Helping another person feel happy and fulfilled can be tough, no matter how much you love them. According to marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman, PhD, that’s because there are five love languages, which he defines as the main ways people like to give and receive love—how they perceive another person’s love and also how they show theirs. On his website, Chapman says that “each individual has at least one language that they prefer” and that being respectful and responsive to that preference can strengthen not only romantic but also platonic relationships. He defined the languages he identified as receiving gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time.
Do you feel stronger in your relationship after spending a lazy afternoon alone with your partner? Then your preferred love language may be quality yime. If a hug means more to you than a thoughtful gift, then you’re more fluent in physical touch than receiving gifts. If nothing makes you feel closer to your partner than when they do something for you, then acts of service are your jam. And if your partner needs consistent written and spoken reminders of how you feel about them, then you can guess which love language they prize the most. (To get a more accurate idea of your and your partner’s love language style, you can take Chapman’s quiz.) But it may be difficult to meaningfully meet that need, especially if your own top love language is one of the other four. So we’ve collected some words of affirmation to use with your partner that can get you in the habit of speaking their love language fluently.
1. “You’re working hard and doing your best.”
Words of affirmation don’t have to be straight compliments or declarations of love all the time. People who value them above all of the other love languages value being seen and understood and having that expressed verbally, as Women’s Health explains. If your partner had a day of wall-to-wall meetings or is pulling their hair out over managing distance learning, then simply acknowledging that fact may be worth more to them than picking up their favorite ice cream while you’re out. (Though, we’re sure the ice cream couldn’t hurt.)
2. “It’s like that story you told about your college roommate…”
Another way of affirming your partner is by proving that you listen and absorb the things that they say. As Roni Beth Tower PhD, ABPP, explains in an essay for Psychology Today, “remembering” is an expression of love. So calling back to a story or personal detail your partner shared will give them an instant lift.
3. “Thank you.” (For anything and everything.)
Showing appreciation—whether that’s for doing the laundry, letting you pick the Netflix show you’re starting next, or helping you through a difficult personal challenge—is so important to a partner who speaks this love language. Noting the contributions they make (even the little ones) will make them feel valued.
4. Leave them a note, send them a text, or even put your feelings in a letter.
VeryWellMind notes that a note or a letter shows forethought and effort and will make for a pleasant surprise whether they find your words in their mailbox or the pocket of their favorite jacket. Meanwhile, texting a seemingly random observation or compliment proves that you’re thinking about them when they’re not around. Hear a song that reminds you of your partner? Shoot them a text to let them know.
5. Talk them up in front of other people.
Don’t save the compliments and affirming language for when you’re alone together. You don’t have to be uncomfortably gushy in front of their parents or your friends—your partner probably won’t appreciate that either. Instead, you can mention the elaborate home improvement project they just finished or talk about the new artist they introduced you to that you now can’t stop listening to. (As for comments about their appearance, people have varying mileage on that, especially in public. Pay attention—or just ask your partner—to see if that’s something they enjoy. That said, a “Doesn’t So-and-So look great tonight?” is probably harmless.) Everyone needs to be bragged about every once in a while, but your partner will mostly love that it’s you saying these things.
6. “I love you.”
A clear and simple “I love you” will rarely go amiss, but remember that it’s not the final word in this love language. If you parrot that statement without doing any of the above, it will start to lose its meaning or even ring false. Your partner will also notice if your compliments feel practiced or exaggerated, so just commit to saying what’s in your heart. It’s that easy, and practicing will only help get you into the habit.
And for more loving words to give out, check out The 40 Best Compliments to Give People Over 40.