The holidays are a time of year when our focus shifts to showing love to the important people in our lives. However, this gift-giving time of year can be fraught with anxiety, often because of the high expectations around finding the “perfect gift” for our loved ones. Dr. Gary Chapman’s theory of “The Five Love Languages” can be an incredibly helpful starting point for understanding how we give and receive love and understanding the best way to give back to others in our life.
The concept of love languages was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman and explained in his book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. He details five unique ways that people can demonstrate love. We all intuitively give love in the way we like to receive it and/or in the way it was modeled in our family as we were growing up. It Is important to note that our love languages can change over time and be influenced by our partner. Additionally, it is common to have more than one primary love language. By understanding how our own preferences for giving and receiving love may be the same as or different than our partner’s and family members’ styles, we can communicate more effectively about relationship needs and attune better to our loved ones’ preferences. Here is a breakdown of each of the 5 love languages and how we can use this understanding to be intentional about showing love during the holidays.
- Words of Affirmation
This love language focuses on positive verbal communication to show love. People with this as their primary love language want to hear how much their partner loves them consistently and frequently. They also want verbal acknowledgement of their efforts in the relationship and in the household. It is also important to be specific in your communication as well. Phrases like “I really appreciate the effort you put into decorating the house” and “I love being married to you because you always take care of me!” provide validation and encouragement. During the holiday season, hand-written notes and cards detailing your love and appreciation will be incredibly meaningful. You can also go more modern by sending more frequent texts and messages. During this chaotic time of year, make sure you take time each day to let them know with words that you love them and are thinking about them.
Gift ideas: Hand-written love note, digital voice recording of you saying “I love you,” a framed poem that reminds them of you
- Quality Time
People who experience love through quality time want to share meaningful activities in which they feel connected and valued. These kinds of experiences allow the person to feel present-focused and engaged. People whose love language is quality time want to feel like the other person is excited to be there with them. There are many activities built into the holiday season that promote shared quality time such as baking cookies, decorating the house, going shopping for a Christmas tree, or even watching a favorite holiday classic. The important thing to remember is the need to be present in these activities or they can quickly feel shallow and empty. It is best to turn off electronic devices, slow down, and be actively engaged in these activities in order to communicate love.
Gift ideas: Tickets to an event you can go to together in the future, a new board game to play together, Box of pre-planned date nights
- Acts of Service
Acts of service are the physical tasks we do to make the other person’s life easier. People who receive love this way want to feel taken care of and as if someone is looking out for them. For these people, words can often be less meaningful; they want to see love put into action. The gestures don’t have to be grand; small actions that make the burdens of life a little easier are just as valuable. Ways to put a holiday twist on this love language can include hanging holiday decorations for the other person, taking care of the holiday shopping, doing an extra load of dishes, keeping the kids occupied so the other person can get some rest, or making special holiday coffee in the mornings.
Gift ideas: “Gift certificate” for taking on an annoying household task for a full year, an appliance to make household tasks easier that they’ve mentioned, home-cooked meal of their choice
Gift-giving is sometimes considered the most straight-forward love language, and it might seem the most obvious for the holiday season in which we all tend to express love through gift-giving. However, understanding the nuance of this love language can help your gift-giving go the extra mile. People with gifts as their love language want the gift to be a symbol of the love and caring of the other person. For them, gifts are important because they represent the time the other person took to listen to their needs, think about what they would appreciate, and select a physical object that represents all this time, attention, and caring. To really show love through gift-giving, it is important to think about the other person’s day-to-day lifestyle and what kinds of gifts are important to them; a generic gift or the kind of gift you would like to receive just will not do.
Gift ideas: Any gift that demonstrates you’ve thought about their values, personality, and what would make their life easier or more enjoyable. If they ever mention that they want something, write it down!
- Physical Touch
This is the love language of hugs, kisses, hand-holding, back-rubs, and sexual intimacy. People with physical touch as their love language rely on physical intimacy to feel loved and connected. This love language is especially powerful when we recall that as babies, physical touch is a main way we receive love from our parents but that touch becomes less frequent as we get older. The important thing to understand about this love language is that touch needs to be consensual and with a good understanding of the kinds of physical touch our partner likes. Some ways to incorporate this language into the holiday season are snuggling up on the couch, going for a walk while holding hands, or taking advantage of mistletoe hung in the house.
Gift ideas: A massage with special scented oils, weighted blanket, soft, cozy clothing
Chapman, G. D. (2010). The 5 love languages: the secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Pub.