The Five Love Languages- It's More Complicated Than You'd Think

My friend Babs and I were discussing the Five Love Languages- are you familiar with that book, or even just the concept? The book is a great resource to figure out how you, your partner, your loved ones, and your children are best able to receive love, as well as how you naturally express it. There are so many ways of expressing love, but if you show love one way, but it is a way that doesn't speak to the one to whom you are trying to show love, you'll fall short, and the token of love won't be accepted and they won't feel loved and everyone will be upset. Therefore, it is good to know what your love languages are as well as that of others.
The five love languages are:
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Receiving Gifts
These are pretty straightforward, so I don't think I have to get into them via explaining what each of them are.

During my conversation with my friend, she brought up the quiz for the five love languages, and suggested I take it, and to be honest, the results left me a bit surprised. 

On the test, I got 37% acts of service, 30% receiving gifts, 13% words of affirmation, 10% quality time, and 10% physical touch. Probably what left me most surprised was how high gifting was on my list. Or that words of affirmation weren't higher on my list. 

I mean, don't get me wrong. The fact that these were the percentages of my quiz doesn't mean that I don't need someone to tell me "Penny, I believe in you, you've faced more difficult things and you made it through, I believe you can do it this time as well" when I'm struggling. Or that I don't enjoy quality time with people I love. Or that I don't crave hugs desperately. Most people probably need all these things, but the question is what is more important to them.

And for me, its acts of service. And gifting.

What is most surprising for me, actually, is that I have gotten these from people in the past, and it didn't do a single thing for me. In fact, I often resented when I got gifts or acts of service from specific people, so I thought maybe those weren't my primary love languages.

But then I did some thinking, and realized that its not just the love language, but within each love language, there are different ways to show it, and if you don't express it in the way that actually speaks to your loved one, it won't be accepted.

Like, if you have a friend who loves good coffee, and drinks multiple cups of coffee a day, and their love language is gifts, get them an espresso machine, that would be very much appreciated. Me, on the other hand? I love wine, and my best friend doesn't drink, so even though I personally would love it as a gift, getting her some nice wines from someplace like would not be a wise thing to do.

Another example, my friend Babs is officially obsessed with the band, Hanson. If I'd get her a Hanson T-shirt, she'd probably be over the moon. But her getting me a Hanson T shirt would probably make me roll my eyes, because I am not a Hanson fan.

That is probably why I didn't realize how important gift giving was to me in my life. Because gift giving isn't just giving them something, its thinking about what they like, what they enjoy, what they'd appreciate, and giving them that. There were people in my life who'd get me gifts, but it would be, for example, clothing that was distinctly not my taste (and in fact, quite the opposite), and they'd gift it to me and want me to wear it, even though I wanted to wear anything but that. Or they'd get me hand lotion in a gift basket, and I'm someone who never wears lotion unless my hands are literally dry and cracking.

People say its the thought that counts, but that's not true. I mean, it counts for something, but if you want someone to actually appreciate what you give them, you have to not just put in the thought "I'll get you a gift" but think about what the person enjoys and likes and will appreciate, and not just get them what you enjoy.

One of the gifts that I remember even 10 years later was from my sister in law one year for my birthday. She got me a pair of wooden salad serving forks, because she knew how much I loved making salads and making them all pretty.

But what do you do when you or your loved ones love language is gifts but you are short on money?

See, what is gifting actually about? Is it the transaction, the "token of love", the physical object? For me, anyhow, it is much more than that. It is the concept that, during the course of your day or life, you thought of your loved one, thought what they'd appreciate, and shared that with them. It can be picking up their favorite chocolate bar while you're grocery shopping. Or, what I realized most recently- sending memes. When I come across a cute meme or a meaningful meme or something of the sort, and I say "Hey, Michelle would love this!" I go and share it with her over messenger. No, it doesn't actually cost a thing, but it's still a type of gift, because it was my sharing something with her that I knew she'd enjoy, because I thought of her when I saw it.

Gifting as a love language can be inexpensive or even free.

Now, acts of service is another one. For me, it is one that is really important to me. But yet, many times when I got an act of service from someone, it not only didn't make me feel loved, it made me resentful. Because acts of service are just that, something you do purely for the other person, not something you do because you feel like doing it.

I once had someone who came to my house when I was in the hospital and cleaned it top to bottom, and then reorganized my living room furniture, and then when I came home from the hospital, they told me that I had better not mess up their hard work and mess up the place, and oh, the house looks much better organized this way, and if I don't like it, well, I can only change it back after they leave. 

