Whether you make reservations for romantic candlelit dinners, have plans to use your hoarded bath bomb for a luxurious bath for one, or you turn your nose up at the insufferable commercial appropriation of a holiday you loathe, Valentine’s Day might cause you to consider how you express your affection to those you love. Asking your partner, your child, your friends, and other loved ones one simple question can give you insight about how to make them feel loved and special all year long.
Gary Chapman’s popular work The Five Love Languages has given us a framework with which to consider all kinds of expressions of love. There’s a lot to not love about the author and the book itself, but like it or not, the notion of a “love language” has permeated our culture and vocabulary in a way that extends beyond the confines of the pages and that has helped so many people transcend the disconnect that occurs when the way we feel loved and the way love is expressed doesn’t mesh with our loved ones’ expressions of love and sense of feeling loved.
But back to The Question. Asking “What do I do that makes you feel loved?”or, phrased a different way, “How do you know that I love you?” will give you a window into your loved ones’ primary love language. Here’s a breakdown of the love languages, what you might hear as an answer to your question for each type, and how you can “speak” that language to fill the hearts of those you care about.
Love Language: Words of Affirmation
A person whose love language is words of affirmation might answer the question What do I do that makes you feel loved? with something like, “I feel loved when you tell me you love me.”
A person who feels loved through words of affirmation craves spoken expressions of love. This might take the form of regularly uttered I love yous or even consistent spoken acknowledgments of what you appreciate about that person or of things they’ve done.
For example, you can see one of my son’s hearts swell with love and joy when I tell him that he’s done a good job on something. He must get it from me, because I feel similarly loved when a good friend of mine comments on how wonderful the table I redid is every time he comes with his family for dinner at our place.
Love Language: Gifts
You might have a “gifts” loved one if the answer to your question is something like, “I know you love me because you bring me flowers” or “I feel loved when you buy me presents.”
Gifts as a love language should not be confused with materialism. Many people whose love language is gifts are just as touched by their loved one picking up their favorite pastry from the bakery as they would be by a gift of jewelry. It’s, as they say, “the thought that counts.” However, a key to giving gifts that make someone feel loved is that the gift shows you know them; the gift should be personal and match their unique preferences and tastes. This attention to detail is more important than the amount of money spent.
Love Language: Acts of Service
I’ll use a personal example for this one. I asked my husband once what made him feel loved and he answered that he feels so happy when he opens his dresser drawers and sees fresh shirts lined up waiting for him. Not only was this an insight to his love language being acts of service, but it helped make the drudgery of laundry significantly more tolerable!
Acts of service is tricky for many couples because frequently, one partner performs acts of service but the other party isn’t filled up, so to speak, by this expression. They are thankful and they notice, and they know mentally that their partner is doing these things out of and with love, but there is no emotional response. This can create feelings of guilt, frustration, and a feeling of “Nothing I do is ever good enough!” that can lead to serious rifts in the relationship.
Understanding love languages is a huge help in untangling such a knot in a couple’s communication. Because if one party can realize that they’re grateful for the acts of service but they really need some words of affirmation from their partner, both can work toward putting some energy into expressions of love that touch the other.
Love Language: Physical Touch
Physical touch encompasses far more than sexual contact. Indeed, someone whose love language is physical touch might say they feel loved when their partner gives them back scratches.
To show love to someone whose love language is physical touch, try to become aware of instances in the day where you can make physical contact. This can include a hug in the morning, foot rubs while Neflixing, and something as simple as a hand on the shoulder when you’re walking by.
Love Language: Quality Time
A person whose love language is quality time craves undivided attention from the ones they love and might answer the question of when they feel loved with something along the lines of, “When we go out on dates together” or “When you come and sit with me on the couch for an evening chat.”
Giving your loved one the gift of quality time isn’t always about long stretches of time together, although it can be. Something as simple as a short conversation where there are zero phone interruptions can mean the world to a person who seeks quality time. (The reverse is also true: A quality time person might feel especially hurt or let down if their time with a friend is interrupted by texts or glances at a phone.)
No matter your personal feelings toward Valentine’s Day, it’s not a bad idea to use the occasion to take a step back, have a conversation, and commit to stretching yourself a bit to communicate love in the way your loved ones feel it. And, hey, V-day might not be a bad time to start it off your new venture with a little bit of love language-informed fanfare for both of you.