What You Really Need to Know About Love Languages

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Have you ever found yourself questioning why your partner doesn't give you what you need in order to feel loved? Maybe you've said to them, "I don't want you to do the dishes. I want us to spend time together!" Or perhaps you've carefully written a love note, only for them to later say that they don't feel loved.

What's happening here?

A common experience for couples is that they aren't meeting each other's needs in a way that resonates and permeates. Think of each of us having a bucket for love, which can only be filled by the specific expression of love that we personally desire. If love is being poured out, but isn’t filling the bucket, then we’ll still be left feeling empty. The key is giving or receiving the right expression of love.

These different expressions of love are often referred to as love languages.

The concept of love languages was developed by author Gary Chapman, who counseled hundreds of couples throughout the years, and observed that the disconnect so many partners feel isn’t a lack of love. Rather, the disconnect lies in each partner giving and receiving love differently. 

So let’s start by exploring the five love languages to identify what resonates with you, or sounds familiar for your partner:

-    Acts of service –

o   This person feels valued when their partner makes their life easier in some way. It could be doing dishes, making the coffee, or taking the kids to school– all of those things make them feel loved.

Key for the partner: Think of the expression, "Actions speak louder than words." It can be something small like preparing the toothpaste on your partner's toothbrush or something big like a chore around the house. These acts of service say to your partner, "I held you in mind when I did this."

What partners should avoid: 

  • Breaking promises
  • Over-committing to tasks
  • Failure to follow through on responsibilities 
  • Any discrepancy between words and actions


-    Gifts –

o   This person feels loved when there is a tangible symbol of love in front of them.

Key for the partner: When we give gifts, we are thinking about the person we are giving to – it symbolizes the feelings about the relationship. It's not about the gift, rather the expression of love lies in the thought and intention that went into it.

What partners should avoid: 

  • Forgetting special events
  • Getting caught up on the newest and the biggest items


-    Words of affirmations –

o   This person needs verbal acknowledgments of affection, like compliments, encouragement, gratitude, or recognition.

Key for the partner: Be generous in your compliments. If this isn't something that was modeled to you, you might need to set reminders to share something each day.

What partners should avoid:  

  • Being critical
  • Using infinitives (always; never) 
  • Wielding harsh words


-    Physical touch –

o   This person feels loved through hugging, kissing, cuddling on the couch, sex, or being close to each other in any physical manner.

Key for the partner: We often hear about the struggle for many individuals to give physical touch when there is an emotional disconnection, but the reverse can also be true. Remember that entering into this physical space can help the other person feel emotionally safe to open up to you.

What partners should avoid:  

  • Neglecting physical touch
  • Using intimacy as a gatekeeper to emotional connection
  • Shying away from discussing specific physical needs
  • Forgetting that physical touch is a core need we all have from birth onwards


-    Quality Time –

o   This person values intentional time together. They feel loved when their partner is focused on building the connection through listening, eye contact, and genuine interest.

Key for the partner: Engage without distractions from your phone or a group of people, ensuring the focus is on the relationship. Plan ahead for date times and experiences that create a connection, like card games, walks through the neighborhood, or cooking dinner together.

What partners should avoid:  

  • Going too long between quality time together
  • Getting stuck in all or nothing thinking (e.g., It's not a dinner night out, so we can't prioritize quality time. Think small things frequently.)
  • Looking at your phone during conversations or dates


Now that you know a bit more about each of the five love languages and have an idea of how to use them successfully, I want to talk about something I call…

The Love Language Hang Up.

While love languages are a great entry point into understanding how someone feels loved, they also shine light on two common challenges:

  1. We give love in the way that we receive. 

If your love language is words of affirmations and you're leaving love notes for your partner, whose love language is quality time, there’s likely a disconnect. Your intentions are pure– and hold value in and of themselves– but you might be missing the mark when it comes to showing your partner just how much they mean to you. Be sure to understand your partner's love language and focus on giving them what they need.

This doesn’t mean you have to stop giving love in the way you’d receive it! Sometimes it feels good to love someone in a way that comes naturally to us. If that’s the case, just be sure to incorporate both expressions of love– not just the one that reflects your own love language.

  1. We expect our partner to be the only person to fill our buckets. 

Society continues to teach us that our partner should be able to meet every single one of our needs. The truth is that it isn't possible for one person to be our “everything,” especially when we consider the context of each person’s life. For example, one woman told me that her love language was physical touch, but due to her husband's severe PTSD, he was unable to fill up her needs for physical touch. Instead, she found biweekly massages to be helpful. 


A healthy, interdependent relationship is about meeting the needs of our partner, while also being able to ask for fulfillment of our own needs. Understanding our love language can be a helpful first step toward accomplishing both of those elements.


Dr. Tracy