Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages

In my Atlanta counseling practice I occasionally recommend the "Five Languages of Love" as a useful way to examine communication styles in relationships and discover ways people may improve the way they express love and affection with each other. Read this article to discover the language style you most (and least) appreciate and express!

In the same way that I gave proper credit in my post about John Gray's concept of the "Love Letter", I want to acknowledge the important contribution Gary Chapman made by coming up with the concept of the "Five Love Languages". This is one of those simple ideas that caused me to say when I read it, "Of course! I knew that, I just never knew that I knew that!" So often the best advice seems profoundly simple once somebody has the clarity of vision to initially formulate it.

In my counseling practice with individuals and couples I've often summarized the concepts of the five love languages. It's been my experience that a basic understanding of these simple concepts can help people improve their communication and relationship skills.

According to Chapman, there are five basic ways in which people demonstrate love and affection to each other. Each of these styles is known as a "love language", and we all seem to have certain languages we value above others. When two people in a relationship develop the habit of relying on languages that don't fit with each other, they can both feel confused and frustrated when their efforts don't seem to be recognized or appreciated.

When you pay close attention to the primary love language of your partner you will be better able to express your affection in a way he or she is likely to recognize and appreciate. The five languages are:

1. Words of Affirmation -- Compliments and encouragement are examples of this language. Some people thrive on giving and receiving praise, while others can consider that "talk is cheap" and thus not very meaningful.

2. Quality Time -- Spending time together is extremely important for some people. They want to do things with their partner and experience a feeling of closeness and value when this happens. For other people, spending a lot of time together is more likely to begin to feel intrusive or uncomfortable.

3. Gifts -- Some people find giving a gift to be an important and tangible way to express feelings that may be hard to put into words. Other people may feel self-conscious receiving gifts or have extreme trouble determining a gift that truly expresses what they feel.

4. Acts of Service -- For some people the act of performing a task on behalf of another person is a powerful demonstration of love. Others feel that chores and sacrifice are nothing more than "what you're supposed to do." One person may deeply value and appreciate a partner who goes out of the way for them, while another person will feel guilty or even resentful if this happens a lot.

5. Physical touch -- The act of touching can be a deeply comforting act of love for many people. On the other hand, lots of men and women have strong boundaries against types or degrees of physical affection for a wide variety of reasons.

One family recently spent a dinner conversation talking about the five love languages and ranking their individual preferences from most to least favorite. They then focused on expressing thanks to the family members who most appreciate words of affirmation, giving more hugs to those who really like them, spending more time with the ones who enjoy that the most, going out of their way to help do things for those who most want that, and giving fewer presents to anyone who doesn't value them as much. As a result they are having much fun and success recognizing, expressing and responding to the closeness and warmth they feel for each other.

So take a few moments to reflect on the languages of love that mean the most to you. Then consider the important people in your life in terms of the love languages they most recognize and value. You may find some discrepancies in communication style that can be addressed with just a little effort which can result in heightened feelings of affection that benefit everyone.

This is just a short description of these deceptively simple ideas. Looking online or reading some of Chapman's several books on the five languages of love can be a great investment of time that will reap many rewards in your relationships for years to come.


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta psychotherapist, counselor and personal consultant who specializes in helping people who struggle with sexual behavior patterns that violate their promises, values and/or self-control.  Personal appointments can be scheduled by calling or using this form.