Love languages were first coined in the best-selling relationship book The Five Love Languages by relationship therapist Gary Chapman, who says that there are five primary ways we express love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving and giving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. The theory is that affectionate actions can be summed up in the aforementioned key categories, and everyone has an inherent favorite way to communicate and receive love using these gestures.
Don’t know your love language? This online quiz will help you figure it out. But before you dig too deep, we have some big news: Experts say that your love language can actually change the longer you’re in a relationship.
Yep. If, right now, you vibe hard with endless cuddles and kisses, down the road you might feel most nurtured when your partner picks up groceries or makes your morning latte and leaves it by your computer. Or maybe receiving weekly gifts from your significant other felt so loving for the first year of your relationship, but now you don’t feel supported unless you spend regular quality time with them.
Ahead, we’re breaking down the whys and hows of love language transformations, and what to do if you begin to notice a change in your emotional needs, or your partner’s.
You grow, so does your love language.
Like many great things in life, love languages are fluid, not fixed. As your relationship grows and evolves, your love language will too.
“Love languages change as needs in the relationship change,” explains Michael Guichet, LMFT. “At different stages our demands on our time change, goals change, and so forth.”
Perhaps at the start of your romance, all you needed was a big squeeze and a reassuring forehead kiss to feel supported — because physical touch was far and away your favorite thing. Now, as your relationship has deepened and become more secure, you are willing to request (and expect) acts of service or words of affirmation, too. If you’re going through a tough time, a back rub probably feels impractical — whereas an uplifting sticky note taped to the fridge or your partner cooking dinner to take the pressure off can make you truly feel cared for. (Development — we love to see it!)
This is essentially what happened to Linda Bloom, LCSW, who calls the process “expanding your soul tank.” While your primary love language could very well remain consistent your entire life, it’s also possible that you will place a greater importance on secondary love languages, both because you need them for joy and security, but also because you deserve the best of the best. Remember: You can have it all, you’re entitled to an abundance of different kinds of love, and a dynamic love language is a manifestation of that. Even if those secondary gestures don’t feel as powerful to you during the outset, you’re allowed to carve out space for them any time.
What to do if your love language does a switcheroo.
We know that love languages do matter. “They are a wonderful tool to understand yourself better in addition to understanding your partner more,” notes Carling Mashinter, marriage and family therapist. “With shared understanding, relationships may increase their longevity and health because expressions of love are better recognized and experienced. We know that admiration and fondness between partners is essential for effective long term relationships and that love languages can be used well to express this.”
The TL;DR is that if your love language changes, you need to have a convo about it with your partner. Or better – make self-reflection and discussing each others’ needs a regular thing. Mashinter says “It is integral to self reflect and identify changes within yourself. Regular check-ins with each other is important to adapt in healthy ways to constantly evolving relationship dynamics.” (BTW, you can check out the podcast Relationship Matters on Spotify where Mashinter goes over communication and connection in more detail.)
Cool, now that you know you have to chit-chat about your feelings, how do you broach that conversation? Guichet says that many people only talk in relationships when things are going wrong, so try to initiate a dialogue about what’s working, accompanied with suggestions for what you or your partner need. “Ask for what you want,” he nudges, “Even knowing that it can be awkward in our society, to voice what you want in a relationship.”
“l believe that a lot of truth telling can take place when there is tact, kindness and an intention to learn together,” Bloom adds. “I always tell my clients and students that it is important to tell the truth without blame and judgment. By declaring intention at the beginning of the conversation, that you want to learn and grow together, and that’s why you are bringing up the difficult, vulnerable subject, there is a context that is likely to lead to a successful outcome, where everyone can feel enriched by the conversation.”
Sure, love languages can feel gooey at times, but just like zodiac signs, everyone has one. When in doubt, learn to show your partner every kind of love language, even the ones that feel least effective. The key to long-lasting relationships is communication, and love languages are just a different way of speaking.
A version of this story was published February 2021.
Before you go, make sure you’ve seen our 69 (nice) sex position recommendations for everyone’s bucket list: