The Psychology Behind the 5 Love Languages
Over 20 years after its original debut, Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages (1995) remains highly discussed and circulated in academic and interpersonal circles alike -- and for good reason. Dr. Chapman dissects the principles behind communicating love, which remains relevant and useful in many different types of relationships, from family and friends to romantic partners. Readers and psychologists are in agreement that the qualitative research collected from over 30 years of marriage counseling points to useful, practical applications from which we can all benefit. Let’s take a deeper look at each love language and the psychology that makes each so sound.
Chapman emphasizes that your primary and secondary love languages reflect both how you give love and how you receive it. In this first love language, individuals who identify with this form of communication tend to express and feel love through the giving of gifts. Experts suggest that the entire act of giving gifts -- from the thought, the careful choosing of a tangible item to represent the relationship, and finally to the actual giving itself, elicits the feeling of affection toward another person (South University, 2011).
Dr. Jeral Kirwan, Program Chair of the Master of Arts in Psychology in the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University, offers insight into gift-giving. “There are psychological advantages to both giving and receiving. Giving a gift increases feelings of satisfaction and helps to reinforce relationships by positively acknowledging each other,” explains Dr. Kirwan. Both the giver and receiver benefit from the act of giving or receiving emotionally.
The psychology behind this expression of love has an emphasis on the quality over quantity. Chapman explains, “Quality time is giving someone your undivided attention. I don’t mean sitting on the couch watching television. I mean sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking.” Quality time can be a love language expressed by anyone, and finding ways to express it within your non-romantic relationships is important too.
It may seem a given that physical touch would make the list of the five love languages, but the psychology behind this form of communication goes deeper than you might think. Touch is the first language we use to communicate as infants, and it plays a critical role in social and behavioral development. According to Katherine Harmon of Scientific American (2010), “Many children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are at higher risk for behavioral, emotional, and social problems as they grow up.”
It becomes easier to identify the powerful effects of touch by observing the interactions of mere strangers. Researchers Gallace and Spence (2010) found several notable outcomes from their studies on the topic:
- Elderly nursing home residents tend to feel unwanted or unloved due to a lack of physical contact with others.
- People are significantly more likely to return a dime left in a phone booth if the preceding telephone caller touched them.
- People are more likely to give someone a free cigarette if the request comes from a person who touched them at the same time.
- Individuals who have been touched are more likely to agree to participate in mall interviews.
As we dig deeper into touch in established relationships versus strangers, the power of touch becomes even clearer. Gulledge, Gulledge, and Shahmann (2003) elucidate, “Touch is crucial in creating and strengthening romantic relationships. Tactile physical affection is highly correlated with overall relationship and partner satisfaction. Moreover, conflict resolution is easier with more physical affection including hugging, cuddling/holding, and kissing on the lips.”
Words of Affirmation
Another love language is the category Chapman refers to as “words of affirmation,” which entails verbal communication that is encouraging, affirmative, active, and appreciative. We can express words of affirmation through spoken and written messages, which show our love to others.
Dr. Michelle Rosser-Majors, Associate Professor and Program Chair for the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in the College of Health, Human Services, and Science at Ashford University, explains that positive affirmations ensure more than simply a good feeling for those who receive them. “As human beings, we aspire to feel competent, valued, and appreciated. Positive words have this type of power, creating the solid foundations needed to build strong, productive relationships that resonate clear lines of communications.”
A concept from positive psychology further asserts that positive words can do more than just demonstrate love (Newberg & Waldman, 2012). Using affirmative words like “love," “peace," and “loving-kindness,” improve our brain functions-- resulting in increased cognitive reasoning and strengthened frontal lobes. Speaking and hearing positive words more often than negative ones can activate the motivational centers of the brain, encouraging us to take positive action more often.
Acts of Service
Acts of service (doing helpful, thoughtful deeds), is another way we give love and feel loved. Chapman describes acts of service (2009) as, “doing something for your spouse that you know they would like for you to do.” And the psychology behind it is something we can all likely relate to-- that warm, fuzzy feeling you get from a selfless act. Dr. Rosser-Majors expands on the idea, noting that serving another is a type of relational leadership. She says, “True leaders serve others before serving themselves. This level of unselfish service inspires people, as well as the communities and families they impact, to be greater, to go beyond, to aspire.”
The world could use more love and less hate, and we look again to the words and actions of former leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and others as examples. We encourage you to spread love today, not just with friends and family, but with every person you meet.
To learn more on the topic, explore degree programs in psychology and the social and behavioral sciences at Ashford
Written by Kelsey Bober, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education
Advani, P. (August 11, 2013). How random acts of kindness can benefit your health. Huffington Post.
Chapman, G. D. (1995). The five love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate. Chicago: Northfield Pub.
Chapman, G. D. (2009). Speaking the love language of quality time. Retrieved from 5lovelanguages.com
Gallace, A. & Spence, C. (2010). The science of interpersonal touch: An overview. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 246–259.
Gulledge, A. K., Gulledge, M. H. & Stahmannn, R. F. (2003) Romantic physical affection types and relationship satisfaction, The American Journal of Family Therapy, 31, 233-242.
Harmon, K. (May 6, 2010). Scientific American. Touch and emotional engagement boost early childhood development, but can children recover from neglectful environments?
Newberg, A., & Waldman, M. R. (2012). Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy. Penguin.
South University. (2011). The psychology behind gift giving.
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