing the gestures of love, kindness, and generosity others offer us from their own rubric for loving, which may be different from our own.
Those of us who have codependent or people pleasing thoughts, we may already have a hard time accepting certain expressions of love because we have the habit of all or nothing, black and white thinking.
That often comes from what kept us safe in childhood, when we became masterful at reading the room and deciding in the blink of an eye what is emotionally or physically safe or not by quickly categorizing it as yes/no, good/bad, danger/not danger.
Mix that up with thinking that the love languages are a set of absolutes and you can find yourself painted into a corner, turning away bids for love or connection because you’ve decided that they just don’t work for you without exploring the topic further.
What I think is really interesting here form a thought work perspective is that it’s all about the story we’re telling about each love language.
Which often comes from what we were taught is important in childhood or what we didn’t get in childhood and are trying to, subsciously of course, receive in adulthood from our relationships. That is, we can believe that our minds, our nervous systems, got patterned in a specific way to have specific preferences, and we can also use thought work to shift those habitual relationships to different ways of giving love.
By examining our patterns and understanding them, we can choose to have different thoughts that may change the ways we are able and willing to receive expressions of love.
Finally before looking at each love language, I want to name the role that control plays here. From our codependent and people pleasing thought habits, we sure do love to try to control things: our partners, family, friends, children, coworkers, boss, strangers, the weather, on and on. We try to control the way we are shown love because we’re scared not to, so again, we create these detailed internal rubrics for what it means to show up for us, love us, care for us, and if you’re not doing it “in the exact way I want you to that you would know if you only took the time to read my mind and not have opinions of your own like you know i prefer” then everything would be fine and you could accept love in whatever form, as long as it’s exactly the form you want exactly the way you want it…. right?
The more we can allow the people we love to be themselves, the more we accept them as them and drop the desire to control everyone and everything, the more love we can feel, regardless of the love language used to show us love.
So let’s look at how codependent and people pleasing folks may receive the different languages of love and some examples of common thought patterns we may have. If these don’t match up exactly with yours then I invite you to write your own habits out, to do thought work on them so you can get clear on your own thoughts that may be blocking you from getting the love you actually want, regardless of how it’s packaged.
The first love language is gifts.
Per the love languages quiz, I ranked zero percent on the language of receiving gifts. Which is funny because I love to give gifts, and I can look back and see that before thought work, I really wasn’t into receiving gifts when that’s the primary way that a partner or lover tries to show me love. In the absence of the other love language wants being met, that is, if you weren’t taking out the garbage and doing your fair share around the house, which are the things that made me feel loved from my thoughts about partnership, then I didn’t care if you brought me a gift of something I actually do like. It’s unlikely to flood me with love because I was over here thinking about the thing you didn’t do, all full up with resentment about it because of my thoughts.
See how that thought “cool, thanks for bringing home my most favorite soap that I adore, but actually you didn’t do the dishes” was blocking me from receiving the loving gesture of a gift?
A lover of mine shared that they appreciate what they consider to be thoughtful gifts, but not just random things given as gifts, things they interpret as things bought from obligation for a holiday or birthday, things that don’t meet their mental rubric of what thoughtful is to them.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have preferences, because we all have them and it’s great to know them. What I am saying is to pause before you say “I’m just not into gifts” so you can examine the stories under that preference instead of being like “well. That’s not my love language, so it’s not for me” and this holds for all of the love languages.
Next up is acts of service.
This love language is about doing things for the person you love and having the person you love do things for you as a way of showing you love.
Control comes up here for us for sure as a block to receiving acts of service as love, especially when we have perfectionist stories that say that a task must be done in a perfect way. Extra especially when we believe that a task or chore being done a certain way is linked to how we feel.
My mind goes immediately to house work. I’ve heard it a million times, I just can’t relax if the house doesn’t look perfect and of course only you can get it perfect . Or: I can’t enjoy dinner if there are dishes in the sink, but if we have the idea that there is a perfect way to load the dishwasher, then someone doing that for us will not bring us joy because they likely won’t do it “right.”
We might say acts of service don’t bring me joy and are not my love language, when in fact it’s your perfectionist thinking and desire for control that keeps you from appreciating the gift of someone doing nice for you when your story is that only you can do it right.
Words of affirmation
If from our codependent thinking, we don’t believe we are worthy of love, care, kindness, then words of affirmation are not something we are likely to believe. It’s like we can’t take them in and align our own thoughts to accept that kind of kindness if we are not yet ready, if we don’t yet have the internal thought rubric to support a belief that anyone else could think we are smart or pretty or beautiful when we are so perfectionistically harsh with ourselves, so judgemental of us.
If you are holding on to the thought that you are not pretty, you are simply not going to believe it and it’s not going to do anything for you. But if your thought is that others could in fact see good things about you and you yourself see and believe good things about yourself, then words of affirmation are likely to feel good for you.
So the work here is to use the thought work protocol to show you the thoughts you carry about yourself from your socialization, conditioning and family blueprint that block you from having positive self-regard so you can start to create some wiggle room in your mind and body to start to believe that someone else can think you’re awesome.
Finally, a common habit in codependent thinking is wanting others to read our minds and to say and do exactly what we want them to, on our terms, because we have this very narrowly defined framework for what feels loving to us, which is another way we try to control others.
It might be interesting as well to ask ourselves if we don’t like words of affirmation or if we have a control based story about what specific words that we have decided are acceptable as loving for us.
This can be a particularly complicated one for a lot of humans, especially if we have trauma around nonconsensual touch, or those who may be neurodivergent and have a different relationship to touch. Here too, I would posit it’s not that most of us were born as animals who don’t appreciate touch, but that our nervous system learned that touch isn’t safe either because of stress, distress or trauma, how touch was coded in our minds, or because our neurological circuitry processes touch as something that doesn’t feel safe or good.
For the former group, somatic therapy and trauma therapy (which is beyond the scope of this article) can be helpful to help us repattern our relationship to touch. And those who may find themselves on the autism spectrum, for example, you may prefer self touch, or maybe prefer firm touch but not light touch or some other.
If touch is not one of your love languages, you get to do some thought work to understand why.
That doesn’t mean you need to change it, but it can be helpful and empowering to understand your why.
If you have not developed the skill of presence and being present, it can be really challenging to see quality time as a gift.
I now love quality time, and it ranks highly on the love languages quiz for me.
A decade ago and before I was meditating, doing breathwork, somatic practices, etc I don’t think I would have named quality time as as much of a yes for me as I do now that I am generally more embodied and present in my life. Now I can more easily just sit on the couch with a date or a friend and can allow myself to feel a deep connection and an appreciation for the time we spend together. Because I am truly there for it in my body and because I’m telling the story that the person I’m with is giving me one of the most important gifts possible — their time.
But before it felt safe to be present in my body like it mostly does now, I’d be watching a movie with a lover and I’d be jumping up every ten minutes to get a drink or a snack, to do some task which was effectively me avoiding being present. It was buffering against the discomfort of quality time, and I had no idea!
It turns out that it is not that my love language isn’t quality time, it’s that I didn’t have the skill or ability to be present to quality time then, and I very much do now.
In conclusion my darlings, the 5 love languages are a potentially fun and useful tool for opening up communication about your current preferences and what feels loving and good for you today.
I recommend doing thought work to get real on why we respond to one love language or another so we can decide that there is more than one specific way we are available to get love — instead of spending our time demanding people love us in a way that lines up with our narrative of what being loved means.
If you know what resonates in your body is acts of service or touch or whatever, tell your partners! Let them know what you prefer, what lights you up, what you most enjoy receiving, but don’t close off your heart to other ways of being shown love.