11

Recently, I decided to learn more about Love languages.

According to this website, here is a list of the various way people can show appreciation for someone:

  • Physical touch
  • Gift giving
  • Words of affirmation
  • Act of service
  • Quality time

I then asked myself what "love language" the people in my family talk. For some of them it was quite easy to figure out but for others (like my big sister), I'm still struggling.

Question

How can I determine what love language someone speaks?

My aim here is to be able to offer more "valuable" gifts to my loved ones which means I would (ideally) like to know what "love gesture" they will care the most about. However, knowing that "they don't really care about love gesture X but they care about Y" would still be valuable information.

Also, I'm more interested in solutions that don't involve "directly asking" but rely more on observation. An ideal solution would be for me to just "go through my memories" and find the answer I'm looking for.

What I have thought about doing (and why it won't work)

  • Just ask them "what is your love language." But since (as far as I know) my family doesn't even know what a "love language" is, they won't be able to answer this question.

  • I also thought about asking them with concrete examples like:

    Would you rather I give you this fluffy unicorn or spend time with you in this aqua-park?

    But the risk here is that the "fluffy unicorn" was a terrible idea to begin with and just changing the examples would draw completely different answers and conclusions.

Also (as you may have noticed) none of these solutions rely on observations.

More about my big sister

(please note that if you have a solution that would work for every person, that would be highly appreciated)

My mother always complained that I "never do anything with [her]" so it was easy to figure that she values quality time a lot. My little sister is a big hugger so, I figure she might be on the "Physical touch" side.

However, my big sister tends to keep her emotions and feelings inside her which makes it harder for me to determine her "love language".

Notes and clarifications

  • I don't really have a time frame here (even if having the response now would be much appreciated). And if the answer involves seeing the person face to face, it would still be a valid answer.

  • My family probably won't agree to take a quiz about love languages (even if some of them might accept, a lot of them won't). They won't care enough, think it's silly/stupid/not science and not worth there time. Also, some of them don't really speak English and I can't find a quiz in French.

  • 1
    Are you only interested in answers that fit inside of the "love language" framing? – Upper_Case Mar 20 at 18:04
  • 1
    @Upper_Case I'm not sure of what you have in mind. However, the most important point to me is to discover what they like/don't care about. So, if your answer response to that, I think it's good for me. – Ælis Mar 21 at 7:33
8

Theory

Let's begin by diving into what The Five Love Languages fundamentally are.

From the page linked, it's defined as a theory. It's a conceptual system for determining how a person best gives and receives acts of love. It's a heuristic analogy for helping people understand themselves and others. I would say it's rather abstract and not universally understood and recognized (as you mentioned in your question).

This is extremely important to the bottom line of determining someone's love language. It is always going to involve a comparison to the known criteria of the theoretical model created by The Five Love Languages. There really is no subtle easy method for determining one's language, aside from having them directly do introspection themselves.

Problems

Discovering someone's love language involves these common problems:

  1. They have a misunderstanding of what the languages are and mean.
  2. The person you ask has a nonchalant outlook on the languages.
  3. Requirement for directness. Just figuring it out through subtle queues and observations is going to require a lot of time and substantial amounts of effort. You'll have to be especially observant of their behavior.

These are problems simply because of the nature/complexity of the subject and they need to be acknowledged when we're attempting to figure how someone communicates love/affection.

Solution

I would say the easiest way to do this is to create a list of different scenarios illustrating each love language and have it written down in some form (like a numbered list):

  1. I give you (some small item they might like) when I see you.
  2. I spend several hours (doing something they like) with you.
  3. I tell you how great you are for being (x, y, z qualities you find admirable about them).
  4. I do the dishes for you (or some task they might like done) while you're gone.
  5. I give you a heartfelt hug after you come back from a long day.

Tailor this list into something that would better suit the individual you wish to discover. They can then rate all of these in order of importance to themself. It's way easier than trying to ask them and verbally give examples.

Just give them the list and say something like this:

I'm trying to figure out how I can better communicate affection and love with my family and friends. Could you check this list I made and rate things that are most important to you from me?

