When it comes to love, Sejal Barden suggests the most impactful way to express it is through the mediums that resonate the most with your loved one, whether that’s a romantic partner, platonic friend, family member or child. An effective method of discovering which expressions mean the most to individuals is to determine their love language, which is based on Gary Chapman’s book The five languages of love: how to express a sincere commitment to your partner.
Recently featured on the Knights Do That podcast, Barden is an Associate Professor of counselor education and CEO of UCF Marriage and Family Research Institute. She is also a principal investigator for Harmony Project, a five-year, federally supported research grant that was originally launched in 2015 to provide a successful relationship education program to help families in Central Florida. In 2020, the project entered a second phase, Harmony 2.0, with a five-year, $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to continue its face-to-face sessions and expand. to virtual services. She also recently joined a project to study the couple-based intervention for Latina breast cancer survivors.
Here, Barden discusses love languages, their importance in all types of relationships, and how to balance different love language preferences with your partner.
Alex Cumming: Can you explain what love languages are and break them down?
Sejal Barden: Love languages are fundamentally the means by which we give and receive love. And there is not one — there are five.
Usually, you are interested in all the languages of love, but we each have priorities in how we have the most availability to feel love. So we can generally rank them from one to five, with one and two being the areas you’d want your partner to put the most effort into, because that’s really how you feel loved when they do these things.
One of them is words of affirmations, saying positive things to your partner or receiving positive words such as compliments and words of appreciation. Another love language is quality time – one of my personal favorites. It’s grounded in spending quality time together away from distractions, times when you can really connect to fill your bucket, either through meaningful conversations or doing something fun together. Then there are the acts of service, which are really about taking care of household responsibilities, filling someone’s car with gas and doing the dishes to take out the trash, pick up the kids from school or take them to soccer practice. And so truly engage in service-oriented actions that make us feel loved. Another of them is gifts, receiving and giving gifts. So being surprised by little things, like notes or flowers, and maybe bigger gifts, but really this idea that when you buy things or do things that are surprising, someone really feels loved and supported. And then physical touch is also one of the languages of love. From holding hands to kisses, hugs and intimate experiences.
AC: How do you determine your love languages and those of your partner?
SJ: So there are actually some great free, online assessments or surveys you can take. They can take about five minutes, but you’re basically answering a series of questions and tallying up your scores and it’ll show you how it relates to the five love languages.
I think the thing to pay the most attention to, with any type of love language survey, is whether your partner’s are relatively similar to yours, perhaps varying by a point or two, but you should know that these are all your (collective) predominant love languages. So I like to pay attention to these as a sort of overall picture. Were there one or two languages that were really lagging behind and were there one or two languages that seemed really predominant based on the surveys?
AC: How important or beneficial is it to know your love language and that of your loved ones? Why is knowing the language of love important even in non-romantic relationships?
SJ: I think love languages are really important. I think in the world we live in today, where time is limited, we work more hours and we just have less time together, if you hang out, you might as well get more bang for your buck, n ‘is this not ? Make an effort to show love in a way that your partner can really receive it.
I think that also counts for individuals. Love languages really apply to families. This absolutely applies to children. If you have a child whose love language is quality time, that would motivate a parent to say let me spend 10 minutes of one-on-one time with this child. Versus, if you have a family member – a mother, a sibling, a partner – whose love language was truly acts of service, like that, it would probably be motivating to just grab that garbage bag by coming out because it’s going to mean something to them. So I think that’s a really useful pattern for how we organize our time and know that the time we spend is well received by the person we’re trying to help to feel our love, care and concern .
AC: The love language someone may use to communicate their love may be different from the language they prefer to receive. Can you tell us how people can balance different love languages in their relationship?
SJ: I think that often our love languages are different from those of our partner. And so, I think the way to balance that is to have the conversation, right? So (sharing) knowing your love language is because without knowing we don’t really know how to negotiate our time together. And so, a classic example might be that one partner has quality time as their love language and another partner has physical touch as their primary love language. You can easily combine the two to spend some quality time, watch a movie, and make sure you’re not sitting on separate chairs, but choosing to sit on a couch where you can also have associated physical contact.
I’ve also seen couples plan their weekends by really using love languages as a way to plan their time. And so let’s say quality time and acts of service, where both of them are like, “What’s one thing we can do this weekend that’s going to be related to quality time?” What’s an act of service, a household thing that’s really on the to-do list we can knock out? Maybe they do it together. Maybe they do it separately. But by the end of the weekend, they were both said to have invested time in areas that are meaningful to both of them in the relationship. So I think if there’s intentionality behind the way you spend your time, then it shouldn’t really be too hard for couples to compromise and get by.
AC: I liked this idea, planning different ways to use love languages as dates. It would be fun to spin a wheel and plan a date based on which love language it comes across.
SJ: And you really can’t lose because, again, we all really have all five love languages, there are just different preferences for each of them. You can spin a wheel and make sure you engage with each one, or tilt the wheel slightly to have multiple quality moments, or your favorite love language.
I would refer to Gary Chapman’s book insofar as there are several love languages for couples and for children. So there are many variations of love languages, and I think they’re all relatively related and important to the context in which we’re speaking.
Barden earned her doctorate in counselor education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and earned her master’s degree and specialist education in marriage and family therapy from the University of Florida. To learn more about her work with the UCF Marriage and Family Research Institute, visit mfri.ucf.edu.