How do you show love to other people? Are you someone who likes to give little gifts or leave little notes for people? Or would you prefer to do something for them, like helping them clean their house, or going grocery shopping for them? Learning how you show love is important because it helps you get to know yourself better and understand yourself in a deeper way. It also gives you the opportunity to know more about those around you, and understand that everyone shows love in different ways. Knowing this about yourself and others can greatly improve your relationships, how you feel about yourself, and ultimately help you use your unique talents to show even more love.
I use the term “showing love”, which can be seen as something we only do in romantic relationships, but really, we show love to many people in our lives: family, friends, and even strangers. Sometimes it’s labeled kindness, positivity, passing on smiles, serving others, charity work, or giving. No matter what words we use, what we’re showing people is that they are loved, appreciated, and valued.
The more we can learn about how love is shown in general, about what our specific ways of showing love are, and about how those around us show their love to us, the deeper and better our relationships will be with everyone, including our relationship with ourselves.
Let’s start by defining the major ways that we show love to others.
The way that we show love to those around us is often known as our love language. It’s how we let others know that we love and appreciate them.
These five major love languages: Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Giving/Receiving Gifts, and Physical Touch, are laid out in a book written by Gary Chapman, appropriately titled, The Five Love Languages.
(To learn even more about the love languages, I highly recommend reading this book. It’s geared more towards couples, but the theories apply to all of our relationships.)
While some of them can seem to overlap, I’ll give you some examples of each of the languages, so you can start to see the differences between them.
1) Acts of Service are those things that you do for other people. Helping them fold the laundry, going grocery shopping for someone, mowing someone’s lawn. Any of those things that make someone else’s life easier.
2) Words of Affirmation are those words that you say to people to let them know they are appreciated or valued. You’re doing a great job, thank you for working so hard, I’m proud of you, etc.
3) Quality Time is different for everyone, depending on their situation. To some, quality time may mean spending any time together at all. For others, quality time may be those times when you can be alone with the other person, without the distraction of cell phones or other people.
4) Giving/Receiving gifts means giving big ticket items, or smaller “just because” gifts.
5) Physical Touch is more about holding hands, hugging, public displays of affection, an arm around your shoulder, or sitting close while watching tv or a movie. It’s not just about sex. This one does tend to go more with romantic relationships, and those that you know well. Or at least those that you know what they are comfortable with physically. Some people are huggers, and some aren’t. =)
Once we learn the difference between the love languages, we can begin to recognize them in ourselves and others.
Most often, we show love in the ways that we would like love to be shown to us. Mainly because this is what we know. But, because of the way that we were raised, where we were raised, our life experiences, and who we are as people, we all have different ways of showing love. If we never learn this fact, then we can get stuck in the trap of thinking that just because someone doesn’t do things the way we do, they don’t love us as much, or at all.
Here’s a perfect example: A woman shows her love to those around her by buying people gifts, by sending cards to them, and by texting random reminders that she is thinking of them. Her husband on the other hand, doesn’t think gifts are that important. His way of showing others that he loves them, is by doing things for them; helping them move, mowing their yard, and fixing things around their house.
If these two didn’t see the differences in the way they showed love, they would be in a constant state of thinking that the other person didn’t care. Knowing however, that people are different, helps them to appreciate each other more, and appreciate what the other is doing for them. He can appreciate when she brings home little gifts for him, or buys little gifts for their neighbors. She appreciates that he spends so much time making sure the house, the yard, and their cars are well cared for, and he helps the neighbors do the same.
On a personal level, knowing how you show love will help you to better understand yourself.
Seeing how others show love, and understanding that they are showing you love in their own way, can help you to realize that you may have been projecting your own feelings of unworthiness onto other people. You may feel like you don’t deserve love, so you’ve been assuming that others aren’t showing you love because you’re unlovable. When in reality, they have just been trying to love you in their own way. When you see these actions of love for what they are, you can start to do the inner work of releasing those feelings of not being worthy of love, and open up to even more love from people.
In addition to this, knowing your love languages can help you to be more aware of why things that other people do, or don’t do, may upset you.
This is one of the things I became aware of after learning that love languages are different for everyone.
I used to get really upset when my husband and I would go to a store, and he would suggest that we divide and conquer. He would grab a few things, I would grab a few things, and we would meet back at the front. I knew deep down that he wasn’t being mean, or trying to get away from me, but it always felt that way. Then I realized one day, that it’s important to me for us to walk through the store together, and spend time together in that way. It wouldn’t be considered quality time to most people, but for me, it is. I enjoy walking around the store with him, talking about things, and picking out items together. I always felt like he wanted to just hurry and get finished so that he could get back to doing what he wanted to do, but in reality, he didn’t realize that this was important to me.
