TGary Chapman, a Southern Baptist pastor, published this article over three decades ago Five Love Languages: The Five Ways to Communicate Your Heartfelt Love to Your Man. The book was a huge success, selling four times more copies than the publisher expected. Millions of copies were sold. In that book—and the many he’s written since on the same topic—Chapman posits that we each have a primary love language, or a preference for the way we receive and express love: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, or physical touch. Chapman asserts that happiness is achieved by learning the language of your partner and then becoming proficient in it.
The idea of love languages has been a popular touchstone in pop culture, inspiring many dating apps questions and TikTok videos as well as TV and movie scenes. However, little research has examined the impact of love languages on relationships. The journal now has a study that examines the role of love languages in relationships. PLOS ONE suggests that heterosexual couples’ relationship satisfaction is, indeed, linked to whether their partner uses their preferred love language.
“It shows the importance of good communication, understanding your partner’s needs, and being able to provide the things they want to affirm the relationship,” says study author Gerald Matthews, a professor of psychology at George Mason University. “People don’t always understand their partners as well as they think they do. You can’t just assume that your partner wants what you want.”
Matthews and co-authors looked at 100 heterosexual couples that had been married for between 6 months and 24 years. Participant ages ranged from 17-58. The questionnaire asked participants to rate their love for each other by engaging in particular behaviors. Participants also recorded when they feel most loved, such as when their partner hugged them or did errands or spent time together. Participants’ relationship and sexual satisfaction were measured through self reports by using standardized scales.
The results indicate that people whose partners used their preferred love language had higher levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction than those whose partners didn’t. The love languages that their partners prefer to hear were also reported as having greater satisfaction in relationships by those who used them. “The more tailored your love language is to your partner’s needs, the greater their—and your own—satisfaction,” says study author Maciej Stolarski, a psychology professor at the University of Warsaw in Poland. “Your satisfaction is boosted not only if your partner adequately responds to your love-language preference, but also when you do the same for them.”
Overall, study participants’ most frequently declared love language was quality time, followed by physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, and receiving gifts. Since it’s possible to have more than one preferred love language, the researchers also analyzed preferences and expressions as a set of dimensions. “Humans are not so simple,” Stolarski says. “Each of us may prefer to receive love in more than one way, or may equally desire to be loved using three love languages.”
Learn MoreThe singles are less concerned about their looks. Here’s What They Want Instead
Interestingly, people who reported the highest levels of affection for their partners in the study weren’t necessarily more likely to share the same love-language preferences than people in less close partnerships. Matthews notes that it’s common for the people in a relationship to have starkly different needs.
Despite the popularity of Chapman’s five love languages, the concept remains relatively under-explored by researchers. Most studies have focused on validating the framework—confirming that love languages exist, which past studies have—rather than exploring the dynamics they lead to within a relationship. Chapman isn’t a scientist, “and despite the extreme popularity of his books, the concept of love languages was often perceived as non-scientific,” Stolarski says, which might have contributed to a hesitancy to take the phenomenon seriously.
The love-language framework has been used by therapists for many years. Andrew Bland, an associate professor of psychology at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pa., and a practicing psychotherapist, says it’s helped many of his clients “simply because it’s very easily understood.” (Bland wasn’t involved in the PLOS ONE study but has previously researched love languages and found that they may predict relationship satisfaction—and that by adapting our behaviors to meet our partners’ needs, people can experience deeper self-development.) The new love-languages study, which involved many European participants (especially from Ukraine and Poland), is a significant international contribution to this model.
When Bland explains the significance of responding to a partner’s preferred love language to his clients, he puts it like this: Imagine you’re listening to the car radio, but then you drive under an overpass, and the signal cuts out for a moment. With a love-language mismatch, “essentially what’s happening is the other person is trying to convey a sense of appreciation, but if they’re using their own love language, it’s not necessarily going to be received by the other person,” he says. “The signal simply doesn’t make it.”
So if you’re entering a new relationship—or hoping to improve an existing one—ask your partner about their love language, and share your own. Stolarski suggests planning a special day in which you focus on celebrating your partner’s love-language preferences, and then another that’s all about them responding to yours. “See what worked and how you and your partner felt that day,” he says. “Based on my own experience, it really does work.”
Read More From Time