Communication, Love

How to Speak Your Spouse’s Love Language (and What to Avoid)

fierce_marriage_5_love_languages

Love… It’s a word everyone uses and a concept sought by all. In marriage we make a covenant commitment to love each other whole-heartedly through our actions. We profess it, we show it, we receive it, and we feel it – at least that’s the hope. Love is not something you can check off a list, it’s a way of living, thinking, and doing.

Love is a particularly tricky word in modern english (ex. there are 4 distinct words for love in Greek). I’d argue that it’s come to mean very little in itself. We use the same word to express our affection for casual things like our favorite flavor of ice-cream; but we also use it to signify our lifelong devotion to our spouse.

I love chocolate ice cream.

I love my wife.

I love Jesus.

Surely love means very different things in each instance above, yet we use it in each one all the same. This dilution of the word has caused confusion on what the action of love actually resembles. Showing love is vastly different than saying love.

A personal example

I tell Selena I love her at least a few times each day – but the phrase has very little bearing on whether or not she feels loved. I can say it, text it, email it, and write it in the clouds but if my actions don’t show her I love her the words quickly lose their meaning – they’re merely a quick breath of air formed into three syllables of consonants and vowels.

I also show Selena I love her by kissing her. But kisses I give to her don’t mean as much as her kisses given to me. Why? Because we speak different love languages… Selena feels most loved when we spend good amounts of quality time together with good conversation. Nothing fills her love-bucket like a devoted day together – free from distraction and diversion. If I give her a kiss or tell her I love her after a day together, she knows it and she feels it.

I’m learning that speaking her language, her love language, actually involves very little speaking at all. Saying “I love you” with words is much more meaningful when it’s reinforced by action.

I believe it’s our duty as husbands (and wives) to learn how to best communicate love to our spouses. Once learned, it then becomes our glad obligation to speak their language regularly. If your spouse only spoke French, you’d probably start learning French right? Let’s explore…

1: Learning Your Love Languages

Many of you know about “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. If you’ve read it, great! If you haven’t read it, you’ll definitely want to.

If you don’t know your love language or that of your spouse, you have homework to do. Dr. Chapman has an excellent (and free) quiz on his site where you can learn your language.

Take the 5 Love Languages quiz here

The ideas here are based entirely on Dr. Chapman’s writing – so if you want the full story, I highly recommend picking up the book.

2: Learn to Speak Their Language: What to do, and what not to do.

Assuming you know your spouse’s love language, it’s now time to learn to speak it. Speaking a new (literal) language means learning the right things to say as well as the wrong. Languages are rarely simple – you have to learn cultural idioms, faux pas, and taboos so you can avoid them.

The same is true for your spouse’s love language. Just as certain behaviors will make them feel incredibly loved, other behaviors will be devastating. So, for your benefit and my own, I’ve compiled this graphic & following list to illustrate things to do and things to avoid when communicating love to your spouse based on their love language.

This is meant to be a starting point, so may these pointers help get you thinking about what you can do specifically for your spouse!

A Brief Guide to Speaking the 5 Love Languages

How to speak your spouse's love language, and what to avoid.

Love Language: Words of Affirmation

  • How to communicate: Encourage, affirm, appreciate, empathize.
  • Actions to take: Send an unexpected note, text, or card. Encourage genuinely and often.
  • Avoid: Non-constructive criticism, not recognizing or appreciating effort.

Love Language: Physical Touch

  • How to communicate: Non-verbal – use body language and touch to emphasize love.
  • Actions to take: Hug, kiss, hold hands, show physical affection regularly. Make intimacy a thoughtful priority.
  • Avoid: Physical neglect, long stints without intimacy, receiving affection coldly.

Love Language: Receiving Gifts

  • How to communicate: Thoughtfulness, make your spouse a priority, speak purposefully.
  • Actions to take: Give gestures and gifts thoughtfully, with and without special occasion. Even small things matter in a big way. Express gratitude when you’re given a gift.
  • Avoid: Forgetting special occasions.

