Harnessing the five love languages for a strong friendship
Friendships are an essential ingredient in a happy life. It’s time to give them the care and attention they deserve.
It’s been almost 30 years since Dr Gary Chapman, a Christian pastor and relationships counsellor, released his popular manual, The 5 Love Languages: the Secret to Love that Lasts. According to Dr Chapman’s taxonomy, there are five ways most of us express and would like to receive love: gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service.
These five categories, Dr Chapman posits, offer an uncomplicated framework wherein couples can communicate and understand what each other needs to feel valued. At the core of Chapman’s book is the idea that, given five simple categories, couples can break through the communication barrier and become better lovers. It’s a simple idea, one based around the belief that a healthy relationship is maintained through optimum communication.
You don’t need to be a psychologist or relationship counsellor to tell your partner, “I feel loved when you give me your undivided attention” (quality time), or, “I need to hear you vocalise your love for me” (words of affirmation). The key, as it turns out, is not to master and practise all five love languages, but to identify the language that you and your partner “speak” and get better at communicating in those languages.
Friendships enrich our lives in ways that our romantic relationships often cannot.
Dr Chapman found that couples seldom share the same love language, which can lead to feeling misunderstood and underappreciated. You may feel you’re showing your partner love by making the bed each morning or taking out the bins, but if their love language isn’t acts of service, they might not even notice these small deeds of kindness.
Chapman’s theories have remained popular over the last three decades, proof that often it’s the simplest ideas that are the most helpful. Part of the book’s universal appeal, perhaps, is that its ideas can be applied outside a romantic relationship.
While Dr Chapman wrote with the romantic couple in mind, his framework is a useful one in which to consider how you function in other relationships. Chapman’s ideas can improve and illuminate all kinds of relationships and particularly close ones such as friendships.
There’s a little-known saying that goes something like: put more romance into your friendship and more friendship into your romance. The belief that our friendships can benefit from the sort of love story with which we imbue our romantic relationships is an interesting one. After all, we exist in a culture that places a lot of stock in romantic relationships, but rarely do we see friendships play out in popular culture with the same reverence. We lack the ceremonies and certificates to verify this intimate ballast of shared sensibilities, enjoyment and connection.
It’s something of a missed opportunity not to nurture our platonic relationships in the way we do our romantic ones. Friendships enrich our lives in ways that our romantic relationships often cannot. Indeed, they have a bigger impact on our psychological wellbeing than family relationships; they are the antidote to the burdens of everyday life and sustaining long-term platonic love can be as rewarding as romance. But like their romantic counterparts, friendships require regular care and feeding.
The magic in Chapman’s advice is that it prompts honest conversation, opening the floor to a discussion about what you need to feel appreciated. This is as needed in our platonic relationships as it is in our romantic ones.
Begin with yourself
Working out what you really value in a relationship will let you evaluate how happy and fulfilled you feel within your friendships. Your life has no doubt evolved and shifted since the start of many of your friendships, and so too have your needs. Be honest with yourself about what you want from a friendship so you can readily express it to those closest to you.
If you would like to take Chapman’s quiz to find out your love language and your friends, head to 5lovelanguages.com.
The wrong type of love
Carve out time to for sincere conversation, whether in person or over the phone, and remind your friend of the reasons you love them.
It’s very possible you have been sending the wrong messages to your friends because you’re speaking your preferred love language, not theirs. Equally, you can better understand why you might be feeling neglected in a friendship and take it less personally when you understand the differences between how the two of you prefer to receive (and therefore likely give) love. Chapman’s system encourages you to think about the needs and interests of your friends, and how you can fulfil them.
Identifying with your friend’s love language can improve a friendship exponentially; if you’re able to view the world through the other person’s lens, friendships will be much easier to navigate and nurture.
Different people in your life will require different types of love; understanding this will allow you to empathise with and embrace another’s unique wiring and become more conscious of their needs.
Speaking your friend’s love language doesn’t have to involve grand gestures. Indeed, being aware of a friend’s love language should make tending to your friendship altogether easier.
If your friend’s love language is quality time …
If you’ve ever struggled through a long-distance relationship, you’ll be familiar with the importance of relationship maintenance; filling up the tank, so to speak. This is even more important if your friend values quality time above all else.
Given that we all have limited time and energy, quality time can seem hard to come by, but friendship maintenance can be squeezed around work and home life demands. Morning coffees, lunches or taking an exercise class together are the perfect friend dates and don’t take time away from children or work deadlines.
… if you’re able to view the world through the other person’s lens, friendships will be much easier to navigate and nurture.
Remember, a few minutes of friendship goes a long way. Don’t avoid friends because you can’t give them hours of your attention. It only takes a few minutes of care and listening to reinforce the bonds of friendship. Take a few minutes from your week to call or simply send a text to tell a friend you are thinking about them.
If your friend’s love language is acts of service …
Gestures make an impression, especially in times of need. If a friend is going through a bad patch, or feeling the strain at home or work, be there to carry some of the burden. Offer to walk their dog, pick up groceries or cook a meal. If a friend is out of work, help to polish their résumé or craft a cover letter. Offer legal tips to a new business owner or share your network with a friend.
Equally, it’s important to show up for the good times and the milestones. Travel to a wedding or plan a celebratory event. Even if you don’t see each other much, you can show you’re there when it counts.
If your friend’s love language is gifts …
You don’t have to break the bank to show a friend you care, even if their love language is gifts. Bring home a small treat from your travels, bake them a cake to commemorate a special occasion, share a news article that you know they will love or a song that made you think of them.
If your friend’s love language is words of affirmation …
We all enjoy hearing a friend or loved one say nice things to us, but for some, words hold more weight. If this is your friend’s love language, communication is especially important. Carve out time to for sincere conversation, whether in person or over the phone, and remind your friend of the reasons you love them. Even small deeds, such a sending a congratulatory card or offering words of encouragement before a big work or life event will go a long way to making your friend feel loved and appreciated.
If your friend’s love language is physical touch …
While this love language is often reserved for romantic relationships, many people feel most connected while embracing their friends. Some friends will simply be more tactile than others; indulging them with your physical closeness can make a huge impact on how loved they feel.
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