In 1992, Christian author, Gary Chapman wrote the first edition of the 5 Love Languages, which has since expanded into an entire series of books applying the principles of the first book to specific relationships and situations.

In the 30 years since that first book was released to now, many people have tried to apply the principles to struggling relationships. Knowing each other’s love languages won’t save your marriage. But it won’t hurt it either.

In couple therapy, it is not unusual for one partner to have read a book or article about the 5 love languages, and then have tried to apply it to their relationship in an unhelpful way… A good thing… in a wrong way… That’s one of the traps of this concept. But only one of them. There are several.

Love languages are important to achieving a healthy relationship. However, love languages are one concept among many. Like tools in a toolbox. You need more than only a hammer to build a house. You also need more than an understanding of love languages to build your ideal relationship.

What are the primary love languages?

The five primary love languages identified by Gary Chapman are quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and gift-giving.

  • Quality time: This is referring to the idea of not only being in the presence of your partner but also being intentional and spending quality time with them.
  • Words of affirmation: Using your words to express how you feel about someone. 
  • Physical touch: This does allude to physical intimacy or sexual intimacy and contact yet can be further understood as touching someone’s arm or even rubbing their back. 
  • Acts of Service: Asking your partner, “Let me do that for you” or “Can I help you with that?” will help your partner feel loved and seen.
  • Receiving Gifts: Individuals who love receiving gifts feel appreciated by the people who care about them by receiving gifts.

What are forms of intimacy?

In 2015, Alex Avila wrote 40 Forms of Intimacy, a book similar to the 5 love languages, but aiming specifically at the intimacy shared between couples. “Love” is a bit broader, and can be applied to a number of relationships without any hint of intimacy to them.

In some ways, each form of intimacy that Alex considers is a sub-type of one of the 5 love languages. In other ways, it’s a different concept entirely, because it is specifically for couples in a committed relationship.

How can knowing your partner’s love language help your relationship?

Knowing how your partner feels loved will help you love them better through the expression of that love language. For example, if your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, writing them a sweet note before leaving for work may make them feel valued and cared for.

Knowing your partner’s love language can also open your eyes to when they are making expressions of love that you would not have otherwise noticed. For example, those silly, sappy notes that keep ending up in your lunch box might be your partner trying to love you by affirming you.

Why won’t knowing your love language save your relationship?

Ultimately, we all love words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, etc. at different points in our lives or throughout the day. However, the root of why we feel so loved when these things occur is because our desire is to be connected to others – especially with our partners. We also must be able to share openly about our hurts, pains, and struggles in order to have that connection.

There are also a number of traps that come with an over-focus or over-reliance on love languages to heal a struggling relationship.

What are some traps if we focus too much on our partner’s love language?

It’s important to give Gary Chapman credit for addressing all of these traps in his books over the years. However, the number of mommy bloggers, relationship advice bloggers, and other people who have written about Gary’s work have not always been as thorough.

  • Knowing your own love language can blind you to your partner’s expression of love for you in his or her own love language.
  • Love languages can be used for scorekeeping because they can create perfectionistic expectations.
  • Love languages may change as we mature, depending on our state of well-being or stress.
  • Love languages are not universal, one person’s idea of a meaningful gift is entirely different from another’s. Before you can be effective with ANY love language, you need to deeply know each other.
  • Love languages are sometimes seen as a quick fix, not as a needed and sustained change.
  • Adding better use of love languages to a hurting marriage won’t solve the underlying issues.

What will save your relationship? 

Although the reality is that not all relationships can be saved or will be saved, there is hope. Some different ideas that could contribute to saving a relationship include: 

  • Don’t make rash decisions
  • Get brutally honest
  • Don’t bottle up your emotions
  • Work on your skills for making an effective apology
  • Understand how you may be contributing to the problem
  • Try to increase both eye-contact and physical contact during difficult discussions
  • Focus on your personal healing
  • Recognize your partner’s pain
  • Spend some time reflecting on the good 
  • Seek therapy 

How do attachment styles impact your relationship? 

First, an attachment is a bond that is created between two people. Attachment and attachment styles are worthy of an article of their own. But they are worth mentioning here because they may interact with love languages.

Attachment styles are first formed in infancy, depending on how one is parented. They are shaped further in childhood and adolescence and then influenced by each romantic relationship (for better or worse). Attachment styles are not static, they are dynamic and change throughout life as we mature and face various hardships.

Generally speaking, there are four attachment styles.

  • Secure – the “healthy” attachment style that we all want to get to.
  • Anxious – feeling excessively fearful that relationships will end over small offenses.
  • Avoidant – wanting to avoid conflict or dealing with emotional discomfort.
  • Disorganized – flipping back and forth between anxious and avoidant for no clear reason.

A person’s attachment style does not determine which love language he or she will have a preference for. However, attachment styles will influence how a person communicates about his or her love language and how he or she perceives his or her partner’s attempts to speak that love language. Attachment styles will also influence one’s openness to his or her partner’s communication about his or her love language.

Why do some people believe that the 5 love languages are important? 

We all need to know that we are loved. We also need to communicate our love to those we love. Love languages are a way of describing how that communication happens. Love languages are an important concept, but only one of many important concepts to consider when trying to heal a struggling relationship.