Love Language: Quality Time

  • How to communicate: Uninterrupted and focused conversations. One-on-one time is critical.
  • Actions to take: Create special moments together, take walks and do small things with your spouse. Weekend getaways are huge.
  • Avoid: Distractions when spending time together, long stints without focused one-on-one time.

Love Language: Acts of Service

  • How to communicate: Use action phrases like “I will” and “I’ll help…”. They want to know you’re with them, partnered with them.
  • Actions to take: Do chores together or make them breakfast in bed. Go out of your way to help alleviate their daily workload.
  • Avoid: Making the requests of others a higher priority, lacking follow-through on tasks big and small.

Live, Learn, Speak

As stated, this is meant to give a tangible outline of what you can, should, and shouldn’t do as you learn to speak your spouse’s love language. If you want more, definitely read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. If you’re not much for reading, start with the free quiz.

Ultimately, I hope this helps you love your spouse in a way they’ll feel it, and may your expressions of love help you on your journey toward the ultimate end: honoring and glorifying Jesus through your marriage.

Question: What is your love language? Your spouse’s?  Let us know in the comments below…

Header image by Jeff Marsh.
(Note: this post is not endorsed by or affiliated with Dr. Gary Chapman or the 5 Love Languages book in any way, though we do recommend you purchase a copy.)

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  • Audera Gayda

    I read The 5 Love Languages in college before I got married and it helps with all relationships: roommates, friends, family, but especially your spouse. I love it! I had my mom read it too :D Great post!

    • Thanks Audera! And I do agree, it’s very useful for all manner of relationships.

      • Zeke

        Also worth applying to your kids, if you have them. The principle is exactly the same.

  • Jodi C. Rogozinski

    Thanks for this post and laying Chapman’s 5 love languages out in a ‘usable’ format. I will definitely pass this on to my clients. The 5 love languages are an excellent starting point for any relationship. We all have our “ways” and being able to communicate those needs, wants, desires is critical in developing any relationship.

    • You’re welcome :) I know seeing it distilled down definitely helps me as well.

  • Love this. It’s so accurate.

  • Sarah

    My fiance and I are doing long distance for a year before we get married. His love language is physical touch. How can I show him affection from a distance?

    • Sarah, definitely a great question… and not one I think has a simple answer. Most people have all languages in varying degrees (I know my first, second, and third languages are not that far from each other). I’d say focus in on his next few – be it gifts, time, or otherwise. Also, lots of prayer – together and apart!

      Hope this helps, and thanks for commenting!

      • Sarah

        Thanks Ryan!
        Totally right, prayer and more prayer. Love the blog, such an encouragement. Thanks for all you’re doing :)

      • Carolyn Hall

        Very helpful! Reminds us that life is a celebration and that we should be grateful for all the gifts God has given us.

      • Mini_bit

        Also Dr Chapman just came out with a book for military couples and that is supposed to help couples who are apart.

        • Kiara

          Thank you so much for this post!! I never knew there was a military one. I’m going to find it tomorrow.

    • Angie

      I know this might sound inane, but if you text or talk, tell him what you are doing with him in you rmind….i.e., I’m snuggled up in bed hugging my pillow and pretending it’s you….text him *kisses* or :-* or the emoticon if you have it….it’s not the same thing, but the idea of it can help alleviate his need a little when you’re at a distance.

      Spoken from someone who has been there. :)

      • Sarah

        Thanks Angie! Great advice!!!!!

        • Kim

          I don’t know if you know how to sew even a bit, I can do a pillow is all, but could you sew a pillow maybe out of one of your cute t shirts that has not been washed. You know what I mean, not a yucky dirty one but one that has your scent and a hint of your perfume on it that he could actually just keep on his bed? Might sound silly but I know all us girls know the smell of our mans shirts and they do know our smell too. Since you guys haven’t been intimate together (I’m guessing) I am sure he still knows your scent and this could really create a closeness I think. Just a thought! Best wishes to you both! Kim

  • Bill1893

    I think the categorized “love language[s]” are a false choice. I know I’m all of the above, and so is my wife.

