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Back to Basics: The 5 Love Languages Explained

People crave connection with those around us, whether it be work relationships, friendships, romantic partners, or family bonds.  We have the capacity for logical thought and a wide range of emotions.  But logical thought is not enough in all situations.  We don’t just want to know we are safe, we want to feel safe. We don’t just want to know we can trust someone, we want to feel like we can trust someone.  We don’t just want to know we are loved and valued, we want to feel loved and valued.

Have you ever felt like a family member or partner just didn’t get you?  Have you ever been frustrated when you plan a neat gift or activity, and no one seems to appreciate it?  Have you ever felt like you are making constant sacrifices for your children and they still complain that you don’t love them?  It could all be connected to the concept of love languages.

In the books, The 5 Love Languages and The 5 Love Languages of Children, authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell describe five different love languages and how to use that knowledge to build deep connection in relationships.  These love languages are

  • Physical Touch (hugs, kisses, snuggles)
  • Words of Affirmation (praise, compliments, words of encouragement)
  • Quality Time (focused attention, play, spending time together)
  • Gifts (tokens of affection and unexpected gifts)
  • Acts of Service (helping with projects, taking care of needs).

All of us have a preferred love language.  When someone shows us attention in that way, we feel loved.  People can do all sorts of kind and thoughtful things, but if they miss our primary love language, it can leave us feeling lonely and frustrated.  It also works the other way.  We can do all sorts of kind and thoughtful things for others, but if we miss their love language, we are left frustrated when they complain about not feeling loved.

You might have heard about things like bucket fillers, emotional buckets, or emotional bank accounts, a term coined by leadership guru Stephen Covey.  The premise behind an emotional bucket or an emotional bank account is that there are certain interactions that will fill up or empty your emotional bucket/bank account.  When your bucket is full, you have feelings of love, connection, contentment, and satisfaction, which often gives you the courage to try challenging things and display positive behaviors.  When your bucket is running low, you feel frustrated, lonely, irritated and often act out or are more difficult to be around.  With knowledge about the five love languages, you can purposefully do things to make deposits into your own heart and the hearts of those around you, which leads to deeper connection and emotional health. Sometimes the things we are trying to do to build connections are not the things that the other person connects with.  We tend to show love in the way we like to receive love, but that might not be the way someone else wants to receive love.  Think of it like this – you don’t just walk into a bank, throw a bunch of money at the counter, and walk out.  If we did, the money might never make it into our account, and they would think we were crazy if we called and complained that the money we “deposited” is not in our account.  Instead, we are purposeful, we know our account number so the money gets where it needs to go, and we check to make sure it is there.  Knowledge of the five love languages helps you be more purposeful in your relationships and helps our love get where it needs to go.
In this day and age, there is information overload when it comes to relationships and parenting.  After 24 years so far as a parent and 17 years as an educator and counselor, I like to keep it simple and stick with tried and true principles.  Knowledge about the five love languages has transformed how I parent and interact in my personal and extended relationships.  It has also been an important key to better understanding myself.  It is a foundational piece the most everything is attached to.  If it were up to me, all parents would walk out of the hospital with a copy of The 5 Love Languages of Children and there would be a high school class that has a unit on love languages.  But that’s me, so why should you consider it?

1. It’s effective. Having the knowledge of what my own love language helps me communicate with my partner and my children about what is important to me.  I don’t need gifts (please, save your money!), but I sure appreciate it when you pick up after yourself or take something off my hands (Acts of Service).  It also helps me connect with my children in a way that is individualized to them.  That foundational connection helps our relationship endure things like discipline and reconnecting after a conflict.

2. It’s efficient.  I continue to be amazed at how simple and profound the love languages are.  As a busy working parent, I don’t have a lot of extra time to come up with elaborate plans in my relationships.  But when my son would come off the bus after a bad day at school, I knew that his love language was Physical Touch.  I rubbed his shoulders while asking about his day, sat close to him on the couch for a few minutes when watching a YouTube video, and was sure to work in some horseplay here and there to fill his bucket.  Just a few purposeful interactions based on his individual needs made him feel whole again when the day had drained his emotional energy.  It was also a lifesaver in helping us through the challenges of divorce remarriage with a blended family.  I didn’t have as much time with my children when they were going back and forth to their father’s house, so I could be purposeful about the time I had.  It also helped me give their stepfather tips on how to connect with the boys when he was doing his best to ease into his role.

3. It’s preventive.  If your emotional bucket is full, you tend to be a more pleasant person to be around.  You are more likely to feel connected and content.  In the case of parenting, kids don’t tend to misbehave as much when they have a full emotional bucket.  But they can be unreasonable monsters when they are demanding our attention or acting out from an empty emotional bucket.  I much prefer to be proactive and make thoughtful emotional deposits into my friends and family than be stuck in reactive mode putting out all sorts of fires and feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.  Just like a regular bedtime routine makes bedtime go more smoothly, applying the five languages has made my parenting go more smoothly.

Over the next few weeks, we will take a closer look at each of the five love languages and how to apply this in our parent-child relationships and personal relationships as well as our relationship with ourselves.  We will also learn how to build the love languages into morning, daily, and evening routines.  Understanding and applying the concepts of the love languages can have a profound impact on learning, managing anger, parental discipline, and forging deep connections in our relationships.

In the meantime, how about taking the time to learn what your love language is. The 5 Love Languages Quizzes can be a great start to learning what the primary love language is for couples, children, teens, and singles.  The website also has a wealth of resources and articles to go into more detail about this foundational concept.  Check each week here at Improving Lives Counseling Services for future articles as we take a detailed and practical look at how the 5 Love Languages can make a difference in our personal lives.

Lauren Alvarez, MA
Certified Parent Educator
Elementary School Counselor
Graduate Counseling Intern, LPC Track

Additional Resources:

Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages of Children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWW47FYFCZc

Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doRMsjoDevY

References:

Bucket Fillers, Inc. (2020).  Retrieved from https://bucketfillers101.com/

Clark, M.J.  Your Emotional Bank Account.  Retrieved from https://rb.gy/p5xdvr

Chapman, G. and Campbell, R. (2016) The 5 Love Languages of Children.  Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Chapman, G. (2015). The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  Chicago, IL:  Northfield Publishing.