Here’s a relationship bulletin that always comes as a surprise: We can’t read other people’s mind, and they can’t read our’s. If your partner is doing deep sighs but insists “nothing” is wrong, you might be able to get into their head by simply learning their love language.
An author and counselor named Gary Chapman (prolific dude, but a homophobe) named the five love languages: words of affirmation; quality time; physical touch; acts of service; and gifts. He came up with the list thirty years ago, but “the theory has remained relevant and is even included in a dating app so that people get an understanding of each other before they date,” says Sam Nabil, CEO and Lead Therapist of Naya Clinics. “The five love languages simply explain what people's preferences are when it comes to expressing love.”
You might be able to ID your partner’s love language if you stop and think about it. But it’s also worth a convo, especially because a lot of people use more than one—sometimes words of affirmation, sometimes acts of service, for instance. “It’s another stage of getting to know each other,” Nabil says. “Most of the time, a person tends to express love the way they want to receive it from their significant other.”
It’s tricky when you have different love languages. Then you have a new language to learn. There’s no Duolingo for this, just practice!
If their love language is words of affirmation
If every phone call ends with “love you!” and they say things like “hello, sexy!” even when you’re not feeling particularly that, your partner uses words of affirmation and is likely looking for the same. If you’re the strong silent type you may need a minute to work phrases such as, “I so appreciate you” and “You’re honestly such a great parent” into the regular flow of conversation, but you can get there—and every time you do, your partner will feel seen.
If their love language is quality time
Are they always buying movie or concert tickets, or suggesting you try a restaurant, just the two of you? Do they not just text you, but FaceTime, to tell you about their day? Your partner is looking for quality time together. I know couples where one half wants to take weekends away, and the other half is, “Oof, can’t we just stay home and not deal with dropping the kids at their grandparents?” But if your partner values quality time above all, you’ll need to make room for it. Honestly, there are dozens of little ways to make time for each other. You could also work on not falling asleep with the kiddos, so you can sneak in couple time at the end of each day. It will mean the world to your sig other.
If their love language is physical touch
This can mean sex, of course, but also hugging, hand-holding, and general PDA. You were probably both on the same page while you were dating, because, duh, now there’s a kid. Getting physical as new parents can require an adjustment though if you are feeling touched-out. Then when the kids get older, there’s the worry that they’ll hear you (OMG Katherine Heigl). So get creative (bathroom sex while Encanto is on?), get cuddly, and give the occasional playful pat on the butt if that makes your partner happy.
If their love language is acts of service
“Of course I love you, I make your favorite meal every Sunday.” This is what it feels like to speak via acts of service (my own love language). A person with my perspective might feel that bringing their partner’s car in for inspection absolutely equals saying “I love you.” It took me years to realize it was what I was looking for in return from my husband, so now I have him pour my tea in the morning and make my breakfast most days. On my birthday, I just want him to organize my closet, because that feels like the sweetest gift. If your partner is also looking for acts of service you can take the kids to the park to give them some time alone, or just clean up around the house. You say unromantic, I say swoon-worthy.
If their love language is gifts
Do they bring flowers home every Friday? They might appreciate you treating them with something too. If your gift-giving love presents you with a piece of jewelry, you should probably wear it, and find something for them to wear from you. But gifts don’t have to be pricey. Returning from the coffee shop with a favorite drink is sweet, as is returning from the beach with a particularly pretty stone. It’s really just a way of saying, “I thought of you” which comes back to, “I love you.”
Once you know your partner’s love language you can more effectively make them feel valued. “The way to be emotionally attuned to one another is to keep practicing and asking questions. Go into the specifics of what you want, and ask what their expectations are from you,” Nabil says. No one’s a mind reader. But everyone wants to share love.