Love languages and cultural differences

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Even love can get lost in translation if you and your partner speak different love languages. 

Decades ago, the words ‘love’ and ‘language’ were not used as a stand-alone noun. However, since then, an author and counsellor, Dr Gary Chapman, has written a book – ‘The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts’ and introduced the world to his concept of love.

Now, the different types of love languages are a worldwide sensation. 

We are here to examine love intricately and share some of our thoughts about the types of love languages, the geographical influence on love and the diversity of love across cultures!

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts

In his book, Dr. Chapman explains that we all experience and express love differently. To make your partner feel loved, you simply need to learn their love language – and vice versa. 

In the introduction of the book, Dr. Chapman wrote:

“Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse may be as different as Chinese from English.  No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other.”

By now, we know that relationships require hard work to keep them afloat, and the key to getting started is learning love languages. 

The 5 languages are a tool to help you express your love not only deeply – but also in a way where your love actually reaches your partner. 

The concept of love languages is quite simple. Each ‘language’ is simply a way of expressing love. Once you learn all the types, you need to find out which love language you and your partner respond to most – and then use it regularly. 

People express love in unique and different ways – all wrapped in beautiful layers of their upbringings, personalities, environments, and needs. Hence, do keep in mind that the love languages mentioned in this article are the five overarching themes of Chapman’s research – and not a universal determiner of love itself. 

Lastly, love is so diverse that it appears and exists in cultures in ways so complex – yet so universally understood. 

Origin of Love Languages

If you type ‘What is my love language’ into Google, you may come across the 5 types and a quiz to learn more about how you express love. Occasionally, Google may show you results such as ‘gift giving’ based on your search history.

We all throw around the term ‘love language’ very frequently. In fact, the New York Times wrote that love languages have become ‘a cultural phenomenon and shorthand for anything that brings a person joy.’ 

The concept has become so popular that people have started joking about it. For example, many people, especially young adults, write that spamming memes in their friend’s DMs is their love language. Maybe helping your girlfriend wear their make-up is yours? 

Where did the original concept of love languages come from? 

Gary Chapman first introduced it in his book – ‘The 5 Love Languages’.

Chapman, who is a pastor and a marriage counsellor, first described the five unique ways people express love. 

In an interview, Chapman shared that his counselling experience greatly influenced his insights about love languages. He started noticing patterns in how couples express and interpret love. 

Also See: How Do I Tell If He Loves Me – 15 Signs to Look Out For

Interestingly, Chapman’s theory also aligns with the literature on attachment styles and communication. 

His work noted that the real value of love is to be more attentive to your partner. To maintain a relationship, he writes that you first have to consider the needs and wants of the other person and then adjust your own behaviour. 

Understanding your partner’s love language and adjusting your actions accordingly can help improve your relationship.

What Are Love Languages?

Love languages are ways to express your feelings to a partner and identify the love you receive from them. You can use Chapman’s concept not only to understand how romantic relationships work but also to improve your friendships and familial bonds.

The 5 languages are a two-way concept because while you may express love in a certain way, you may want to receive it in another.  

Using the love languages framework, you can let your partner know what action makes you feel the most loved and also begin to understand how your needs differ from any other signs your partner shows. 

The five love languages are: words of affirmation (eg encouragements), acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch (ie sexual and platonic touch).

While you may have a few preferred ways of expressing love, the concept suggests that you may have a better relationship if you instead focus on your partner’s preferred ways of receiving love. 

The core idea is that we all have an ‘emotional love tank’ that we need our loved ones to consistently fill for us. The more our love tank is full, the more loved and adored we may feel. 

Similarly, you may need to fill up their love tank to make your partner feel loved. To do so, you may have to learn how to ‘speak’ your partner’s love languages. 

What Are the Five Love Languages?

Words of Affirmation

The first type of love language is all about verbal expressions of love and affection. Words of affirmation mean expressing your love through words – either spoken or written (ie texts or letters).

Your primary love language may be words of affirmation if you like hearing ‘I love you’ often or like receiving words of encouragement. 

The most important thing about this love language is to be authentic. If talking is not your thing, you can write a little note or text them. The modality does not matter – it is about letting your loved one know you care with your words! 

For a partner, tell them you love them regularly or send a quick text to let them know they are on your mind. A simple ‘I’m thinking about you right now’ could make them feel loved. 

As for friends and family, you could check in on them throughout the day. Send them your encouragement (if they have an interview/exam coming up), or simply exchange regular updates about how your day is going and what you would like to do with them.

