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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

A Closer Look At: Love Languages

“In fact, true love cannot begin until the in-love experience has run its course.” ― Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

I have repeatedly told clients and friends alike that being in love is not a real thing. Rather it is a chemical in your brain that is released when someone is “love struck” or in the beginning infatuated phase of a relationship. I also like to remind clients and anyone else that the chemical I’m referring to, dopamine, is the same chemical released if a person were to use cocaine or consume alcohol. It gives the phrase, “drunk in love”, a whole new meaning!

According to Dr. Dorothy Tennov’s research, the average life span of a romantic obsession is two years. Others estimate the “in love” feeling lasts roughly 18 months. Either way, after that point dopamine stops being released when around the person you are “in love” with. Anything a person does while dopamine is released may not be who they truly are as they are “under the influence”. When the dopamine wears off we begin to see who our partner really is. This is when we make a conscious decision to be in a relationship and the work begins.

Part of the work is knowing our love language and our partner’s love language. When our partner speaks our love language, our “love tank” feels full, and when they don’t, well that is when divorce is more likely to occur. Dr. Gary Chapman created The Five Love Languages and they can be summarized as follows:

1. Words of Affirmation – Some people value kind words and compliments more than others. Examples include complimenting your partner’s cooking, thanking them for cleaning the house, praising their ability to soothe a crying infant, or pointing out personality characteristics you love about them such as their sense of humor or amazing work ethic. When someone’s primary love language is words of affirmation and their “love tank” is filled, they will undoubtedly feel confident with a positive self-image.

2. Physical Touch – Others value touch more than words. This does not necessarily mean sex, but hugging, holding hands, massages, or cuddling may all be meaningful to the person who values physical touch the most. It is important the partner of someone whose primary love language is physical touch knows what type of touch is most important to their partner. While infidelity is extremely upsetting to anyone, for a person whose love language is physical touch, a physical affair can be even more upsetting.

3. Quality Time – The next love language is quality time. For certain individuals, simply spending time doing things together and giving each other undivided attention may be the most effective way to communicate their love. While some might feel content watching television or a movie together, for others quality time might involve engaging in a hobby together or going on a date. Again, it is important you understand what type of quality time your partner desires.

4. Acts of Service – Actions speak louder than words for people whose primary love language is acts of service. This love language is all about doing something your partner would appreciate. This act will likely take a bit of your time, saving your partner some time, or it will be creative or helpful in some way. Cooking a nice meal, vacuuming, dusting, completing a household project, or picking up the groceries can all be considered acts of service but only if they are done with a joyful heart rather than with resistance or bitterness.

5. Receiving Gifts – When you first read this one you may think that someone with this love language is materialistic. In reality, a person whose primary love language is receiving gifts feels loved when someone gets them a gift because it means they were thinking of them even when they were apart. Someone who values receiving gifts does not necessarily need to receive an expensive gift. Purchasing your partner’s favorite snack while getting gas or grabbing flowers while getting groceries may be enough to fill your partner’s love tank if they value receiving gifts the most. Forgetting this person’s birthday or your anniversary is the fastest way to make your partner feel unloved and unimportant.

When thinking about these love languages you may have a good idea of what your primary love language is as well as what your partner’s might be. It’s not uncommon to have two equally important love languages or a primary and secondary love language. Often times, we show love the way we want to receive love rather than how our partner wants to receive love. If your primary love language is receiving gifts, you might show you love others by buying thoughtful gifts since that’s what you value but if your partner values acts of service, such as cooking dinner and vacuuming the house, they aren’t going to “hear” the language you are speaking to them. It’s also important to know that even when you understand the language your partner is speaking; the dialect is also important. Just because their love language is physical touch does not mean sex is the most important thing. If the person values quality time they might desire date nights and not care about watching television together. After discovering your partner’s love language, it is important to identify what that looks like to them and then you will be one step closer to filling your partner’s love tank!

To find out what your love language is, take Dr. Gary Chapman’s quiz here!

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