Which leads me to an important factor in learning all about how you and others show love: once you figure out your love languages, and what is important to you, tell those around you.
Don’t just assume that they know or hint around and hope they figure it out. This only causes more frustration and hurt feelings for everyone involved.
The most common love language (by a slight margin) is Words of Affirmation – 23%. This was followed closely by Quality Time – 20%, Acts of Service – 20%, Physical Touch – 19%, and Giving/Receiving Gifts – 18%. (Huffington Post Article)
The margins are so close on what percentage of people show love in each way, it’s sometimes hard to determine just by guessing. Add this to the fact that most people don’t know that there are different ways to love, that some have never actually been shown love, and some don’t think they are worthy of love, and it can get messy very quickly.
It’s much easier just to talk about it up front, and be on the same page with people.
How do you find out what your love language is?
To help you determine what your love languages are, and what the languages of those around you are, I’ve made a list of some examples of things you can do for someone with each love language. Keep in mind that most people have more than one major way they show love. It’s generally a combination of two or three.
Read through the list and see which actions you would most enjoy, if someone did them for you. Don’t over think it. These aren’t set in stone, and one language isn’t any better than another one, or more or less selfish than another one. Simply pick those that resonate with you the most, even if it doesn’t quite make sense.
There are things that can skew your thoughts about each of the love languages, and because of this, your top one or two can shift over time. An example of this would be someone who didn’t grow up in a family that showed a lot of physical affection, so they aren’t comfortable with physical touch. As they learn about themselves, grow in their confidence, and meet someone that they trust, they realize that physical touch is actually very important to them.
Also, don’t let these become a label that defines how you can and can’t show love for someone. If your languages are physical touch and acts of service, but you feel compelled to give someone random little gifts here and there, do so. I know this sounds like common sense, but I also know people who get caught up in labeling themselves to the point that they can’t act outside of that label.
Words of Affirmation:
The important thing with this one is to pick things that are specific to them, that you love and appreciate, and let them know often. Make these words personal to them, and put them in personal places. Posting something on Facebook or Instagram is great, but make sure that you tell them personally as well.
1) Leave a note somewhere they will find it (in a drawer they frequent, in a lunch box, taped to the mirror of their car or the bathroom) telling them how much you appreciate them.
Thank you for working so hard, Thank you for mowing the yard, I appreciate you helping me fold the laundry, I appreciate you going to work every day.
2) Send random text messages letting them know you’re thinking of them, or a picture that reminds you of them (tell them why it reminds you of them).
3) Shower them with compliments. You look really pretty/handsome today, That shirt looks great on you, I love that you think of everything, You are a really kind person and I appreciate that about you.
4) Show your appreciation for them in front of others. When you’re with other people, tell them how much you appreciate that your husband helped you hang up pictures, or went to the grocery store for you. Tell your husband what a great job your friends did in planning a party.
Make sure that you find out what the other person means when they say quality time, or that you know what you expect when you say quality time.
1) Have a no cell phones meal together. Once you sit down at the table, silence your phone and don’t pick it up again until you are ready to leave.
2) Even if it takes longer, take the time to shop together. Stroll down the aisles and talk about different dishes you could make together, improvements you could make to your house, or places that you’d like to go.
3) Do a project together. This can be anything from planting a new garden, to redoing a room in your house, to volunteering.
4) Learn something new together. Take salsa lessons, learn a new language that you can practice together.
Acts of Service:
Do something for the other person that will make their life easier.
1) Do one of their “chores” for them, that you know they hate doing, or they don’t have time to do.
2) Cook or order a special meal for them; something you know they love.
3) Offer to run errands for them; to give them a break, or time to do other things.
4) Fix something that you know is bugging them. A leaking faucet, a running toilet, clean up clutter that you have laying around, add paper to the printer tray.
Physical Touch: (obviously, some of these are only meant for your significant other =))
1) Hold their hand when you’re driving somewhere or walking around, reach across the table and hold their hand while you’re waiting on your food at a restaurant, or link your arm through theirs.
2) Offer your hand when they are getting out of a car, standing up, getting up out of the floor, or walking down stairs.
3) Give them a sincere hug.
4) Always kiss them goodnight, and goodbye.
1) Make sure to always send them a card, or get them a gift on special occasions.
2) Give them small little “just because” gifts randomly – not just on special occasions. These don’t have to be expensive. (Check out @ThoughtfulGifting on Instagram for some great ideas.)
3) Buy something special for them when you’re on vacation. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything expensive, just something you know they will like, to let them know that you’re thinking of them.
4) Give them a book they have been wanting to read, or a gift card for a restaurant they have been wanting to go to.
Have fun with this.
Learn what ways you most enjoy showing others love, and then go out there and show it to everyone you meet. Learn to appreciate those ways that others are showing you love, even if it’s not the same as your ways.