Ellen likes nothing more than hearing her husband Dom say he loves her or getting a text to thank her for helping out with his work admin. If she does his ironing, sorts his business partner’s birthday present or collects his dry cleaning, she expects him to say thank you. And if she has a project to do for work, she’s happiest when Dom has told her how brilliant she is.
Problem is, Dom, 34, isn’t great with words. He showers 29-year-old Ellen with chocolates, perfumes and flowers, as well as beauty treatments, spa days and weekends away, to show his love and appreciation.
‘The gifts show that Dom has gone to the trouble of getting me something, but they leave me fairly cold,’ confides Ellen, a nurse. ‘I’d prefer it if he saved his money and told me he missed me when I was away, that I’d done a great job when we hosted the dinner party for his colleagues or that he loves spending evenings at home with me.’
Experts say this discrepancy in what we expect from a relationship and what we actually get is common, and we all give and receive love in different ways. For Ellen, the words ‘I love you’ are far more special than any sparkly jewellery, while engineer Dom would take a designer shirt and cufflinks any day over whispered sweet nothings.
Five Love Languages
According to marriage counsellor and Baptist minister Dr Gary Chapman, whose 1992 book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, has stood the test of time, there are five love language styles: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. And knowing not only our own love language, but also our partner’s, can promote selflessness, create empathy and help maintain intimacy.
Life coach Becki Houlston says: ‘It’s important to know your love language and your partner’s love language, so you can create deeper connections.
‘If you understand each other’s language, your relationship will run more smoothly, you’ll meet each other’s needs and you’ll both feel loved and cherished. You can love them in a way they want to be loved and you may find you’re being given more love than you thought.’
And Tanya Sibley, a clinical hypnotherapist practitioner, based in Abu Dhabi, adds that knowing love languages can also reduce misunderstandings in relationships.
‘By knowing your partner’s love language, you can prevent misinterpretations of intentions,’ she says. ‘You’ll both be on the same page when it comes to expressing and receiving love.’
There are more advantages. ‘It’s well known that either you grow together in a relationship, or you grow apart,’ explains Tanya. ‘Learning about your partner’s love language requires a willingness to grow. This leads to a more fulfilling relationship for you both, as you appreciate each other and meet each other’s emotional needs, which contributes to happiness and fulfilment.’
Conducting her own research in the UAE, across all nationalities and cultures, Tanya discovered the most common love language was receiving gifts.
‘Traditionally, it’s normal for nationals to give a large gift in wake of a celebration or death, which may explain why the number one love language was giving and receiving a gift,’ she says. ‘In second place was acts of service. This is about someone going out of their way to meaningfully help and support their partner.’
But while Tanya recognises the importance of knowing our love languages, she warns against getting fixated on using them. This, she says, could lead to our relationships becoming boring and stagnant. What’s more, we might start using our love language, and buying a gift or giving a compliment, for example, when we have real issues that need to be discussed.
So, what are the five love languages? And how do we recognise them and use them to our advantage?
Words of affirmation
According to Becki, this person likes nothing more than to hear the words ‘I love you’.
‘If your love language is words of affirmation, you’ll enjoy being told how much you’re loved, valued and appreciated. You’ll feel loved when your partner compliments you on your new hairstyle, getting the new client at work or your half-marathon time, or when they say they love being with you,’ says Becki.
If your partner’s love language is words of affirmation, send them little love notes.
‘Send a random email to say you miss them, a text to say you’re thinking of them, or pop a note saying: ‘I love you’ under the pillow or in their suitcase when they go away for work,’ says Becki. ‘If you find it hard to express your feelings, buy them a card – you can be sure they will pay attention to the words inside.’
If your love language is quality time, you’ll like nothing better than your partner’s undivided attention, reveals Becki.
‘You won’t want your partner to spend all their time with you, but you want the time you have together to be one-on-one time, when you’re both fully present, listening and paying attention to each other,’ she says. ‘This means you don’t look at your phone to check the cricket or football score, you don’t have one eye on the TV unless you’re watching it together and you’re not zoning out and missing what your partner is saying.’
If your partner’s love language is quality time, make it a priority to be present as often as possible.
‘Use the word ‘time’ when you arrange something with them, and they will light up,’ advises Becki. ‘For example, say you have some free time on Sunday afternoon, and you’d love to spend it just with them. Or tell them it’s wonderful spending time with them. Eye contact and listening are important if you’re having a conversation, but if you’re strolling along the beach or working out together at the gym, just be present. Never cancel your plans with them.’
Acts Of Service
Becki says people who have acts of service as their love language believe actions speak louder than words, and they will feel loved when their partner goes out of their way to do jobs or chores.
‘They will love it when their partner collects the children from nursery, checks the car is charged, empties the dishwasher or sorts out the recycling,’ she says. ‘It might be something as simple as making you a cup of herbal tea first thing in a morning, collecting a parcel you’ve been waiting for when you’re at work, offering a lift to the airport or booking the hotel for your weekend away.’
If your partner’s love language is acts of service, be strategic.
‘Pick a job you know they hate doing, like mowing the lawn or putting laundry away, and do it for them as a surprise,’ says Becki. ‘Or choose your time. If they’re feeling under the weather or they’ve had a tough day at work, they’ll feel really loved if they get home and their dinner is ready, the dog has been walked and the kitchen is tidy.’
The person whose love language is receiving gifts believes in visual demonstrations of love.
‘These people love their partner to shower them with gifts, whether it’s a bouquet of flowers to say good luck at the interview, a box of cupcakes to thank them for collecting their dry cleaning, or a piece of jewellery from a week away,’ says Becki. ‘It’s not necessarily about value – more the token of the gift and the thought that’s gone into it. They will also give gifts – even if they’re only popping round for coffee, they’ll often bring a cake.’
If your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, put some thought into your presents.
‘Make sure the things you give them mean something to them,’ says Becki. ‘Take time to do research, choose carefully and give things that mean something to your partner. Leave your own tastes out of it – this is about making your partner feel you have gone to some lengths to get exactly what they would like and appreciate.’
These people feel loved when they’re hugged, kissed and cuddled, says Becki.
‘They like nothing better than to walk hand-in-hand down the street or along a beach,’ she says. ‘They love it when you put your arm round their shoulder or squeeze their knee or their hand. They like to cosy up on the sofa watching television, cuddle up at the cinema or hold hands across a restaurant table. They love both private and public displays of affection.’
If your partner’s love language is physical touch, prioritise this side of your relationship.
‘As long as it’s consensual, be as tactile as possible,’ says Becki. ‘Never miss a chance for a hug or a cuddle. Link your arm through theirs while out or hold hands as you watch TV and offer a massage at the end of a hard day – they will love you for it.’
Discover Your Love Language
Find out which of the five love languages is yours and your partners. Take the test here