Almost 30 years ago, Gary Chapman wrote a book that gave couples a fresh way to look at their relationships. After reading The 5 Love Languages, many who thought that love would forever elude their marriage discovered that their mate was simply “speaking” a different love language than them. By learning to speak the primary love language of our partner, we’re able to communicate the love we feel in a way that helps them feel most loved.
What does this have to do with the senior in your life? We’ll get to that momentarily. But first, what are the five love languages?
The Five Love Languages
In a nutshell, the five love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Let’s try to summarize how they work with an example.
Perhaps receiving gifts is how you feel most loved. You probably give little gifts to those whom you love, because that’s how you communicate love. But if they don’t react the way you would react, you may feel confused. Resentful even. Their reaction probably has less to do with you and the wonderful gift you shared and more to do with their primary love language.
Say their primary love language is words of affirmation. In that case, they may not seem to appreciate your gift but they melt whenever you offer them an encouraging word. (In fact, now that you think about it, that person hardly ever offers you a gift unless it’s a special occasion, but they’re effusive in the way they affirm and encourage you verbally.)
The essence of the five love languages is to recognize your primary love language as well as the primary love language of the people in your life toward whom you want to express love. If it’s acts of service, physical touch is no substitute. If it’s quality time, words of affirmation will fall on deaf ears. (Or at least, ears that are hard of hearing.)
Seniors and the Five Love Languages
Chapman and his team have spun off other related titles related to the workplace and your children, but I thought it would be appropriate to think about this from the perspective of our aging spouses, parents, and grandparents. Don’t you think they have a primary love language?
With that in mind, here are some ways to practically flesh out the five love languages for your senior.
Words of Affirmation
Write your loved one a note or when you speak to them on the phone, clearly express what they’ve meant to you. Tell them what a great husband or mom or grandfather they’ve been. Be specific regarding a memory or an action they took that blessed your life.
Acts of Service
Offer to pitch in and help, whether it’s de-cluttering, taking out the garbage, or cleaning up after a meal. Ask if there’s something they’ve been needing to do but didn’t want to do because of the risk, like getting something out of the attic or hanging a picture.
Brainstorm gift ideas. They don’t have to be big and expensive, but they should be thoughtful. A candle. A refrigerator magnet. A pair of warm socks. All these gifts express love in a way that a senior who “speaks” receiving gifts can understand.
This one can be tricky, but you’re going to have to set aside time just to be with your loved one. In a world affected by the pandemic, that could mean a lengthy phone call, a FaceTime or Zoom get-together, or an in-person visit. If your loved one is in a long-term care facility, visit in person as often as they’ll let you but linger on the call when a telephone visit is all you’re allowed.
This is the most challenging in our COVID world. A pat on the hand can be meaningful. A brief hug might be appropriate. And if the facility your loved one resides at doesn’t allow these actions, advocate for a hugging station where contact happens without actual skin to skin contact. Naturally, you should take every recommended precaution when engaging in physical touch.
February is a month we think about love. And while Italian and French are oft considered romantic languages, nothing says “I love you” more than using your loved one’s primary love language to communicate their importance to you.