    • Great point – I think it’s more of a way of prioritizing them based on preference, though all may most certainly be present simultaneously. Thanks for commenting.

    • Bailey Olfert

      It is still a good concept to understand. For example, I’m a zero on Receiving Gifts but it is important for me to know that other people feel differently about this! I had a friend for whom this was important so I had to be intentional about it because it isn’t meaningful to me personally.

  • Elizabeth Garza

    I am definitely an action person and my love language is acts of service. I love, “I will” statements too.

  • Jeni

    Sarah,
    My husband and I a long distance relationship(1 yr)/marriage(1 yr, 8 mo). We’ve known the hardships of long distance to say the VERY least. One of my higher ranked love languages is physical touch and one of the things that helped me was when my husband would let me know he couldn’t wait to hold my hand again, to kiss me, or that I looked beautiful or sexy. The fact that he was thinking of me in those ways made me feel attractive and appreciated.
    On a side note, just for long distance advice in general, Skyping each other doesn’t always mean you have to sit down and talk the entire time. Sometimes my husband had to study for exams or I had a book that I didn’t want to put down so we would skype each other but we wouldn’t have a conversation. Just seeing the other one there was nice. Hope this helps. Long distance is definitely not easy but it’s totally worth it.

  • 1980BC

    My wife and I just had a talk about love languages tonight. We both need to hear love in several ways, but one we have in common is physical touch. This has been a problem because neither of us feel very well cared for in this language by one who supposedly speaks it fluently. It occurred to me recently that we speak different dialects. What she needs to hear from my touch is comfort and reassurance. A hug will do that, or holding hands when times are tough. Any other messages touch can send are mostly ignored. I need touch to say “you are mine and only I get to share this kind of contact with you.” A rub on the thigh, or a stroke bown the length of the back, or locking arms when sitting or walking with me will do that. Hugs or pats on the shoulder are generally overlooked. I communicated this theory tonight and got some affirmation that I’m on to something and we might be able to make progress toward making each other feel loved with touch.

    • Ang

      Fantastic insight!!!

  • Heather B.

    Thank you for this post, Ryan. Amen! My husband and I have been married 18 years and are still a work in progress. I just finished reading a brand new book I think benefits all women and maybe even husbands. It aligns with the love language practice. It’s called “The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship,” by Erin, Greg and Gary Smalley. It is centered on changing ME and aligning myself with God and what he wants from me as a wife. Biblical, inspirational, affirming. It addresses everything from honoring, communicating, conflict, everything. One of my favorite quotes is, “”If you want to have a more loving relationship with your husband, remember that he’s a gift from God, a treasured possession – just as you are. As a Wholehearted wife, seek to honor him each day by cherishing him and affirming his value. Treat him like a Stradivarius!” I highly recommend it! http://www.tyndale.com/The-Wholehearted-Wife/9781624051463#.U50Tx14Q7wJ

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  • valeria

    I haven’t even finished reading this article because i went to check to see if my husband had the book, and he does. I have failed my marriage and im looking for ways to better myself so i can better my marriage but he seems to have fallen out of love with me because of what happened. God has been my strength because i have no idea how to get his heart back

  • SueAnn

    It is good to keep in mind that love languages can change over time though I have yet to find that the bottom one has moved. ;-) Not long after I got married, gifts was #1. We were poor college students and gifts were rare. My huband started doing better in giving gifts and then we took the test again and receiving gifts had dropped to 3 or 4 for me and something else had taken over #1.