Make sure to use less generic and more specific words of affirmations – as these may feel more meaningful to the recipient! 

Below are some words of affirmation you can use:

  • “Love you lots.”
  • “You mean a lot to me.”
  • “I’m so proud of you.”
  • “Thank you for being my friend/partner.”
  • “You are amazing.”

Acts of Service

The concept of ‘acts of service’ as a love language is about showing love through actions rather than words. 

If you firmly believe that what you do is more important than what you say, this might be your primary way of expressing affection.

Acts of service are not just about grand romantic gestures. Rather, these acts are those little things you do to make someone’s day a bit easier or brighter. 

It is not confined to romantic relationships either – your family and friends can feel loved through these actions too.

You might deeply appreciate it when someone does a chore for you without being asked. Or perhaps you are the one who is always ready to lend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on for a friend.

See: Have No Friends? Here’s How to Thrive

It is these small, thoughtful acts that really count, like making a cup of coffee for someone in the morning or running an errand for a friend who’s swamped.

Below are some ideas to express love through acts of service:

  • Spontaneously taking your partner on a date – just because!
  • Preparing a relaxing bubble bath for your partner if they have a rough day. 
  • Helping out a friend with their lunch or dinner, especially if they are busy with assignments or work. 
  • Letting your loved one pick the movie for the night, even if it is not your favourite.
  • Picking up a small gift that you know they will love, just to see them smile.

Receiving Gifts

The third love language is receiving gifts. Gifts are not about materialism or chasing after luxury items. Instead, it is the sentiment and effort behind each gift that makes a person feel truly loved and adored. 

If receiving gifts is your love language, you care about thoughtfulness. Here’s how you can tell if receiving gifts speaks to your heart:

  • You deeply appreciate the time and thought that goes into selecting a gift. 
  • Even the smallest gift from your partner means a lot to you. 
  • You feel hurt when your partner forgets to gift you something during important occasions (ie anniversaries or birthdays). 

For people with this type of love language, a simple token of affection can mean the world, especially because gifts are a physical representation of love! 

Below are some gift ideas if you want to show someone you care when gifts are their love language:

  • Buy flowers for your partner after a long day at work. 
  • Create a hand-made ‘memory box’ for your friend’s birthday.  (Tip: You can add your pictures, some loving messages for special occasions, and their favourite chocolate or sweet!).
  • Surprise your parent with a neck massager.

Try to choose gifts that resonate with your unique bond – like something that reminds you both of an inside joke or a memorable shared experience!

If receiving gifts is your love language, you care about thoughtfulness.

Quality Time

Spending time together is a part of every relationship – whether platonic or romantic. However, people with this type of love language perceive quality time as a key expression of love. 

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Spending quality time together with a partner is all about valuing the time spent in each other’s company, with full attention and no distractions.

If lack of quality time with a loved one leaves you feeling disconnected or unloved, then quality time might be your primary love language. 

If your partner’s love language is quality time, they may feel valuable when you go out of your way to spend time together with them. 

Quality time can vary from person to person. For some, it could mean spending a few minutes together daily, while for others, it could involve engaging in planned activities. 

For example, elaborate activities could include Saturday movie night, attending parties frequently, dining out every Sunday, or going on a relaxed date once a week!

The only important thing to keep in mind with this type of love language is to be fully present

Below are some ideas to spend quality time with your loved ones:

  • Spend a few minutes cuddling in bed each morning before starting the day.
  • Create a weekly date night tradition (Note: Your date could be something as simple and budget-friendly as watching a movie or as grand as having a fancy meal).
  • Put in time for a call with your friends in your shared calendar. This way, regardless of how hectic things get, you will find time to share space with your friend. 
  • Put away your phone during conversations or activities to show you are fully engaged.

Physical Touch

The fifth and last love language is physical touch. As the name suggests, if your love language is touch, you feel loved through sharing and receiving affection through physical expressions. 

Please note that when we talk about physical touch, we talk about appropriate and consensual physical interactions. Your intimacy should be based on the situation and the nature of your relationship with the other person. 

For example, your partner’s love language may be physical touch. However, it does not directly indicate that touching them just to cheer them up is okay. 

When showing physical intimacy, it is important to be aware of their active willingness and your own comfort in providing the same. 

Physical touch might be your love language if:

  • You feel lonely or upset without physical affection from your partner(s).
  • You feel deeply loved and adored when your partner gives you random kisses or hugs.
  • You are naturally inclined towards physical expressions of affection and don’t shy away from public displays of affection (PDA).

