It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a Christian should love others every day of the year. Whether or not a Christian (currently) has a date or a soulmate, he/she has two duties: “[Love] the Lord your God with all your heart… [and] love your neighbor as yourself” (English Standard Version, Matthew 22:37, 39). However, a Christian may struggle to think of specific examples or expressions of love that he/she can regularly apply.
In a book called The Five Love Languages for Singles (published in 2004), Christian author Gary Chapman describes five “languages” or expressions of love: verbal affirmation, gift-giving, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. Although someone can show love through all five expressions, people often have favorite or “primary” love languages. For instance, a person may gladly accept presents from friends, but he/she may prefer spending time with friends over getting gifts. By understanding other people’s primary love languages, Christians can clearly express how well they know and how much they care about the people they love.
One of the most direct ways to understand someone’s primary love language is to ask him/her. However, according to Chapman, “by nature…we [often] express love to others in a language that would make us feel loved” (30). In other words, you may be able to learn someone’s primary love language just by observing how he/she shares love with others.
Verbal affirmation is the first expression of love discussed in the book. People who have this as their primary love language may be constantly giving compliments or seeking affirmation from others. There are many types of verbal affirmation: you can encourage someone who is stressed, praise or thank someone for their actions, or simply say, “I love you.” You can write a long, touching letter or a few words on a sticky note. Regardless, it takes a conscious mind and a sincere heart to express love through words.
Gift-giving is the second expression. Although you don’t always have to give gifts to others, gifts are supposed to be symbols of love and generosity. If a person’s primary love language is gift-giving, he/she may hold onto certain gifts for years because of the memories associated with them. Before getting a gift for a loved one, you should take time to observe that person’s personality, interests, and needs. Your gift can range from an expensive necklace to a 99-cent Slurpee to a box full of long-desired office supplies. Your gift doesn’t have to be expensive. People who have this love language aren’t typically as focused on the price of the gift as much as the thought. These individuals are touched that someone thought to get them something to show they loved them.
Acts of service, the third expression, show how much time and effort we would spend to help those we love. Although all relationships involve responsibilities, you shouldn’t feel reluctant or forced to serve; service is a choice that comes from humility and goodwill. Whether you’re helping with an errand, washing dishes, or cleaning someone’s car, acts of service often ease stress for people who are usually busy or planning to get large projects done. In some cases, you should ask other people in advance if they want your help. Otherwise, it may seem rude or unsettling if you do someone else’s chores or tasks without permission.
Quality time is the fourth expression. Since time is a limited resource, spending time with someone shows self-sacrifice. Quality time can be as simple as sharing dinner at a restaurant, walking to the park, or watching a movie. People typically choose activities they both enjoy, but if you and your loved one have different interests, you should be open-minded to activities you’re not used to. (In the latter case, you and your loved one should take turns choosing activities.) The most important part of quality time is undivided attention: you should try to “stay in the moment” and put aside any potential distractions. If a loved one wants to talk with you about his/her thoughts or feelings, you should do your best to listen to what they have to say before responding.
Physical touch is the fifth expression. Physical touch can be a hug, a kiss, or even a pat on the shoulder to comfort someone. (In the book, Chapman gives more specific advice on how to “speak” this love language.) Although social distancing has slowed down the spread of sicknesses, it has created some challenges and/or frustration for people who see themselves as “huggers”. Although we can still express love in other ways, this negative side-effect of social distancing shows how physical touch is a valuable love language. Through physical touch, we know that other people love us without having to hear them say a word.
By learning all five love languages, Christians can know how to best express their love for each other. Some love languages may seem “unnatural” and will take extra time and effort to understand. However, Chapman reminds readers, “Love requires effort. Often love requires learning a love language you have never spoken” (62). Taking the time to discern and speak someone’s primary love language reveals your commitment to understanding him/her and making sure he/she feels loved.
The book The Five Love Languages for Singles is available at the Regent Library. If you want to learn more information about this topic, or if you want to learn what your primary love language is, you can also visit the Five Love Languages website.