What makes you feel most loved? Is it a text from a friend who knew you had a job interview today? A hug that’s a little longer than usual? Quality, unplanned one-on-one time? I, for one, love it when my partner picks me up a little treat from the store, even if I said I didn’t want anything.

When two people constantly express their love for each other in a way the other person can’t understand, all that love can get lost in translation. It’s like speaking a language their partner doesn’t really know. It doesn’t matter how many dishes you wash for your partner when all they want is a kiss.

“It doesn’t matter how many dishes you wash for your partner when all they want is a kiss.”

Or, maybe you buy your partner an expensive gift that doesn’t make them as happy as you hoped because they want to take the day off together and do something fun. Everyone expresses love differently, and everyone receives it differently, too.

The five love languages categorize the ways we express and receive love into five neat sections. They’ve been used by relationship counselors for over three decades and can help couples learn more about one another and strengthen their relationships.

They don’t just apply to romantic relationships, either—everyone expresses love, care, respect, and affection differently to everyone in their life. Understanding your own love language and the languages of those around you can help strengthen your friendships, work relationships, and family bonds, too.

While the five love languages provide a useful framework, they’ve been expanded upon by relationship experts over the years. Sex and relationship coach and author Anne Hodder-Shipp CSE detailed 18 love languages in their 2021 book, Speaking from the Heart: 18 Languages for Modern Love

They emphasize the nuanced nature of the concept of love languages, explaining that no one “is” one of the love languages. “They’re not an identity or a category of person,” Hodder-Shipp says. “They’re simply a helpful theory meant to offer a tangible tool for exploring our relationship to love.”

They liken modern love languages to world languages—having different love languages might look like speaking “Mandarin to folks who only understand Spanish,” says Hodder-Shipp, “but blaming them for the miscommunication.”

The original five love languages include words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each of these languages, along with more modern interpretations of the love language concept.

Words of Affirmation

If you feel most loved when you hear the words “I love you” or other verbal encouragement, your love language might be words of affirmation—you like to hear nice things. 

If you notice something on someone, like a new haircut, nail color, or pair of shoes, say something nice! When a Words of Affirmation Person doesn’t hear you say anything to them, they might assume you’re not thinking of them at all.

This is a great platonic way to express love, too: Most people love a simple compliment. If a partner, friend, or family member thrives on this kind of verbal affection, put in the effort to give them regular compliments, tell them you appreciate them, or thank them for something they did. Texts work great here if you’re not very verbally affectionate—checking in on them throughout the day can go far.

Quality Time

Someone who receives affection most effectively through quality time appreciates one-on-one time with loved ones to feel a stronger connection. This can look like a planned date where you’re doing something fun together, just the two of you, or a simple chat over dinner at the end of the day. Undivided attention is the key here.

If someone you love most appreciates quality time, make time for them even if you think you’re too busy. When you’re spending time with them, avoid looking at your phone. If you have to bail on plans or you’re not available to do something they want to do with you, make sure to suggest a different time. These folks might feel brushed to the side if quality time with you is hard to plan.

Physical Touch

Some people are very touchy-feely, and others are the opposite. A physical touch person is the former, expressing love regularly with hugs and cuddles. In a romantic relationship, they might like holding hands and other forms of PDA and want regular displays of physical affection throughout the day. Sex is likely an important part of a relationship for them.

Physical touch can also be an important part of a family relationship between a parent and child or between siblings. Folks who like to experience affection through physical touch feel most loved when their partner or loved one gives them unprompted physical affection, like a hug, a kiss, or even something as simple as playing with their hair. 

Acts of Service

Actions speak louder than words to you if you best experience love through acts of service. These can look like everyday chores—a common example is a married couple who do chores for each other without being asked, like dishes and laundry. But these aren’t the only acts of service.

Any sort of unprompted and unconditional favor is an act of service, like when you cook a meal for a family member who needs the help; you send a friend links that might help with a problem they’re having; you go and grab the car when it’s raining; or you clean up before you leave someone’s house. In a romantic partnership, these acts do often look like housework, but they could also be making a phone call that needs to be made or cooking a special dinner just because. Acts of service help to lighten someone’s load, even if only by a little. 

Receiving Gifts

Receiving gifts might be important to someone not because they’re materialistic and want to acquire expensive things but because a gift is physical proof that you were thinking of them. 

It’s not about the price of the gift here, but the thought that went into it. Maybe they grab you a treat from the store on the way home even if you didn’t say you wanted anything, or they might surprise you with a plant or flowers. If a friend or family member appreciates receiving gifts, you might print out a photo of a shared memory together.

If your partner’s love language is receiving gifts, try to put extra thought into birthday or holiday gifts—they’ll likely do the same for you, as gifts are a great opportunity to connect over shared interests or special events.

Modern Love Languages

Note that most of these love language tips apply to anyone, no matter their preferred love language. It’s always a good idea to stay off your phone when spending time with someone, fit your loved ones into your busy schedule, tell someone they mean a lot to you, or put extra thought into giving a meaningful gift. 

“Keep in mind that the original five were developed with married heterosexual couples as the target audience.”

Keep in mind that the original five were developed with married heterosexual couples as the target audience. As gender norms have become less rigid, a husband doing the dishes for a night is less of an act of service and more simply being an equal participant in the household. (The five languages were in desperate need of an update!)

Last year Truity, a California-based personality test and research company, published research that said that there are seven updated languages for romantic couples: Activity, when you and your partner do something fun together; Appreciation, when you give your partner compliments or thanks; Emotional, when you support your partner through difficult emotions; Financial, when you’re generous with your resources; Intellectual, when you connect with your partner by discussing meaningful issues; Physical when you express your affection through touch; and Practical, when you lighten your partner’s load, via chores or otherwise. These seven languages are geared toward our more modern romantic partnerships that focus less on the division of labor and more on emotional support and showing up for your partner.

Hodder-Shipp’s 18 love languages are more specific and personalized than the original five and were designed to apply to all kinds of relationships, not just long-term heterosexual monogamy. Examples include Solidarity, Platonic Touch, Intentional Time, and Personal Growth. 

Hodder-Shipp says that we don’t just fall into one of five categories. Instead, they use the concept of love languages as a jumping-off point to explore how people show and receive love differently and how learning about your partner’s preferred ways to express love is just one tool to deepen your connection.

“Experiencing and expressing love is deeply individual and personal, and like all feelings, love is fluid.”

Anne Hodder-Shipp CSE

“Expecting our partner to fulfill our need for love and affection according to strict ‘love language’ parameters doesn’t let our partners be themselves,” Hodder-Shipp says, “and express their love for us in all the ways that come naturally and bring them joy.”

“Experiencing and expressing love is deeply individual and personal, and like all feelings, love is fluid,” says Hodder-Shipp. Communicating your love language to your partner or a loved one is just one way to connect with those in your life and isn’t the be-all and end-all.

Natalie Gale is a Boston-based freelance journalist. When she’s not writing about art, food, or sustainability, you can find her biking to the farmers’ market, baking, sewing, or planning her next Halloween costume. Say hi on Instagram!