A while back when I was dating my wife we having a sort of meltdown and she was packing her bags and heading out the door when the mailman knocked on the door and dropped off this book.

I took it as a sign and asked for an extension … surely this book would prove the key to resolving the issue at the time.

And, it really did make a big difference for us, and still does.

The basic concept is that people communicate about love differently. For some people, holding the door says “I love you” while the mere words “I love you” are kind of an interesting way to vibrate molecules. Giving flowers to one girl puts a loving twinkle in her eye while another will think “darn, now I have to keep these things alive somehow?”

If you are in a relationship with someone and you can figure out what means “love” to them, you can be far more effective in reassuring them of your continued love and affection in a way that makes a difference.

In our case I learned that acts of service are a big deal for her, but meaningless to me. Opening the door for someone, cooking a meal for them, or driving the car is simply a matter of divvying work and getting things done from my perspective. For her, putting in the effort to consider a person’s needs and proactively take care of her is the clearest sign of true affection.

The best way to figure out a person’s “language of love” is to observe them, since people generally express love in similar ways to how they expect it to be expressed for them. You can also ask them about it and tell them what sorts of things mean love for you.

If you explore your languages of love you are likely to find that much of the effort you’ve put into expressing love isn’t landing the way you hoped because that kind of thing just doesn’t mean “love” to the other person. By communicating about languages of love you can start to express love in a language understood by the other and recognize their acts of love when they do them.

This is very helpful in relationships, because it seems to be our nature that we need frequent reassurances and reminders that we are loved. Perhaps on a biochemical level these acts trigger a release of some love juice in our body and if we don’t get a regular dose of it then we start to feel a bit empty and insecure.

In The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate the author divides the languages of love in five categories, to make it easier to imagine what your love language might be. The five are:

  • Words of Affirmation - Giving compliments, saying “I love you”, and other verbals affirmations
  • Physical Touch - Give a massage, a passing pat on the head or wherever ;-). Physical displays of affection.
  • Acts of Service - Cook a meal, clean the house, hold the door, arrange the party. All kinds of services will be appreciated.
  • Gifts - Some prefer flowers, others something hand-crafted. Sometimes the cost is important, sometimes careful thought is appreciated most.
  • Quality Time - Go out on a date, actively listen to how their life has been, spend time one on one giving undivided attention. Put away your smartphone.

If you’ve never discussed this with your partner before (assuming you have one) it can make for an interesting and fun conversation piece, I highly recommend giving it a try. Also, if you get the book it has a kind of questionnaire at the end to help figure out which of the five love languages you like the best.