Reading for Treasure

The Myth of the Three Little Words

Posted at Feb 22, 2017 8:00 am

Almost everyone believes that all relationship woes can be fixed with those three little words. You know the ones I mean. The “I love you” words. When the words don’t work their magic, we feel betrayed. Let down.

We’re conditioned to believe those words are all we need.  Movies, books, songs—all lead us to expect the words “I love you” to fix everything. But those words rarely tell the whole story.

In his book “The Five Languages of Love: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to you Mate” Gary Chapman delves into relationships, perceptions and what makes people feel love from a mate, family member, or friend.  It turns out that people give—and receive—love in specific ways, or what Chapman calls languages. Some lucky people speak more than one love language, but most of us have a strong preference for one or two of the languages.

Disconnects come when two people have different primary love languages.  Imagine a person who speaks only Chinese trying to say “I love you” to someone who speaks only German. Is it any wonder that both will misunderstand each other?

The five love languages Chapman identified (and my interpretations of those languages) are:

Words of Affirmation For those who value words of affirmation most of all, saying “I love you” may be enough. Affirming the relationship verbally is meaningful to them.  Words of affirmation people want to hear how much they mean to their loved ones.  They are the people who will tell you that you did a good job or that you are important to them. They’re verbal and expect their mates to put feelings into words. A stunningly perfect example would be in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire” when Jerry utters these works “I love you. You complete me.” Maguire (1996)

Acts of Service Those who speak this language, perceive love when their mates take action.  Want to tell an acts of service person you love them? Wash her car, or take over the chore of laundry if she hates it. Mow the grass or trim the bushes for him. Acts of service people think actions speak louder than words because for them, they do. An accurate—if cliché and dated—example is the hero who spreads his cloak over a muddy street so his beloved won’t get her feet wet. And who can forget the classic movie “The Princess Bride?” During the first scenes, the heroine demands the hero do chores for her. He complies with each request, uttering the simple words “as you wish.” In a true example of acts of service love “. . . she was amazed to discover that when he was saying ‘as you wish’ what he meant was ‘I love you.’”

Quality Time If quality time is your primary language, you’ll feel most loved when a spouse focuses on you-rather than his phone or her TV show. Sitting side by side on the couch doing separate things won’t cut it. The quality time person wants eye-contact, active listening and open communication. Alternatively, plan a date or outing that focuses on an activity that you both enjoy. It might be a walk, a game of mini-golf or sharing a glass of wine on the deck. Want a movie example? Easy! Think of the kite flying scene in Mary Poppins (1964) when Mr. and Mrs. Banks put aside their careers and interests to have fun with the children.

handsPhysical Closeness Some people feel most loved when they are physically close to another person. These people are highly tactile and the sense of touch is what communicates love to them. Hand holding, back rubs, pats on the shoulder—all are meaningful to a physical closeness person. The touch need not be sexual. In fact if it is simply affectionate, it’s probably all the more powerful for them. Babies are prime examples of people who speak this language. Holding a fussy baby communicates safety, security and love. As tactile people, they are likely to surround themselves with other tactile sensations—silky fabrics, soft fur, extra fluffy bath towels. As an example, think of just about any scene from the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing, where characters “Baby” (Jennifer Grey) and “Johnny” (Patrick Swayze) are together!

Gifts This category is the one most easily misunderstood.  The person whose language is gifts love the small and thoughtful. It’s not that they are materialistic, but the gift—and more importantly the thought that goes into choosing it—speaks volumes to them. It may be a funny card, a piece of their favorite candy or a single flower picked from the yard. The monetary value is of far less important than the act of giving something thoughtful. Who didn’t melt when, in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the Beast gifts Bell with his library—because he knows what she values.

Once you understand the concepts of the love languages, it becomes easier to connect with others.

You can identify your own primary and secondary love languages at

Consider an acts of service person who is mated with a words of affirmation person. He’ll clean the garage and change the oil in the car to say “I love you” but she won’t understand because he can’t bring himself to say the actual words

Meanwhile, she’ll tell him what a good job he’s doing with the kids and how much she appreciates him, but he may not hear what she’s really saying.  To him, she’s spouting words—which are easy—and not backing them up with actions.

See how easy it is for them to misconnect? Each is saying “I love you” in ways that are meaningful to them but being misunderstood. Like the Chinese and German speakers who can’t figure out how to bridge the language gap.

When I took the quiz I was split almost equally between all of the languages except words of affirmation. It reminded me to listen closely when someone says words of affirmation to me and to realize that they may be expressing love. But if you want me to really get the message, couple those words with a hug or a small gift!

Pick up any favorite book where lovers are trying to overcome challenges and you may find that the real issues between them are the love languages they speak.

What’s your love language? And isn’t it time you became multilingual?


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