I know this sounds silly. Because Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, “The Five Love Languages,” has been around for nearly 25 years. But I never knew what the love languages were until very recently when I stumbled upon an online “love language” quiz.

It was a major game changer.

You see, I prefer to experience and give love in a certain way. Many of us do. I personally long for words of affirmation in my relationships. (Anyone feel like praising me for this article? I’d really appreciate it.)

My husband’s quiz, however, revealed that he desires acts of service and quality time from me.

The funny thing is, since we each desire love in different ways, we tend to give others the same kind of love that we ourselves want to experience — even if the other person doesn’t experience it the same way. So I could be working overtime verbally praising my kids and husband (aka words of affirmation) when they really need something else entirely. In the same way that I wouldn’t fully experience feeling loved without words of affirmation, the same is true for our loved ones with their specific love languages. (If you’re in the dark on the five love languages like I was, here they are: quality time, physical touch, gift giving, acts of service, and words of affirmation.)

I just couldn’t figure out why all that praise and affection toward my family members didn’t seem to do the trick. I realized just how faulty my love paradigm was when I finally put the love languages into practice.

One night, my husband was sitting with me in his office helping me put together a complicated spreadsheet for my business. He spent two hours with me, giving me suggestions and doing the layout for me. I had a major epiphany: Ohhhh!!! This is how he shows love to me! And now I get to receive it as such. Amazing!

That very day I also realized I needed to fine-tune my relationships and start loving my three children in their own love languages.

But first I had to figure out their individual love languages.

My youngest, who is a free-spirited, active, sweet, and bubbly child clearly needs physical touch. She’s always the first to sit on my lap and to want to cuddle with me in bed. She is always creating some sort of physical contact with me. Check. Give her more hugs and snuggles!

My middle daughter is smart, sporty, sensitive, and loyal. Like me, she really thrives when I offer her words of affirmation. She especially lights up when I can give her specifics about what I admire or appreciate in her. Check. Give this girl lots of praise and not just, “Great job!” — more like, “I really appreciate how thoughtful you are. I saw that you helped Mira with her homework without me even asking. Thank you!”

The hardest to detect and to implement was for my oldest daughter, who is our resident teenager. She is brilliant, crafty, observant, and introverted. Out of my three, she is the one I have had the hardest time connecting with. She has a very easy and uncomplicated relationship with my husband, but for the two of us, it’s been difficult to be on the same level and to understand her needs and communication style. At 14, she is a pro at rolling her eyes at me, making snarky comments, and stiffening her body anytime I try to hug her. OK, got it. Physical touch is not how she experiences love. Moving on. Quality time? Not so much. She’ll tolerate doing something alone with me but DEFINITELY prefers being together as a family, being alone, or being with her friends. I guess that’s what one would expect from a teen.

After many weeks of struggling and experimenting with how Ariel experiences love and needs it to be expressed by others, it hit me — acts of service!

Just like my husband, who shows love through his acts of service (he’s the guy who will change the oil in my car and fill it up with gas just to be helpful) and desires it in return, I learned Ariel definitely appreciates this as well.  

So I experimented:

Week 1:  I bought her a pack of watermelon gum from CVS — her favorite flavor — just because. I went up to her room and told her I wanted to give something to her because I was thinking of her when I went out. BINGO! She gave me a huge smile and a heartfelt thank you.

Week 2: I went out of my way to drive her and her friend to a movie (replete with snacks!). Score another one for mama!

Week 3: I made her a huge vat of guacamole after she told me she is starting to love guac and avocados in general. She even unlocked her eyes from the permanent rolling-upward position and actually sat down and chatted as we dined together. This was huge in my ability to connect and communicate with her.

I finally figured out what she needs, and it feels so much better than spinning my wheels loving her in ways that don’t resonate with her. This revelation has expanded and strengthened all my relationships, but especially in my relationship with my oldest daughter.

There is a phrase, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I think so many of us make assumptions about what people want and need, and we don’t attempt enough inquiry, reflection, and experimentation about how to deliver love in the ways others truly need. We all love our children — obviously. But I think it’s time we all endeavor to figure out how to best love our children in the ways they truly desire to receive it.


Jenny Berk
Jenny is a crass and pushy (read = sweet) native New Yorker who has always had a penchant for New England, after attending Brandeis for 4 years, but especially so after meeting her husband Barry, who also happened to live in Boston. After marrying, and creating 3 awesome daughters - ages, 11, 8 and 6 - she and her husband moved to Needham and love it there! Jenny is a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, Mindful Eating Instructor and Wellness blogger. She loves writing about how Mom's can navigate and prioritize their health and positive body image after having children. When she's not trying to figure out how the heck to parent a tween, She can be found blogging at the Huffington Post, (healthy living section) and on her site www.jennyedencoaching.com. Heck yes! - mindfulness, kettlebells, body acceptance, yoga, traveling the word and eating decadent and unctuous (vegetarian) food. No way, man! - arthritis at 40, allergies to anything, animal cruelty, waiting in line.