Senior Audrey Novinger prefers to make gifts for holidays rather than buy them. She’s created watercolors, bookmarks, embroidery, cards, bracelets and beauty products for her friends and family for birthdays, Christmas or just because. One could say gift-giving is how she shows love.
“I really like things that you can touch and pull out of a box or an envelope,” Novinger said. “It just shows that someone put in a lot of time, and I enjoy doing that too, so it’s kind of like a win-win.”
“I always think about this one time I complimented [my friend] … and then her whole day, you could tell she was just radiating, she loved it. So then, ever since then, I’ve not shied away from giving people compliments.”
Novinger has a great-grandmother who lives in an assisted living home in Illinois which doesn’t allow visitors in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes Novinger calls her great-grandmother, but she is hard of hearing over the phone. As an alternative way to communicate, Novinger sends homemade cards, such as one to comfort her during the COVID-19 pandemic with a mask that says “I’m smiling.” She said gifts such as these can make just as much, or more, of an impact than words.
“Especially for some of my family members that are maybe not as tech savvy …, they’re not as receptive to getting a text message,” Novinger said. “So I sometimes make something and send it.”
Novinger said gift-giving is her strongest love language, or category of behavior she associates with affection. Love languages, an idea pioneered by Dr. Gary Chapman in his book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” are different ways of expressing and receiving love. These include words of affirmation, quality time, giving and receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
Unlike Novinger, senior Madison Moller said she’s not very thoughtful when it comes to gift-giving, and more easily expresses affection through words, either in person or over text. During golf tournaments, for example, she often cheers on her teammates by giving them pep talks on the course, and she also enjoys giving compliments.
“At work, if there’s a customer that comes in, I’ll be like, ‘hey, you have really pretty eyes’ or something,” Moller said. “I love giving compliments, especially because I feel like it makes people happier and feel better about themselves, and why not try to make people feel better about themselves? I always think about this one time I complimented [my friend] … and then her whole day, you could tell she was just radiating, she loved it. So then, ever since then, I’ve not shied away from giving people compliments.”
Not everyone communicates love in the same way, so it’s natural to assume not everyone wants to receive it in the same way as well.
“Depending on our love language, we may release more dopamine when someone interacts with us using our love language,” Dr. Dixie Meyer, associate professor at the Medical Family Therapy Program at Saint Louis University, said. “This is why it feels good to have others engage with us in the ways that we prefer.”
Some neurochemicals released from the brain when interacting with loved ones or friends are dopamine and oxytocin, Dr. Meyer said. Dopamine plays a role in how people feel pleasure, and keeps them interested in interacting with others. Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone,” is associated with empathy, trust and relationship-building.
“Dopamine can also be released when we anticipate something like a present,” Dr. Meyer said. “Other love languages like quality time, words of affirmation and physical touch may release more oxytocin because it is building our relationships.”
Romantic partners don’t have to have the same love language to show affection toward each other, however. Dr. Meyer said partners should acknowledge the ways the other needs to feel love, and do those things.
Moller agreed with this point — although she prefers to receive affection from friends and family through words of affirmation and quality time, she said she still caters to people whose love language is physical touch by giving hugs, for example.
Another aspect of understanding relationships are attachment styles. Dr. Meyer said the different attachment styles — secure, anxious and avoidant — can explain why a romantic partner acts the way they do.
Someone with a secure attachment style, for example, tends to trust a person will be available when they need them. Individuals with an anxious attachment style, however, may feel insecure in their relationship and test their partner to see if they will be around for them when they need emotional connection. On the opposite side of the spectrum, individuals with an avoidant attachment style want to be more independent in the romantic relationship and not rely on their romantic partner for emotional support.
“Your romantic partner with an avoidant attachment style may not be acting distant, but ensuring that they can do the things they need to do on their own,” Dr. Meyer said. “Your romantic partner with an anxious attachment style may not be acting needy, but they need reassurance that their emotional needs can be met by you. Giving your romantic partner what they need in a relationship can help the relationship to thrive and help you understand your romantic partner more intimately.”
Dr. Chapman’s book about the five love languages encourages the notion that people should tailor their expressions of love toward their partner’s love language. “We cannot rely on our native tongue if our spouse does not understand it. If we want them to feel the love we are trying to communicate, we must express it in their primary love language,” the author wrote. The self-focused notion that the point of knowing one’s love language is to find a partner with the same one, or to request that others learn to adapt to it, is far different than Dr. Chapman’s original concept.
“I feel like if you’re friends with someone for long enough, then you should kind of be able to tell what [their love language] is … you should make that effort to know, almost,” Moller said. “But I guess the key would be just sacrificing a little bit to do what they want, understanding that that’s their love language — that’s going to make them happy, and that’s going to be able to continue your friendship.”
Do you know what your love language is? Let us know in the comments below.