Much ado has been made about the different types of love languages. If you’re a psychology junkie like me, you probably know them by heart. These five archetypes describe the way we express and receive love in a relationship. Most people only speak about love languages in the context of our significant others. Applying these concepts to your friendships can do you a world of good, though.
The Five Love Languages
Let’s take a step back and talk about what these actually are. Dr. Gary Chapman coined the term “love languages” back in 1992. He had spent 20 years helping couples improve their relationships. Over time, he noticed a pattern. Couples often had incompatible ways of expressing love.
Say a wife wants to impress her husband by planning an extravagant night out. The husband, who only wants a long talk in front of the fireplace, might feel disappointed. He connects through words; she connects through actions. If they don’t sort it out, misunderstandings will abound.
After two decades of observing situations like this, Dr. Chapman identified five patterns. Check out this list of love languages and see which ones resonate with you:
· Quality time
· Physical touch
· Acts of service
· Giving and receiving gifts
· Words of affirmation
Dr. Chapman’s theory is that each person has a primary language. Of course, most of us enjoy a mix, and ideally you would have elements of all five in your relationships. We tend to have one specific preference that rises above the rest, though.
Some people are direct and will flat-out say, “You’re amazing. I’m so happy you’re my friend!” (Folks like that use words of affirmation as their primary love language.)
Others, like me, blush at the idea of being so frank. I prefer to hide my feelings behind a handmade card or a fruit basket and let the gift do the talking. (Thus, gift-giving is my language.)
Dr. Chapman says it’s important to adapt to other people’s preferences. It’s one thing to identify your own love language. It’s a completely different thing to suss out how the people around you express their love.
How love languages can make or break your friendships
It’s important to keep love languages in mind when you’re spending time with your friends. If you aren’t careful, incompatible styles can lead to crosstalk chaos. Remember how I mentioned fruit baskets earlier? That was more than a mere example. I’ve given one before, and it did more harm than good.
When I was in high school, I never even heard of “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. All I knew was that in my family, we lifted one another up by giving gifts. For example, one day I told my dad about a bad day I had at school. A few hours later, he passed me a napkin while we ate dinner. I looked down to see a drawing of Daffy Duck he had scribbled in pen when I wasn’t looking. In an instant, I felt better. The fact that he made the effort put a smile on my face.
Back then, I thought everybody was like my family, so I gave gifts to show people how much I loved them. One time, it blew up in my face.
My mom and dad have always been busy people, but there was a spike in activity during my junior year. For a while, they weren’t able to pick me up after school at a reasonable time. I would wait in the parking lot until I was the only soul on the schoolgrounds. When I complained about it, my friend invited me to spend the hours at her place until my mom or dad got off work. Her family’s generosity made a difficult time in my life much easier. Thanks to them, I got to have fun and spend time with my best friend instead of sitting alone in a cold, dark car park.
Worry nagged at me, though. “My mom always cleans the house before you come over,” my friend told me once. I started to feel guilty for inconveniencing her mother. I became hyperaware of the fact that I was imposing on them.
I wanted to repay them for their kindness, so I saved up some money and splurged on a $50 fruit basket.
Here’s where I messed up. I assumed my friend would understand this gift was a sign of love. In reality, she saw it as an insult.
I remember that moment with the vividness of a movie scene. It was a Friday, and my mom was able to pick me up on time. The day before, she and I had driven to Edible Arrangements, where I roamed the aisles in search of the perfect gift. My eyes fell upon a purple basket with a gorgeous variety of fruits. I knew my artistic friend would love it. Strawberries stood out against green honeydew slices in bright splashes of red. Orange cantaloupe chunks brushed against pineapples cut into flower shapes. I paid extra for a card with a little note saying, “Thanks so much for letting me hang out with you!”
My mom and I cooked up a plan. She would drive over to my school with the fruit basket in the backseat. Then I would hand it over to my friend so she and her family could enjoy the fruits over the weekend.
All day long, anticipation had me giddy. I thought that once the bell rang, I could give my best friend the gift and make her hard-working mother smile. When my friend and I walked out of school together, I took her arm and led her towards my mom’s car. “Cover your eyes!” I said, bouncing in excitement. She rolled her eyes but did as I said.
Then I opened the car door and pulled the backset out. When I met my mom’s eyes in the rearview mirror, we shared the secretive smile of two people hiding a big surprise. Then I told my best friend, “Okay, you can look!”
I held out the gift, hoping she would grin. Instead, she looked like she bit into a lemon.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
Her face twisted into a scowl. “Wow, you really love showing off, don’t you?” she said. I was too stunned to speak.
At first, she refused to take it. When she finally touched the purple basket, she curled her lip in disgust. When I asked what was wrong, she shook her head. No matter how hard I stretched my brain, I couldn’t understand why she was so upset.
From my perspective, everything I had done was out of love.
From her perspective, I had slapped her in the face.
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time. I could never wring the answer out of her. When Monday rolled around, I asked her if I had done anything wrong, but she clammed up. I brought it up again a few weeks later, but she rolled her eyes and changed the subject.
It was only when I was reading Dr. Chapman’s books many years later that the epiphany struck me like a lightning bolt. I hadn’t taken her love language into account.
You see, my friend’s love language was quality time. She was happy when I came over to her house. The time we spent together was a gift in and of itself. She hadn’t picked up on the fact that I felt like I was inconveniencing her. Thus, my gift confounded her. It didn’t make sense. As teenagers are wont to do, she interpreted something she didn’t understand as an insult.
From her perspective, the time we spent together was a gift in and of itself. When I brought an actual gift into the equation, she didn’t know how to react. She felt like I was treating our friendship as a business transaction. It was as if I were treating her as a hotel clerk, handing her a payment after renting a room. To cope with the confusion and the hurt feelings, she acted aloof and standoffish.
To no one’s surprise, that friendship fractured shortly after. I find it ironic that a relationship that soured over a gift is itself a gift that keeps on giving. The epiphany I had while reading “The Five Love Languages” made me realize how crucial it is to apply Dr. Chapman’s philosophy to friendships.
Don’t assume everyone expresses and understands love the same way you do. Take some time and think about how your girlfriends show you they care. Do they hug you? Bring you food? Plan a fun night out?
Don’t forget that healthy friendships have elements of all love languages. Still, though, it’s good to know their preference. When we find potholes on the road of life, though, this knowledge can be good to have in your back pocket.
Think of it this way. If you learn your friend’s love language ahead of time, you can better help her when things get rough. You don’t want to feel helpless when your friend is suffering. Knowing her love language empowers you to help her in the most effective way possible.
On the flip side, this also makes the good times even more fun. Nothing compares to the joy of making a loved one’s face light up. The better you understand your friends, the more often you’ll be able to make them smile.