“Love languages” – it’s one of these terms that you see thrown around often, and many articles on the subject stress the importance of understanding not only your own, but your partner or potential partner’s love language too.

But what is a love language, and why are they important?

The term was coined by Gary Chapman in 1992 in his book called The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate’. As the title suggests, there are five love languages according to Chapman.

The five love languages as he observed are:

  • Acts of service (doing things for the other person)
  • Gift-giving (giving gifts to show your love for someone)
  • Physical touch (anything from holding hands to having sex)
  • Quality time (time spent together engaging in a shared pastime/uninterrupted time together)
  • Words of affirmation (encouragement).

Chapman is a marriage counsellor and came up with the notion of love languages throughout his 30-year career helping couples with their marital problems.

“My conclusion after thirty years of marriage counselling is that there are basically five emotional love languages—five ways that people speak and understand emotional love,” Chapman said.

While Chapman’s ideas may stem from anecdotal research, he holds a Master’s degree in anthropology (the study of humanity, human behaviour, human biology, cultures, societies and linguistics), from Wheaton College, Illinois, so he is at least a bit qualified to make observations like this.

But is there any truth in Chapman’s observations?

In 2006, a study was carried out by Nichole Egbert and Denise Polk aiming to test the validity behind Chapman’s claims.

Egbert and Polk surmised the five love languages by saying: “he [Chapman] argues that romantic partners should fill one another’s love tanks by ‘‘speaking’’ their partner’s ‘‘love languages’’ (LLs) to enhance relational quality” (p19).

This study found, that while they looked at a small sample number, there was at least “some psychometric validity” (p.25) to Chapman’s ideas. However, Egbert and Polk also pointed out that further research on a bigger sample size was required to fully test Chapman’s theory.

But why is any of this important? Does it matter?

Well, as per Chapman’s observations, we all have a “love tank” which is either filled or not throughout the course of a relationship.

Chapman then says, if you “fill” your partner’s love tank, this will serve to enhance and deepen the relationship between you.

Therefore, it is important to know your own love language so you can know what you need in a relationship to make you feel fulfilled and happy with your partner.

Chapman also noted that most couples don’t share the same love language which makes it important to not only understand your own, but to understand your partner’s as well because if you don’t, problems could arise.

For example, if your partner’s love language is quality time, they may want nothing more after a hard day at work to come home and tell you all about their day and have you listen to them fully. But if you prefer to come home and curl up on the couch for a TV marathon, this can lead to your partner feeling like you don’t value what they have to say, and they may even feel like you don’t care about them.

If we assume that the public will buy-in to these claims (‘The Five Love Languages’ was a New York Times bestseller so it was certainly popular), the five love languages are important because they can help to make you and your partner feel happy and loved within your relationship.

So, if you find that there’s something missing in your relationship but not quite sure what it is, try to understand your love language because that might hold the key to relationship fulfilment.