The last time I visited Boulder, Colo., I saw a man and a woman wearing signs that said, “free hugs” in the downtown area’s bustling strip.
Silly? For most, maybe. For me, they were speaking my language—my love language, to be precise.
“The Five Love Languages,” a book by Gary Chapman, may or may not be scientifically precise. I’m no scholar. I just know that even though the book is almost 20 years old, it works in my household. I’m amazed at how understanding and still-relevant the languages listed by Chapman improved the dynamic in our home.
First, I’ll boil down the five languages for you:
1. Words of Affirmation
Put plainly, say nice things about the people you love, because it scores serious points with them. Start with “I love you,” but consider smaller measures like, “you look beautiful in that dress.” But you better mean it.
2. Quality Time
Skip the flowers and candy. Hunker down with a rom-com or take a hearty nature walk with the ones you love. Time spent together means the world to people fluent in this language.
3. Receiving Gifts
“Ah, that anniversary card is lovely dear, but did you get me anything that sparkles?” You don’t have to break the bank here. Just pick up on any clues your loved one drops, like if she casually mentions her favorite author has a new book out next month. That’s when you surf over to Amazon.com.
4. Acts of Service
“Honey, did you clean the bathroom? It looks great! Thanks, handsome.” Completing chores without being told speaks to this language category.
5. Physical Touch
It’s not what you think. Just ask those Boulder residents with the signs. Try a spontaneous hug or a kiss on the neck when your spouse isn’t expecting one.
When my wife broke down the five languages for me, I wasn’t convinced they would matter to our family. Then, I considered the comfort I feel from a random hug, or just playfully tugging on my sons’ ear lobes. I watched my own father do that to my sons, not knowing what the gesture meant. After learning about the Love Languages, I understood. And I wasn’t surprised why I began copying that small measure when I’m feeling stressed.
I speak Physical Touch fluently. What love language are you fluent in? What about your family? Everyone has a primary love language.
My wife adores Acts of Service, followed closely by Quality Time. Yes, you can be bilingual in languages of love. If I spontaneously Swiffer the kitchen floor or fold the laundry (a task she knows I loathe) it means the world to her.
Understanding your children’s love languages isn’t so easy. My younger son finds comfort snuggling up to his momma’s midsection, but he rejects more overt embraces.
My older son once asked me to carry him on my shoulders wherever we went—even in our house. That physical connection spoke loudly to him. Now, he’d rather explore terra firma with his own two feet, thank you very much.
Children’s love languages, I suspect, change as they grow. So parents should sense when a “Quality Time” kid is slowing slipping into an “Acts of Service” child.
I didn’t end up taking advantage of those free Boulder hugs, but it still gave me comfort to know others could converse with a stranger on the strip.
Photos by Getty Images
Read Previous: Feel Weird About Bribing Your Children? Get Over it—it Works