How crazy is that? There are literally hundreds of ways to give and receive love. And if we want strong, happy, and healthy relationships, we’ll take the time to figure out which of those hundreds of ways mean the most to the ones we love.
What Says “I Love You” Best?
Did you know that some people settle for sex when that doesn’t actually say “I love you” to them? To them, sex just says, “I want to use your body to satisfy my urge.” They only give in to it because for a brief moment they feel needed. And that’s the closest they ever get to feeling loved.
But most people want more from their partner than a mere, “I find you useful.” They want to hear, “You are a wonderful person. I treasure all that you are.” So how can partners communicate that?
The answer? We can each learn our partner’s love language.
According to marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman, people hear and say “I love you” in five different ways, which he has named “love languages.” Those languages are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
So when we ask, “What says ‘I love you’ best to you?” we are really asking, “What’s your love language?”
Why do love languages matter? Think about it: if your partner receives love through gifts but you’re intent on supplying physical touch, they’re probably not feeling the love. Same thing goes for a person who craves words of affirmation but gets silent acts of service. It doesn’t feel like love.
Let’s see if we can figure out which love language the person you love wants to hear, so you can speak it loud and clear. Here’s a hint: watch the ways they like to express love.
Words of Affirmation
If your loved one compliments people—and also lights up when he or she is praised—Words of Affirmation may be their language. You can say “I love you” in this language by:
- Praising them in front of other people: “My girlfriend/boyfriend is the most thoughtful person on the planet. Just yesterday she/he…”
- Pointing out things you admire about them: “You really know how to make people feel special.” Or, “You’re so good at encouraging others.”
- Posting something affirming (not embarrassing) about them on social media.
Pitfalls to avoid with words of affirmation:
Make sure to highlight their personal qualities—not only their accomplishments. They need to know they are valued because of who they are, not because of what they do.
Someone who enjoys getting together with people probably speaks the “quality time” love language. So if you two are together and interacting, they feel loved.
If this describes your partner, try:
- Going for walks
- Playing a sport or other game together
- Read a good book to each other and talk about it
- Keep in touch (call, FaceTime, Snapchat…) when you’re apart
- Go out for supper and linger at the table to talk
Pitfalls to avoid with Quality Time:
Be sure your time together is spent interacting. Build in some face-to-face engagement during whatever you choose to do. However, don’t let the pendulum swing to the other extreme, where clingy demands (like incessant texting to check your whereabouts) start to dominate your life. Let your relationship breathe, with time together and time apart.
This love language is spoken with things like flowers, souvenirs, stuffed animals won at the fair… When you make the effort to figure out what your partner likes and get it for them, they will feel that you love them.
What kind of gift does your loved one appreciate? Could it be one of these?
- a new app
- something for their hobby
- a personalized piece of jewelry
- your picture in a frame
Pitfalls to avoid with Receiving Gifts:
Be careful not to cross over into “buying” someone’s love. That’s a fine line, so you’ll have to be on the lookout for it. Like all the love languages, receiving gifts (and giving them) can get twisted into unreasonable expectations—sending “I’ll love you if…” messages. But that isn’t real love at all.
Does your partner readily do nice things for people? That may be a sign that they like to have nice things done for them, too.
Look carefully for ways you can serve them like that. It might be:
- washing their car before they go to work
- cooking a meal so they can finish something important
- giving them a ride to the doctor when they’re sick
- helping them clean their apartment
Pitfalls to avoid:
It’s possible to jump in and do your partner’s job for them, accidentally undermining their self-confidence. You want to support them, but don’t steal their autonomy. On the flip side, don’t become their slave either. Again, there’s a fine line between serving out of love and serving because someone feels entitled.
Someone with this love language will likely be quite affectionate. But showing affection doesn’t necessarily translate into craving sexual touch. In fact, non-sexual touch is a very powerful love language because it’s offered with no strings attached.
If physical touch is your partner’s love language, try:
- putting a reassuring hand on their shoulder when they’re down
- holding hands while you walk together
- gently caressing their cheek
- cuddling while talking or watching a movie
Pitfalls to avoid:
In a romantic relationship, it’s far too easy to slide from non-sexual touch to sexual. Keep your hormones reined in. If you’re trying to say “I love you,” then a warm touch given freely—without asking for more—gets that message across.
Real Love in Any Language
Knowing and “speaking” your partner’s love language gives you power tools to use in saying “I love you.” Just remember that if you’re saying it, you should really mean it. If you have strong feelings for someone but are still asking “Is this love?”—or wondering if they truly love you—check out more of our posts on that topic below.
If you want to discover your love language and your partner’s, take Dr. Chapman’s Love Languages Quiz here. Start speaking their language, and watch your relationship flourish!
If you’re looking for help building your relationship on a better foundation than sex alone,
the team at Choices Pregnancy Center is here to help.
For more on true love and relationships: