Gary Chapman starts his book The 5 Love Languages, by sharing his concept of love being measured like a gas tank and asking: are we empty or full? This imagery can be pretty powerful in measuring affection, value, and connection to others in our life, not only with spouses or partners, but by family and close friends as well.
Supporting your client with knowledge of the 5 languages can be supportive of self-awareness as well as provide some guidance in how they can potentially strengthen their relationships. You may start by inviting your client to define each of the 5 languages and provide real-life examples that are meaningful to them. You may also provide support in identifying which languages are most important to your client by what they report lacking or voicing in moments of unhappiness. The 5 languages in summary according to Gary Chapman are 1) Physical Touch, 2) Quality Time 3) Words of Affirmation, 4) Acts of Service and 5) Gifts. Below are some examples of what might be expressed within each language type:
- Physical Touch - hugging, holding hands, kissing, sex, rubbing someone’s back, sitting close, casual touch
- Quality Time - talking a walk, eating dinner together, lying in bed, taking a drive, engaging in a shared hobby
- Words of Affirmation - expressing compliments or appreciation through words, such as “I love you, I’m proud of you, I appreciate you, you make my life better”
- Acts of Service - washing their car, cooking their favorite meal, picking up the laundry, doing an extra chore
- Gifts - making them a card, buying their favorite food, flowers, chocolate, or trinket because it reminded you of them
Please be aware this is not an exhaustive list in that there are many more examples that a client can identify based on their own experience. Also keep in mind that there are some rules around the languages in how they are expressed.
Food for Thought
With The 5 Love Languages come some rules of how they are expressed to be appropriately categorized and recognized as your own. Quality Time for example, defines one-on-one time that promotes connection and conversation. Many couples or families would say they spend plenty of time together in activities such as going to the movies, reading, driving, or watching TV. As you can already guess, these activities do not encourage connection but only proximity in being in the same space at the same time. For Acts of Service, one should keep in mind that the act performed is done authentically and without agenda. For example, one may wash their partners car or run an errand to make their partner’s day easier or bring them joy, not expecting a favor in return. This rule also applies to Gifts in the idea that we aren’t giving someone we love a gift in the hopes that they will return the favor or owe us something in return.
Discovery and Depth
Gary Chapman provides great examples of Love Languages in action in his book. For many, reflecting on what they ask for or ask more of, can be helpful in discovering their top Love Languages. The book has a quiz in the back to encourage reflection and one can also access the quiz online for free to determine top Love Languages at http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/.
So where do we go from here with a client? Once aware of one’s own languages, you can support your client in exploring their partners or loved ones. For many of us, we express the languages that we prefer or languages that make us feel loved, which may not translate well to our partners or loved ones in meeting their needs. If there is an overlap of the top two languages for a duo, their communication can occur relatively naturally due to speaking the same language on most occasions. If a duo does not have a language in common, it can require extra effort to connect and speak the language that supports your loved one in feeling appreciated and ‘full.’
Handing out Homework
This may all resonate with your client on paper, but the real connection between the concepts and experience comes through practice! Assigning low-risk homework of practicing a loved one’s desired love languages can provide your client with evidence of the value of connecting with others in this way. For one client attempting to reconnect with her spouse, she saw a softening and leaning in from her partner when she engaged in their chosen language in authentic ways after weeks of conflict. Actions speak louder than words, which can absolutely apply in helping your client connect with loved ones and also advocate for their own needs in relationships.
In a time when love is sought, defined, and desired, having something concrete for clients to work on can be both empowering and reassuring to their experience in relationships with loved ones. The 5 Love Languages speaks to a desire to connect with others and develop a sense of belonging, best captured in this popular quote by Susan Sarandon in the movie Shall We Dance.
“[In a relationship] you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the mundane things, all of it, all the time, everyday. You’re saying ‘your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.’”