Gary Chapman’s five love languages paradigm categorizes the kinds of things that make people feel loved/valued. Here’s the original list:
- receiving gifts
- quality time
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- physical touch
I find this general paradigm useful—the idea that different people have different modes and approaches that make them feel valued—but I want to expand it in a couple of different ways. (These ideas are mostly not original to me.)
First of all, the general paradigm applies to situations other than romantic love. Chapman agrees; he’s written or co-written several books that generalize the idea to other situations. So instead of framing it as “love languages” per se, I’m inclined to frame it in terms of things that make someone feel valued. I’ll say value languages in this post, though I feel like that’s not nearly as catchy a phrase as love languages.
Also, my impression (without having read the books) is that Chapman assumes that what people do for others is generally what they want for themselves. That may often be true, but I feel like someone can have one kind of thing that makes them feel valued, and another kind of thing that they do when trying to make others feel valued. For example, one might want physical touch for oneself, but engage in acts of service for others.
Another expansion: I think that sometimes there can be an interesting subtle inversion of the categories: sometimes doing something for someone else can make the doer feel valued. This is different from looking at how people try to express valuing others—that is, if you do something nice for someone, you might be expressing the fact that you value them, or it might be that doing it makes you feel more valued by them. (Or both, of course.) (And obviously those aren’t the only reasons one might do something nice.)
And finally, I think there are a variety of other categories that can be value languages. Some of them are more-specific subcategories of the five original ones; others don’t fit neatly (imo) into the original five categories. Here are some examples off the top of my head—I’m sure that one could squeeze most of these into one or another of the original categories, but I’m more interested in looking at them as different areas than in trying to fit each of these into exactly one of the original five. I’m framing these from the recipient’s point of view, but they also work from the giver’s point of view.
(Content warning for inclusion of a couple of items that are not necessarily good for a relationship.)
- Specific subcategories—for example, you might value different kinds of physical touch differently. High fives, or holding hands, or massages, or gentle touch-in-passing, or sexual interaction, or snuggling, or being tightly held, or being tied up—if you feel valued by one of those kinds of touch, it doesn’t necessarily mean you like all of them.
- Another example of specific subcategories: I gather that quality time in this context mostly means someone giving you their full attention. But I feel like conversation is one kind of attention, attentive listening is another kind, focusing attention on you even in larger-group social situations is another kind, and so on.
- Shared physical activity per se—like dancing together, or going on hikes together. Might overlap with quality time and/or physical touch, but seems to me to be in a category of its own.
- Time together without much interaction—watching a movie or TV together, or sitting in the same space while working quietly on different projects. I would have put this into the quality time category, but I gather that Chapman explicitly indicates that this kind of thing is not quality time by his definition.
- Music—someone serenading you, or playing music for you, or singing you a song, or singing with you. (I guess these are acts of service, sorta kinda.)
- Acts of creation—someone writing you a poem, or writing you a song, or writing you a letter, or making visual or tactile art for you, or creating a meal for you. Could overlap with gifts and/or words of affirmation and/or acts of service.
- Sharing/recommending art—someone who knows your tastes well telling you that they think you’ll like a particular movie or song, for example.
- Sympathy—someone providing sympathy when you’re distressed or upset.
- Downtime—someone giving you the solo space and time that you need.
- Compersion (generalized; doesn’t have to be about romantic love)—someone liking the connection that you share with someone else.
- Public acknowledgment—someone making clear to others that they value you.
- Reaching out—someone contacting you from a physically separate location, in a medium you’re comfortable with, to let you know that they’re thinking of you. (Maybe a subcategory of words of affirmation.)
- Initiating contact—someone going out of their way to suggest getting together or making other plans, rather than waiting for you to contact them.
- Appreciation—someone explicitly thanking you or otherwise making clear that they appreciate something that you’ve done. (Maybe a subcategory of words of affirmation.)
- Money—in a work situation, for example, someone giving you a raise or a bonus in appreciation of your work. (Kind of like a gift, but not quite the same thing imo.)
- Supporting your work and other activities—whether providing financial support, liking your artistic creations, admiring your abilities, or helping you do stuff.
- Partnership—collaborating with you on a project or a job or a creative work.
- Decisionmaking—someone might help make decisions for you if you want them to, or might leave decisions in your hands if you prefer that.
- Advising—someone giving you advice about something that you need advice about. Or, on the other hand, someone not giving you unsolicited advice when they know you don’t want it.
- Responsiveness—someone getting back to you quickly when you send them some kind of a message.
- Jealousy—someone expressing jealousy when other people express (say) romantic interest in you. (I’m not saying this is a positive thing; this is a descriptive list, not a prescriptive one. But I do have friends who’ve said that a partner’s jealousy makes them feel valued.)
- Fighting—someone trusting you enough to be willing to argue with you. (I recognize that this is a complicated and potentially fraught topic, but thought it was worth mentioning.)
- Vulnerability—someone expressing something to you in a way that leaves them emotionally vulnerable.
- Sharing secrets—someone telling you things that they don’t usually tell people.
- Admiration—someone seeing you as being particularly good at something. (If they say so in words, then this is part of words of affirmation, but not all admiration is expressed in words.)
- Respect—might include, for example, someone seeing you as a person, not treating you badly, not engaging in all sorts of common bad behaviors.
- Trust—someone making clear that they trust you, in various ways and various contexts.
I’m sure there are lots more. What are some approaches or actions that make you feel valued?