The psychology of love and the five love languages

Aida Araia, Erin McCormick & Sonia Samantaroy, News Editor & Editors-in-Chief

Psychology of Love: 

Everyone feels love, whether it be directed towards our friends, family or even pets. The romantic love we develop over time vastly differs from the platonic love we may feel day-to-day. 

Varying views in the field of psychology give a different rationale for humans forming relationships with others. Whether it be the desire to create bonds to ensure our survival or to pacify the drive to feel connected, there are a lot of explanations for why we feel this need to be social and to have those types of connections with others.

When first falling in love, the brain and adrenal glands create dopamine. Dopamine influences the feelings of excitement and happiness and also enhances the release of testosterone, which increases sexual desire. 

“In the early days of a relationship your sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to neurotransmitters being released like norepinephrine hormones – a stress hormone,” Sarah Bartosiak, an AP Psychology teacher, said. “Your stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, are released. Those nervous butterflies are just a stress response.”

The neurotransmitters norepinephrine and phenylethylamine (PEA) lead to focused attention, bringing about a feeling of euphoria. Norepinephrine brings a feeling of alertness and often leads to lack of sleep and great attention to the smallest details of a partner. PEA is responsible for the giddiness and possible loss of appetite.

If the relationship does not last, the PEA levels are reduced and partly responsible for the feelings of post-break-up depression.

The brain’s reward system gets involved when a feedback loop is created. Via neurotransmitters, the system sends chemical messages to various parts of the body, which causes them to send messages back to the brain. 

“Dopaine is also being released, so the pleasure reward center of your brain is being activated, which is why you want to catch that glimpse of your crush or you want to go out on that date,” Bartosiak said.

The rewards system is stimulated easily during the initial stages of love. A lover’s touch, their photograph or thinking about them can elevate mood and focus attention.  

The trajectory of a relationship varies from person to person. Some could fear the possibility of rejection, which overrides their enjoyment and falling in love. Some may drive their lover away by being too clingy in the pursuit of a relationship that will last. 

Interestingly, self-esteem, mental and emotional health, life experiences and family relations impact who someone is attracted to. Both positive and negative experiences affect who someone finds attractive. Unconsciously, people are more attracted to subtle physical attributes or behavioral patterns that are reminiscent of family members. 

In a broader psychological sense, Erik Erikson, a Danish-German-American psychologist, theorized the psychosocial stages of development. In the first stage, infants struggle between trust and mistrust. If one develops trust in their caretakers, it can help in the intimacy versus isolation stage later on, where we establish more mature relationships. 

“The trust that was developed in the early stages helps us build healthy and intimate relationships, where we are open, and we trust that they’re going to take care of us both platonically with our friends, but also romantically with partners,” Bartosiak said. 

The Five Love Languages:

The five love languages are different ways of expressing and receiving love, not just from a significant other, but friends, siblings and parents. The concept has skyrocketed in prominence in recent years after Dr. Gary Chapman published his book “The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate” in 1992. Chapman defined the five different love languages as words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service and receiving gifts. Through his counseling experiences, he noticed a pattern that couples were misunderstanding each other. 

An example from his book is as follows: a boyfriend constantly compliments his significant other, admiring how she is a hard worker, driven, and kind. However, every day after school she is swamped with chores while her boyfriend just sits on the couch watching TV. In effect, she feels unloved, but in his mind, he is loving her by giving her words of encouragement. This is an example of miscommunication when it comes to the five love languages. Her love language is acts of service while her significant other’s expression of love comes out as words of affirmation. 

“Each person speaks their own love language and does not understand why the other does not feel loved,” Chapman writes in his book.  “If we want the other person to feel loved, we must discover and learn to speak his or her primary love language.” 

Every person has a primary and secondary love language. The primary language is the method in which one feels the most loved. A secondary language is the method in which one feels loved, but not as much as their primary language. For example, your primary love language may be receiving gifts, while your secondary love language may be physical touch. You appreciate thoughtful gifts the most, but you also feel loved when your parent gives you a hug.

One has a primary love language in which they receive love the best, as well as a language in which they like to give love. According to Chapman, 75% of people’s primary love language is the same as the love language they like to give to others. The other 25% have differing languages such as a person who enjoys spending quality time with friends, but speaks words of encouragement to others.  

Understanding one’s own love language, as well as those of the people one is close with, can promote selflessness, empathy and personal growth, leading to overall stronger and deeper connections. 

There are two key things to understand about love languages. First, one is meant to adapt to their partner’s love language, not demand their partner to make a change; second, love languages cannot solve all of your relationship problems. Despite the imperfections of the love languages, they still provide a meaningful way to connect with significant others.

Words of Affirmation

People who respond best to words of affirmation value compliments and verbal encouragement, such as ‘I love you.’  But it does not have to be spoken. They also appreciate text messages, love notes and social media engagement like affectionate comments on an Instagram photo. That type of straightforward communication makes them feel understood and appreciated.

Quality Time

This is one of the most popular love languages. People who believe quality time is their love language feel the most appreciated when someone actively makes time to hang out with them, whether that means going on a walk or a weekend trip together. These people appreciate eye contact and active listening; they want your undivided attention when they can have it.

Physical Touch

People feel more appreciated when they receive physical signs of affection, including hugs, kisses, holding each other’s hands; this physical closeness serves as an affirmation of the bonds people share. These roots go back to childhood where some people only felt deep affection and love by their parents when they were held, and as a result, physical touch can serve as a powerful emotional connector.

Acts of Service

“Actions speak louder than words” is the motto here. If someone’s love language is acts of service, they appreciate it most when someone else performs small acts of kindness for them to make their life easier. For example, if they are busy, pick up the dry cleaning for them. Chores like vacuuming and helping with the dishes are also appreciated. It does not have to be a brave, substantial act. Simply the effort to go the extra mile is what matters to them.

Receiving Gifts

Contrary to what you think, this is not a gold-digging strategy. In fact, the price of the gift is not relevant at all. When someone’s love language is receiving gifts they appreciate the time and effort that was put into getting their gift, and more importantly the meaning behind it. Meaningful gifts show that you know the person well. In Chapman’s words, these people enjoy “visual symbols of love.”