  • Marlene

    Taking the quiz was hard at first because after 14 years of our relationship I found that I had mentally adjusted the love language that was most meaningful to me to the love language that my husband conveys to me. In the first years of our relationship I was a physical and verbal person (hand holding, touching, kissing, and saying I love you) and it was frustrating at first until I finally realized that he shows his love by doing things for me (cooking, Taking care of our daughter, and buying special gifts for me, etc.). Deep down I am still a verbal and physical person but I know he’s not and that’s okay because I know his love language towards me. As long as he continues to put thought into doing things for me I know he still loves me.

  • Matt

    I know this is an old topic, but my wife and I have been struggling with this for some time and was hoping for some additional input. We both have read this amazing book and know full well what our primary love languages are. So what then is the issue? My primary is physical touch, hers is words of affirmation. This makes things incredibly difficult when one of us aren’t receiving enough love. When I am feeling like I need more affection and bring it up it hurts her because she feels like I am bringing her down and in turn she becomes even colder towards me. It’s been a pretty viscous cycle. She rarely tells me my affection towards her is not enough, so I don’t know if my affection towards her isn’t or she doesn’t know how to show it back.

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  • MReed

    My husband is a “Time” love language and Im a “Words” love language and after 4y of marriage we still dont show each other in our correct language that we love each other any suggestions? On at least for me how to show time? All he wants to do when he gets home is sit on the couch and relax I cant blame him but if I said lets go for a walk it would be a No or lets go get coffee he would be too tired. I just dont know.. He enjoys TV and I hate sitting in front of the TV

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  • Dominic

    For me my primary love language is physical touch, and I have two that are neck in neck for second place, words of affirmation and quality time, though words of affirmation slightly more than quality time. Touch dominates them all by far though.

    That was the hardest part of being in a long distance relationship first for me, not being able to touch my girlfriend (appropriately) in any way.

  • Nicole O

    My husbands primary love language is Acts of Service. It makes me feel like a slave and that I am obligated. How do I overcome this?

  • Jamie

    My boyfriend is a trucker and is gone for 90% of the month so we rely on texting, and social media to communicate until he is home. Phone calls don’t happen very often when he has to focus on driving.

    His love language is words of affirmation.

    My question is;

    When physically speaking to him isn’t always doable, are text messages at least once a day with words of affirmation in them as powerful and meaningful as verbally speaking them?

  • Unhappy Camper

    Honestly ppl like you should just shut up and stop messing up others lives. My wife keeps sending me articles like yours and on marriage “improvement”. It’s a truncheon she beats me over the head with to demand things she wants. Worse I cannot even disagree with her on anything or even say “no” when she’s obviously wrong because her love language is “words of affirmation”.

    So thank u and now please f@&$ off

  • Michael Perry

    This article appears to be from quite a long time ago so not sure if anyone will see it. My primary love language is acts of service. My wife is physically disabled and struggles to perform acts of service. Is there some way for us to overcome this? I know intellectually she loves me, but I never feel loved because she’s never able to speak my language.

    • Michael, thanks for sharing. We’ve dealt with the same thing, so you’re not alone! I think the best route is to start by intentionally communicating and finding ways for her to perform acts of service that make sense for her. I may also help to read Gary Chapman’s book on it if you haven’t already. Hope this helps. Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Jadi

    This was a great resource for me; thank you! My husband and I (newlyweds but together for 3 years) had a good idea of one another’s love languages: mine=acts of service & quality time; his=physical touch, but we haven’t yet sat down to discuss them and create a plan of how we can learn to speak one another’s to feel really loved, cherished, and heard! We are working on the quiz now and will discuss later tonight. :)

  • Kimberly Nabarro

    My girlfriend and I both scored ,Acts of Service. I had 12 and she had 10. Is this the main cause of our Constant conflicts? Please help we both feel unappreciated all the time. We both feel like the other person doesn’t do enough. We both feel like we do more than the other.

  • Heather

    So my boyfriend’s love language is tied between Physical Touch & Words of Affirmation. However, mine is Acts of Service. I feel like the lowest for me is physical touch. I find him very very attractive, but don’t really like physical touch. How do I show him love with physical touch, if I don’t enjoy the reciprocal touch?

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