Affection can be expressed through simple actions like hugging, massaging, or snuggling.  In certain relationships, touch could mean intimate forms of contact, such as kissing or engaging in sexual activities.

Some ways to show love through physical touch include:

  • Greeting or saying goodbyes with a soft kiss on the cheek. 
  • Being openly affectionate by hugging or holding hands. 
  • Enjoying time cuddling in bed.
  • Offering comforting touches or holding your partner to help them recharge after a long day.

All and any sort of physical touch should be initiated with active and enthusiastic consent from your partner.

Love languages can include consensual physical touch - either in the form sexual or platonic touch.

Thinking Beyond Different Love Languages

Love languages offer us a good framework for understanding love. However, the major criticism that the theory received by scholars has to do with cultural and geographical factors. 

Cultural Influence on the Five Love Languages

Our cultural backgrounds and upbringings are deeply connected to the way we express and feel love. 

Culture is a huge term that includes various elements, such as our beliefs, values, traditions, languages, and even art and history. Therefore, culture shapes how we see ourselves, interact with others, and how we respond to love. 

To understand the influence of culture on love languages, let’s explore the concepts of individualism and collectivism in love. 

Individualism versus Collectivism

On one hand, individualistic cultures are all about personal freedom, expressing yourself, and standing out as, well, an individual. 

On the other hand, collectivistic cultures place more value on group harmony and the sense of being part of a community. 

If you are from an individualistic culture, chances are you prefer straightforward conversations, honesty, and being open in your romantic chats. You are likely to use words of affirmation and quality time to show love. 

However, in collectivistic cultures, people are usually more subtle about their emotional expressions. If you are from a collectivistic culture, you may prefer showing your love through actions (eg a hug or a shoulder to cry on) or doing something thoughtful for your partner (eg buying gifts). 

For example, many Asian families have a collectivist culture and prefer subtle forms of expression over straightforward ones. 

Geographical Influence on the Five Love Languages

Geography could also play a major role in our understanding of love. 

Our geography could include where we are in the world – the climate, the landscape, what is around us, how many people are nearby, and whether we live in a city or countryside. 

Two concepts that can help us further understand the geographical influence include proximity and environmental stress. 

Proximity and Environmental Stress

Firstly, proximity is how close or far you are from someone. It is a huge factor in romantic relationships. 

Being physically close could mean that you are likely to see each other more, get to know each other better, and feel more drawn to each other. 

The closeness can be great for building intimacy, trust, and commitment. 

However, being close all the time could also lead to more conflicts, feelings of boredom, or taking each other for granted. 

Secondly, being in a long-distance relationship has its own set of challenges and advantages.  Less frequent contact might make it hard to develop intimacy and trust. Yet, the distance can also keep the excitement alive, bring in new experiences, and help you appreciate each other more.

Another interesting aspect is environmental stress – how easy or tough life is due to our surroundings. 

Living in a high-stress environment (ie extreme temperatures, large crowds, fast-paced city) could lead to negative emotions. These feelings can make romantic communication difficult and may sometimes even lead to arguments.

However, if you are in a more relaxed, low-stress environment, you could experience completely different feelings associated with your love languages. 

For example, if your partner’s love language is quality time, yet they have a busy schedule – your surprise date could trigger a negative reaction instead of them feeling loved. The negative emotion may be related to work-related stress and burnout

If you were to plan the same surprise date during a long vacation (ie Christmas holidays) when your partner is free, then they may feel genuinely loved. 

Tips to Handle Cultural Differences

Below are some tips to help you understand and handle the diversity of love across cultures:

  • Get to know your partner’s cultural background, including values, beliefs, norms, and preferences. This insight will help you understand their love language, needs, and expectations.

  • Understand both your and your partner’s primary and secondary love languages. By focusing on multiple expressions of love, you can fulfil the overall needs of the relationship. 

  • Learn about each other’s communication styles. Observe whether your partner is more inclined towards individualistic or collectivistic values, direct or indirect communication, and verbal or nonverbal forms of expression. Adapting your actions to these styles can help you respect and maintain personal boundaries and reduce conflicts.

  • Approach your partner’s culture and geography with an open mind, curiosity, respect, and empathy. An open-minded attitude will help you to value their uniqueness, gain from their viewpoints, and support them in their challenges.

  • Be flexible, adventurous, creative, and enjoy life with your partner in a way that makes both of you feel loved and appreciated! 

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