Did I appreciate that "act of service"? Certainly not.

Number one is because an act of service is not a tit for tat. A "I did this for you, and now you must do x", like in the previous example "I cleaned the place, now you better not get it dirty". If you do something because you love someone, they don't owe you anything for that act. It needs to be given purely from the heart, and not because you expect something in return.

Secondly, because an act of service has to be because the other person wants it done, and not because you want it done. If you want to reorganize my living room furniture, you are doing that because it is something that you feel like doing, that isn't a service to me- its a service for yourself. 

Meanwhile, the type of act of service that I appreciate most of all is someone taking the time to make me a meal that I can eat, or ordering food that I can eat, so that I don't have the headache of always cooking food for myself with my food restrictions. This is actually the type of thing I've appreciated the most from some of my local friends, since I started the divorce process, the friends that stop over with dinner when they know I'm feeling overwhelmed, or the friend that brings over ice cream when I'm in quarantine, or the friend who paid attention to my son and his talents and interests and brought him over a gift that was exactly right for him, for his recent birthday (yes, paying attention to my kids that much is something I also take personally and feel touched by). 

But the more I think about this, the more I realize how when people bring over a meal for me, or invite me to a meal, it's actually a combination of the two things I appreciate most- acts of service, and gifting, because the meal is a gift, and the act of delivering it to me, or preparing it for me, is an act of service, which is probably why it's the thing I love most in the world when it happens.

Basically, what it comes down to is this. Yes, the love languages are important. But beyond just knowing the names: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, gifting, and acts of service, think about what this loved one enjoys, what they appreciate, and within that category, make sure that when you give love in your loved one's languages, that you tailor it to them. Because love is personal, and not just something cookie cutter that works for everyone. Know the person, and do things purely for the other person because you know what they'd enjoy. That way they can actually appreciate the love that you are giving.

P.S. I think your love languages can also change throughout the course of your life and with your experiences. I think most people need them all (in different amounts), but when you are lacking some of them you end up craving them more, and when you get your cup filled with one, you need that less and others take more priority. (For example, I need validation and empathy and compliments big time, but fortunately in therapy and from my closest friends I get these in large amounts, so it ends up going further down my priority list because I'm not missing it as much.)

Have you ever heard of the five love languages before? If you did the quiz, how did you score? For you, within the love languages, are there specifics that work for you and don't work for you that you'd care to share?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Interestingly enough I took that test last month after listening to their radio program for years.  A recent program suggested asking children what they thought was love to them.  My granddaughter said it was snuggling and getting toys.  My ex-husband immediately said it was when someone did something for him without him asking which I used to do all the time so I found that strange but also intriguing in that he knew what it was for him although perhaps it had changed over time as you mentioned.  Mine was time and I realized that's why I hate it when my grandchildren are on their tablets during meals with me or if any of my children are on their phones when they're visiting me which is rude in my opinion anyway.  I want their time, their undivided attention.  But at least now I know.

    I feel you make many valid points.  While one may think doing something for someone is great that someone may not.  It never worked for me with my ex but he admits he had a serious anger problem when we were married.  Unfortunately, he couldn't see that then.  I hope others take the test and even ask their children or grandchildren and take in your words of wisdom. The five languages of love are Christian based but can be quite helpful to all, especially knowing what types work for one's self.  I enjoyed this post immensely, thank you!

  2. I think the love languages are a great framework. I use them a lot in a parenting class I teach, and they are a gamechanger. It's definitely possible to receive love in a different way than you usually give it, if that makes sense. It's easy for me to give words of affirmation but I need spending quality time with loved ones.

    I've found them very helpful in enhancing my marriage and my friendships, and my relationships with my children. They add to my understanding of what makes them tick. My mother loves to give gifts. Although I wish she would buy less stuff for my kids, I have learned to just enjoy this expression of her love for them.

  3. The book actually helped save my marriage. I was old school with doing the cooking and cleaning. Making romantic dinners etc. However that was not my hubbies love langue. Touch was and gifts. It was a real game changer. Mine as you can tell is acts of service lol. So it was very helpful for me. I even gave it as a gift to a friend who was having a hard time in her marriage and it helped greatly. My mom is gifts as well. I find it so interesting. Great blog post I must say. You put in a lot of insight and a lot of hard work into your work. I must say it shows. thanks for a great read.

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