You come home after a weekend away—which of the following three scenarios fills your heart with joy? Is it: A. That the house has been deep cleaned B. That there’s a beautifully-wrapped gift lying in the hallway or C. That your partner gives you a giant bear hug and won’t let go for an entire minute. If you answered A, then acts of service is probably your love language.
You appreciate it when people do things for you, especially when they tend to your needs (like your need for a clean home in order to feel relaxed or your need for a full tank of gas in order to get to work). Here’s what it means for you and your relationship if you’re all about the acts of service love language.
Wait, can you remind me about the different love languages again?
Introduced by marriage counselor and author Dr. Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, The 5 Love Languages, the idea behind love languages is to understand and communicate what it takes for a person to feel loved. But here’s the thing: What makes one person feel loved isn’t necessarily the same for their spouse or partner. Enter the five different love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, physical touch and acts of service—and with the advent of the digital age, some say there’s a sixth language too. (Psst: Not sure which one applies to you? Find out here with this quick and easy love language quiz.)
And why is it useful to know your (and your partners) love language?
“For love to thrive healthily both people need to feel genuinely loved,” says Natalie Buchwald, LMHC and founder and clinical director of Manhattan Mental Health Counseling. “Knowing and using your partner's love language assures that your love is being communicated and absorbed by your partner.” In other words, knowing your love language gives you the vocabulary to tell your partner what it is you need in order to be happy in your relationship (and vice versa).
“The highest value of popular ideas like ‘love languages’ is likely found in the attention they draw to the importance of clear communication of our needs and preferences in relationships,” adds Dr. Paula Wilbourne, clinical psychologist, and co-founder/chief scientific officer of Sibly. “Other benefits of the framework are found in the way it normalizes the idea that members of a couple may have unique and different preferences related to expressing and feeling love, as well as the importance of understanding the intimate needs of the person you love.”
Got it. And what does it mean if your love language is ‘acts of service?’
If you swoon at the idea of a home-cooked meal waiting for you after a long day or your heart skips a beat when your partner makes the bed, then chances are that acts of service is your love language. Meaning that you feel most loved when your S.O. finds ways—big or small—to make your life easier.
“Acts of service are about being in tune with your partners’ burdens,” explains Buchwald.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s as simple as your partner taking on the lion’s share of the household chores. Acts of service are also about anticipating your partner’s emotional needs and recognizing that these change over time.
Per Buchwald, someone who understands that their partner values acts of service recognizes when they feel overwhelmed and are in need of a break. “[It’s about] being in tune with what is burdening them and then taking action to help them,” she says. Let’s say, for example, you had a crappy night’s sleep last night, so your partner gets up with the kids so that you can catch up on ZZZs. Or maybe you’ve been feeling super bummed that you haven’t seen your family in months, so your S.O. organizes a Zoom call with everybody (even Grandma!). It’s considerate acts like these that help you feel seen, helped and, of course, loved.
5 Ways to Make Your Relationship Work If Acts of Service Is Your Love Language
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Your partner isn’t a mind reader, after all. Even if they know what your love language is, it’s important to be specific about what you need—and why. So instead of saying, “I love it when you do the dishes,” try something like, “My hands have been so dry and cracked lately—would you mind doing the dishes this week so that they can heal?”
- Appreciate when your partner tries. So your partner wanted to surprise you with a fresh cup of coffee in the morning from your favorite spot, except they brought you a full-fat latte instead of a skim milk cappuccino. “Recognize that this is not their love language,” says Buchwald. Meaning that what may seem obvious to you (you know, that getting you a drink you didn’t order is less an act of service and more of a hassle), may not going to be clear to your partner. “The effort took place and that's love, too.”
- Avoid making tweaks (if any) until later. Going back to the example above, if your partner hands you your drink with a giant grin on their face, allow the act of trying to set in. “You were given an act of love—even if it's not the completion of an act of service, what remains is your partner’s efforts,” says Buchwald. But if you pour the sink down the drain and tell them they messed up your order, well, let’s just say you probably won’t be waking up to the smell of fresh java anytime soon. Let them know you love what they did and then more acts will follow.
- Don’t judge your partner’s love language. You love nothing more than when your S.O. folds the laundry. Except they want to do it while standing next to you and listening to a podcast together (quality time, baby). Get into your partner's experience, advises Buchwald. Try to grasp what it means to them and why. “Being curious about your partner's love language is a beautiful way to get to know them on a deeper level.”
- Don’t harbor expectations or resentment. Remember our earlier point about your partner not being a mind reader? If they’re not offering you acts of service, that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up in the air and break up or assume that they don’t love you. “Invite your partner to explore the ways of connecting that matter most to each of you,” says Wilbourne. There is no definitive list of “acts of service.” Meaning that it’s up to you both to come up with specific ways together that make you feel appreciated and loved.
- Find opportunities to offer your love language. Sure, it’s nice when your partner plans a big bash for your birthday but there are opportunities to offer acts of service everywhere. And one of the best ways to get your partner to understand that is to lead by example. Per Buchwald: “Catch the moments when you want to offer your love language to your partner. Pause. Remember theirs. And follow through in the language that is meaningful to them. Do your best to give what will feel good to them.”