If it's love languages you're after, you're going to probably want to ask them directly in some way. Waiting based on observations as I mentioned before may take a lot of time and patience. A physical list they can rate themselves is an excellent idea because it's simple, not as awkward as preparing an elaborate speech, and retrieves the qualities you wish to know because it still has enough (but not too much) directness. :)

  • 3
    And I would love to add to your last line: This request in itself is already such an cute expression of love! I would blush and feel so loved if someone would ever hand me such a list with that request. :D – dhein Mar 21 at 6:35
  • Hi Anilla! Looking at the wikipedia link you used, I don't see it supporting your claims about Love Languages in the first three paragraphs directly. Could you use a quote, perhaps? As for your proposed solution, it could do with some citation as well. Do you have any experience doing this? Could you describe the results you got when doing this? Or are there any outside sources recommending this approach as well? – Tinkeringbell Mar 21 at 9:47
  • 1
    In a way, this list is a gift (something given to make the recipient happy), an offer of quality time (invitation to have a heartfelt conversation), words of affirmation (it includes a list of admired qualities) and an act of service (effort expended to make the recipient's life better), all in one. I don't know that it fully fulfills the asker's goal of 'don't ask directly', but I still love this answer. – Meg Mar 21 at 21:16
5

Watch what they do for others that they care about

This isn't especially precise, but what I have done when trying to figure out this sort of thing is to watch what people do when they want to make a gesture towards someone else. If someone expresses a lot of compliments towards someone they care about, they might like the same in return. At minimum you have some evidence that they think that behavior is worthwhile.

I often find that people do not spend enough time in reflection or introspection to necessarily know what modes of interaction they have the best emotional response to, so I typically feel that this kind of information is the most generally available and reliable information possible. Using the "love language" framework as a conceptual guide seems like it can be really useful in helping to organize and interpret these observations (I'm not a proponent of the framework, so I can't speak to that from experience), but I wouldn't expect any given person to be able to describe themselves well in terms of that framework.

This isn't a perfect approach-- some people will do things that they happen to know others like, not because they themselves value that interaction but because they know how it will be received. For example, someone that doesn't really like physical contact might still make a point of hugging relatives at an emotional event like a wedding or funeral.

And some people, perhaps including your sister, don't like to express this type of sentiment. If they dislike all five of the love language modes, then looking for their favorite of those five isn't going to work out no matter what you do. I think that this is rare, and such people tend to respond to gestures (provided that they are the right gestures delivered in the right context), but it does seem to exist.


Quick thoughts on "love languages", conceptual frameworks vs. prescriptions, and overprecision

I'm not an expert on the "love language" concept, which I think is important to state upfront. However, "love languages" seems to me to be pop-psychology presented as a general truth. I'm not trying to disparage the concept, but rather to highlight that it seems to be much more a potentially useful way to think about things than a reliable description of how things are. Its presentation, and the sense I get from how it is described and referred to in the question, suggest to me that there is a real danger of trying to use the idea in a way that is overly precise (beyond what the underlying ideas can actually support).

I could be misreading your intent, but when I see something like a list of the five "official" love languages and a goal of determining which of those five each of your relatives may be, I think that there is some risk of overly relying on the form of the "love language" model at the expense of the intended function of better communication.

I think that the core idea behind the "love language" idea is pretty good: people have different preferences for showing (and being shown) appreciation, and knowing their preferences can really improve communication. Thinking about interactions from that perspective sounds great to me! And to the extent that the "love language" model helps organize those thoughts, I think that's also great. But to the extent that the model itself is held to be comprehensive and prescriptive (there are exactly 5 categories, and you are in one. Which one is it?), it can become more of an obstacle than an aid.

I think of it like the Bohr model of atoms-- useful, and correct in describing some aspects of atomic structure, but definitely incorrect as a model of actual atomic structure. It's really useful as a step in helping new students learn the true state of things, but an argument that relies on the Bohr model's description of what an atom is like is probably wrong.

So, definitely keep trying to find the most effective ways to communicate with the people in your life! I think that that is a noble goal, and more people should pursue it. But don't get too hung up on this specific framework in that effort. It may help in some ways, but it's almost certainly not the whole picture.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.