The Languages of Love

By Tom Horvath, PhD, ABPP


“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
from How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861


image to conceptualize love languages, showing the phrase I Love You written in different global languages

“I Love You” written in different languages.

This poem focuses on the writer’s experience of being in love. That experience could occur even if the love were not returned. We could have a “crush” on someone who does not know of our feelings.

In this blog, I focus on the day-to-day experience of mutually expressing love and receiving it. The five “languages of love” have been popularized by Gary Chapman. Anyone not familiar with them would benefit from knowing them: kind and loving words, meaningful time together, physical affection, helpfulness, and gifts.

One of Chapman’s main points is that the rank order of these five ways of experiencing love is often different in an intimate relationship. If I primarily want loving words and quality time together, and you primarily want physical affection and gifts, we can keep “missing” each other despite our good intentions. We need to educate each other on what we value. I need to focus on providing what my partner wants to receive, not what I want to receive.

Communication: The Language of Emotional Intimacy

A simple analogy would be a backrub. How I like to experience a backrub might be rather different than how you want one. It can take time and deliberate communication for me to learn the backrub you would like. For this communication to be effective we each need to be willing to express ourselves directly. That communication can be one of the highest forms of emotional intimacy in a relationship, particularly if the “backrub” is actually the experience of physical intimacy.

Consider your intimate partner and/or other close relationships. Is it time to begin having “languages of love” conversations? “What do I do that you most appreciate? What could I do more of? What could I do less of?” You could start with the five languages of love and develop the details from there. The languages of love conversations could easily last your entire relationship.

One common misstep about expressing love is keeping score. Ideally, your relationship is going well enough that you simply give freely and frequently. If, over a long period of time, you feel your efforts are not matched, you could raise that issue as a separate discussion. However, there is a good chance that over time your generosity will be well-matched, and your relationship will blossom.

If you find it difficult to communicate your preferences, you might find this article helpful: Asserting Myself, by Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP