The five love languages are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service and receiving gifts. While the first four are pretty straightforward (here’s a recap if you’re not familiar), it’s the last one that gets a bad rap.
In his long-standing New York Times bestseller “The 5 Love Languages,” author Gary Chapman — a Baptist pastor, church counselor and speaker — first introduced his theory that people feel most loved when their partner expresses affection in their predominant “language.” The problem, he noted, is that we often show love to our S.O. in the way we personally like to receive it — even though our preference usually differs from theirs. That’s why figuring out your partner’s love language is essential. (You can both take the online quiz, if you haven’t already).
Of the five, receiving gifts is the love language people tend to make some unkind and untrue assumptions about. Whether this is your primary love language or your partner’s, don’t be so quick to judge.
“People seem to look down on the ‘receiving gifts’ love language and attach unfair judgments,” Nicole Saunders — a therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina, who recommends the book to her clients — told HuffPost. “They may consider a person with that language to be materialistic, frivolous and shallow.”
But that’s often not the case. Chapman explained that it’s not the price tag that’s important to this person — it’s the thought, care or effort that went into choosing or executing the gift. The right present makes this person feel seen, understood or appreciated.
“If you’re kind of lighthearted about it and just say, ’Oh, well their love language is gifts so I’ll just give them anything,′ but it’s not something they have an interest in, then it will not mean as much to them as if they realize, ‘Oh, you knew me well enough to know that I collect spoons’ or whatever it might be,” Chapman said.
“A thoughtful gift speaks more deeply than a gift given rather flippantly,” he added.
In other words, don’t spring for a pair of fancy sneakers just because they’re expensive if your partner isn’t into fashion. The value of the gift is about more than the item itself — it’s about what it symbolizes.
“To give a gift with meaning and thought behind it requires attention and empathy, which ultimately strengthens the relationship connection,” Saunders said. “And then the gift becomes a symbol of the sentiment, increasing its value.”
Let’s say, for example, that your girlfriend mentions in passing that she’s been homesick and craving her mom’s snickerdoodles. The next week, you surprise her with a plate of freshly baked cookies. Maybe the ingredients only cost you $15, but the fact that you remembered her comment, reached out to her family for the recipe and baked them (despite your lack of culinary skills) would probably mean more than a present you bought because it seemed flashy or impressive.
“People seem to look down on the ‘receiving gifts’ love language and attach unfair judgments.”
That said, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to speaking any love language well, as we all have nuanced preferences. To become fluent in your partner’s particular dialect requires listening for clues (and taking notes so you don’t forget!) that will help you meet their individual needs. Know that experiential gifts — like a weekend trip, art class or tickets to a concert or game — can be just as appreciated as tangible gifts.
“Pay attention to the subtle likes, desires and pain points your partner expresses,” Saunders said. “For example, your girlfriend loves to get facials but does so rarely due to the expense. A great gift would be to figure out her favorite spa and purchase several treatments plus tip she can use throughout the year.”
If your partner’s love language is gifts, don’t forget the special dates like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and other milestones. Set reminders in your calendar so you don’t miss them.
“If you forget their birthday, for example, that is like a dagger in their heart,” Chapman said. “They’ll think, ‘They don’t think enough about me even to get me something on my birthday.’”
Equally important, though, is to sprinkle in “just because” cards and gifts throughout the year, no reason necessary.
“Giving gifts on non-special days would also be important for you to understand,” Chapman said. “It’s not just holidays — any day is a good day to give a gift to a person whose love language is receiving gifts.”