The idea of love languages is that we all express love differently – physical touching, buying gifts, giving compliments and so on – and recognizing that others may not express love in the same way that we ourselves do can help keep relationships strong. But there's not been much research done to back that idea up.
A new study offers some new insight: based on a survey of 100 heterosexual couples, people whose partners use love languages they prefer to receive reported higher levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction.
It works the other way too – it seems as though if you're expressing love in a way that's pleasing to your partner, then you're likely to get more satisfaction out of the relationship as well. It's a win-win situation, based on this sample.
"Our findings suggest that people who better match each other's preferences for love languages are more satisfied with their relationships and sexual life," the researchers said in a press release.
The five main love languages, as set down by author and talk show host Gary Chapman in a book published in the early 1990s, are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Chapman asserted that to meet our need to feel loved, we need to be loved using the languages we prefer.
While the idea makes sense, Chapman's proposition emerged out of personal experience. There's been little research into whether it has merit, or is simply overhyped pop-psychology.
This new study demonstrates a clear link in its use, though isn't enough to prove causality – that is to show that it's the use of love languages specifically that is leading to increased satisfaction in relationships.
The same correlation was found in both men and women, although female volunteers scored more highly in terms of expressing a need to feel loved – especially in the categories of quality time and words of affirmation. The researchers suggest that women may notice the application (or lack of application) of love languages more than men.
"Possibly, men are more focussed on fulfilling the social role of being in a committed relationship than specific affectionate behaviors, whereas women require more visible signs of love from their partner," the researchers wrote in their published paper.
There was one link that the researchers expected to find that didn't show up in the survey responses: namely, a relationship between higher levels of empathy in the participants and a higher likelihood of using their partner's preferred love language.
The participants in the study were aged between 17 and 58 and had been together between 6 months and 24 years. The researchers found no correlation between the length of a relationship and whether or not individuals knew their partner's love language – so more time doesn't necessarily help in figuring out the preferences of the other person.
And while heterosexual couples were the focus in this case, the researchers think that their results are likely to be similar across other sexualities as well. In other words, concentrating on the love languages of others could improve relationships.
"The present findings, particularly the novel way to assess matching for love languages presented in the present paper, may be important for the subsequent research in the field of the romantic relationships," the researchers wrote.
"They also provide useful practical implications for marital and family counseling, as well as for laymen who aim to improve the quality of their relationship."
The research has been published in PLOS One.