When it comes to love, Sejal Barden suggests the most impactful way to express it is to use ways that resonate the most with your loved one — whether it’s a romantic partner, platonic friend, family member or child. An effective method for finding out which expressions mean the most to individuals is determining their love languages, which is based on Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.
Recently featured on the Knights Do That podcast, Barden is an associate professor of counselor education and executive director of UCF’s Marriage and Family Research Institute. She is also the principal investigator for Project Harmony, a five year federally supported research grant that originally launched in 2015 to provide a successful relationship education program to help Central Florida families. In 2020, the project entered a second phase, Harmony 2.0, with a $7.5 million, five-year U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to continue its face-to-face sessions and expand to virtual services. She also recently joined a project to study couples-based intervention for Latina breast cancer survivors.
Here Barden discusses love languages, its 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 each one down?
Sejal Barden: Love languages fundamentally are the ways that we give and receive love. And there’s not one — there’s five of them.
Usually, you have some interest in all of the love languages, but we each have priorities in the ways that we have most availability to feeling love. So, we can typically rank order these from one to five, with one and two being the areas that you would want your partner to put most of their effort in 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 kind of words such as compliments and words of appreciation. Another love language is quality time — one of my personal favorites. It’s founded spending quality time together away from distractions, times where you can really connect to fill your bucket, either through meaningful conversations or doing something fun together. Then there are acts of service, which is really taking care of the household responsibilities, filling gas in somebody’s car and doing the dishes to taking out the trash, picking up the kids from school or taking them to football practice. And so really engaging in service-oriented actions that make us feel loved. Another one of them is gifts, receiving and giving gifts. So being surprised by small things, like notes or flowers, and maybe larger presents, but really that idea that when you buy things or do things that are surprising so someone really feels loved and cared for. And then physical touch is one of the love languages too. From handholding to kissing, hugging and intimate experiences.
AC: How do you determine your love languages and your partner’s?
SJ: So there’s actually some great assessments or surveys that are free and online that you can take. They may take five minutes or so, but you basically respond to a series of questions and tally up your scores and it’ll show you how it relates to the five love languages.
I think that the thing to pay the most attention to, with any type of survey about love languages is if your partner’s are relatively similar with yours, maybe varying by a point or two, but you should know that those are all kind of your (collective) predominant love languages. So, I like to pay attention to those as an overall kind of picture. Was there one or two languages that were really trailing and were there one or two languages that felt really predominant from the surveys?
AC: How important or beneficial is it to know your love language and the love language of your loved ones? How is being aware of love language is important in even non-romantic relationships?
SJ: I think love languages are really important. I think in the world that we live in today, where time is limited, we’re working longer hours and we just have less time together, if you’re going to spend time, might as well get more bang for your buck, right? Making efforts to show love in a way that your partner can really receive it.
I think that matters for individuals too. Love languages really applies to families. It 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 that child. Versus, if you have a family member — a mother, a sibling, a partner — whose love language was really acts of service, like that would probably be motivating to just grab that bag of trash on my way out of the door because that’s going mean something to them. So, I think it’s a really helpful schema for how we organize our time and know that the time that we’re putting in is well received by the person that we’re trying to help feel our love and care and concern.
AC: The love language someone may use to communicate their love may be different than the one they prefer to receive. Can you tell us how people can balance different love languages in their relationship?
SJ: I think oftentimes our love languages are different from our partner’s. And so, I think the way to kind of balance that is to have the conversation, right? So (sharing) the knowledge of what is your love language is because without knowing that we don’t really know how to negotiate our time together. And so, a classic example might be one of the partners has quality time as a love language and another partner has physical touch as a primary love language. You can easily put both of those together of having quality time, watching a movie, and making sure that you’re not sitting on separate chairs, but you’re choosing to sit on a sofa where you can also have physical touch associated together.
I’ve also seen couples organize their weekends really using love languages as a way to schedule their time. And so let’s say quality time and acts of service, where the two of them are like, “What’s one thing this weekend that we can do that will be quality time related? What’s one act of service, one household thing that’s really been on like the to-do list that we can knock out?” Maybe they do it together. Maybe they do it separately. But at the end of the weekend, they would both have said they invested some time in areas that are meaningful to both of them in the relationship. So I think if there’s intentionality behind the way that you spend your time, then it shouldn’t really be too much of a challenge for couples to compromise and navigate that.
AC: I liked that idea, planning out various ways of using love languages as dates. It’d be fun to spin a wheel and plan a date based on which love language it falls on.
SJ: And you really can’t lose in that because, again, we all really have all five of the love languages, there’s just different preferences for each of them. You could spin a wheel and just make sure that you were engaging in all of them, or slightly tipped the wheel to have multiple quality times, or your preferred love language.
I would reference Gary Chapman’s book in that there are several love languages for couples and for children. So there are many variations of love languages, and I think all of them are relatively related and important to the context in which we’re talking about.
Barden earned her doctoral degree in counselor education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and completed her master’s and education specialist degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of Florida. To learn more about her work with UCF’s Marriage and Family Research Institute, visit mfri.ucf.edu.