Updated 14 August 2015, version 1.1
Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts explores common strategies people use determine whether or not they are loved — what NLP calls convincer strategies for love. Chapman calls them love languages.
When someone gets plenty of convincing evidence they are loved — evidence that fits their convincer criteria — they feel loved and appreciated. In Chapman’s words, their “emotional gas tank” gets filled.
When people don’t get convincing evidence of love — or worse, when they get convincing evidence that they are not loved — their emotional gas tank gets depleted and they feel unloved, unappreciated, and often hurt, hostile, resentful, etc. This can happen even when they are receiving lots of love — because it’s in a form they don’t recognize.
Most people respond to several love languages, yet have one they prefer most. That is the love language that fills their emotional gas tank the fastest. It’s also the love language whose opposite emotionally depletes them the most.
The 5 Love Languages
- Physical Touch such as a hug, a hand on the shoulder, cuddling, sex. For people who use Touch as their primary love language, not being touched can feel like punishment, and getting pushed, slapped, hit, or sexually abused can be especially traumatic.
- Words of Affirmation such as “I love you,” “It means a lot to me when you tell me you love me,” or “You are a wonderful friend.” For people who use this convincer, hearing harsh words and criticism quickly drain their emotional gas tank.
- Quality Time means spending time together, often doing something one or both people value. If your partner loves hockey and you hate it, and they use the Quality Time love language, going to a game with them because they value it could mean a lot to them. Not spending time together depletes people who use this love language.
- Acts of Service can be done with the loved one, or apart from them — the easiest way to distinguish this convincer from Quality Time. Harmful actions emotionally drain people who prefer this love language.
- Gifts: people with this love language make a big deal out of even small gifts. They talk about them, show them off, display them. Not getting gifts — especially on occasions where they might expect them — drains these people.
The 6 Love Styles
In Giving From the Heart: 57 Ways To Show Your Love, Linda Johnson identifies six “love styles.” These include equivalents to Chapman’s five, plus
- Deep Listening: people with this love style want to be listened to, often at length, and without much conversation. No listening, superficial listening, or having the other person talk back a bunch, especially if they argue or criticize, drains these people.
How the 6 languages of love can make or break relationships
When couples court each other, they typically use a lot of the love languages, so both people’s needs get met, Chapman says.
However, once a relationship gets established, people tend to get lazier and express love primarily in their own love language. That works find if both people use the same convincer… but most couples don’t.
The result is a relationship where both people sincerely express their love for the other in the ways that would most satisfy themselves… yet each person ends up feeling unloved.
Classic example: Alfie’s primary love language is Acts of Service, so he works hard to support the family, keeps the house and car in good repair, mows the lawn, and takes out the garbage. His wife Betty thinks Alfie doesn’t love her because he never brings her flowers (Gifts) or tells her he loves her (Words of Affirmation). Alfie feels unloved because Betty’s verbal praise and gifts are meaningless to him; he wants her to do things for him the way he does things for her.
My trainers say that a lot of the relationship problems they see in the couples they coach stem from people not feeling seen, heard, and appreciated by their partner. Teaching these couples to use the six languages of love often improves a bunch of relationship problems fast.
I find the love languages meta-program a very useful distinction. I use it with friends, dating, and relationships. I have also used it to more quickly recharge my emotional batteries after surgery, and reduce my emotional depletion during a rough relationship breakup.
I find that stacking activities so they express multiple love languages makes for a stronger love experience. For instance, I could just touch someone — but if I give them a massage (Physical Touch) as an Act of Service, I also say some heartfelt Words of Affirmation, and we make the whole situation Quality Time, it’s a better experience for both of us.
As an NLP modeler, I have noticed some additional fine distinctions in the love convincers. For instance, eye contact is important to some people, and unimportant to others. Nevertheless, I think Chapman and Johnson have done a good job of covering the basics. Love Languages are a great distinction we NLPers can put to good use.
Additional resource: The Five Love Languages of Children.