What do you have in common with puppies, cats, canaries, and goldfish?
Love. Sweet love.
You may be familiar with Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages where he outlines five basic ways people feel and show love. He explains that in order to communicate love with our spouse or our children effectively, it’s important to know their love language. Then we can be sure that when we love them, they feel loved.
Author Andy Andrews writes in his book, The Noticer, that four of these five love languages have animal metaphors. The way these animals react to human interactions helps us understand the way people interpret the different ways we show love to each other.
1. Puppy – Words of Affirmation
Words carry a lot of weight. They can be heard for a lifetime. Good words and harsh words. They can make or break our day and our dreams.
Puppies speak this love language. When you call Puppy, your tone changes. It’s light and higher. Puppy goes crazy over it. He doesn’t just wag his tail, but his whole body wags. He’s so excited to hear your voice.
When you train Puppy you use positive reinforcements. You say things like, “Good boy!” He will do the same trick over and over just to hear your words.
Puppy is also devastated by harsh words and an angry tone. He will tuck his tail and hide in a corner. His world becomes a scary place.
Some people speak the language of Words of Affirmation. They respond to compliments and verbal support. They will work tirelessly and serve diligently just to hear those words of appreciation. They don’t need gifts of money or badges of honor, just a kind word or compliment.
People who speak Words of Affirmation will cower to criticism. Even if it was meant to help. Tone of voice means everything to someone with this love language. Harsh or cool demands make this person feel utterly unloved and alone in the world.
2. Cat – Physical Touch
A body is made with the purpose to touch and be touched. We have many senses that can be stimulated just by physical contact. These senses tell our brain if something is warm or cold, soft of hard, pleasing or painful.
Cats speak and feel affection entirely with physical touch. Cat doesn’t need someone to care for her. She can take care of herself. She spends hours bathing herself and when she’s hungry, she can hunt to feed herself. Cat doesn’t care what you say to her or how you say it. Don’t call her. She probably won’t come.
Cat wants to be touched. She wants to be scratched under the chin and rubbed behind the ears. She leans into a long stroke down her back and starts to purr. In return, she rubs her face against you. Touch means everything to Cat. She receives it and gives it back.
If Cat has been abused by touch, she will never allow herself to be touched again. She’ll hiss and lash out with her claws. Causing pain in return with her touch. It will take a lot of time and gentle effort to repair the damage that abuse has caused.
People who speak the love language of Physical Touch feel loved when they have physical contact with others. In a marriage relationship it might be sexual in nature but it doesn’t have to be entirely. A meaningful touch could be as simple as a kiss when arriving home, holding hands while walking to the car, or putting a hand on a knee while watching a movie.
The physical touch speakers need consistent (not necessarily constant) touch to feel loved. It doesn’t really matter what is said as long as they feel the assurance of touch. Even in the midst of a conflict, they’ll feel secure and loved when touch is involved.
When touch is withdrawn or used in an abusive way, people with the physical touch language will recoil and even lash out in very unloving ways. They may intentionally use cutting words toward the object of their love as repayment for the hurt they feel inside. They will withdraw emotionally to keep from being hurt again.
3. Canary – Quality Time
Togetherness is an important show of affection. When we’re dating we spend every possible moment with our partner. Sometimes, if we can’t be physically together, it’s enough just to hear the other person breathe into the phone.
Canaries are timid creatures. They don’t require sweet words. They don’t notice when they’re fed. They don’t even seem to appreciate a clean cage. Canaries certainly don’t need to be touched. They only have a song to sing.
Canary needs someone to sit near his cage and listen to his little tune. He can become very lonely when isolated. His one desire is for someone to be there to listen and appreciate that he’s a living creature.
People who speak the Quality Time love language need the presence of another human more than anything. They don’t need you to say anything. Just be there. They don’t need you to fix anything. Just be there. They feel loved when they are with the people they love no matter what the activity. Being in the same room is enough.
When quality time is not spent together, these language speakers can dive quickly into depression. Nothing makes them feel more unloved and isolated than by being left alone. Especially in times of importance… times of struggle, times of celebration, times of emotional stress. If you’re with someone like this during hard times, the most important thing you can do for them in is just be there.
4. Goldfish – Acts of Service
When we serve others, we are putting their needs ahead of ours. This act shows that we value that other person and want to give of ourselves to help them.
A goldfish is perfectly content in its bowl whether it has company or not. A goldfish doesn’t need you to talk to it or pet it. The only thing that gets a goldfish’s attention is when you feed it.
Goldie responds to what you do for her. She will swim to the surface when you feed her. She feels cared for by the things you give her. Without the gift of food and the act of feeding her, she will soon perish.
Those who speak the Acts of Service love language feel cared for when others do deeds to help them. Anything from helping with the dishes to washing the car shows they are loved.
(5. Giving Gifts)
The fifth love language of Giving Gifts may also fall under the Goldfish metaphor. These people crave little gifts or tokens of love. At first glance, you might think it shallow for someone to only feel loved when they receive gifts. But when someone gives a gift, it says loudly they were thinking of the person who would receive it. “It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.”
People who speak Acts of Service or Giving Gifts love languages will feel neglected when not given a gift or some help from time to time. They work hard for the people they love and are constantly giving of themselves. So they feel most appreciated when their load is lightened by someone who cares.
Balance and learn a second language.
We all love when others are speaking our love language. But we will also benefit from the other languages. A relationship of all words and no touch would be out of balance. We need both.
We can also be harmed by the lack or misuse of the other languages. Harsh words, isolation, physical abuse and neglect are hurtful to us all.
In order to have healthy relationships with those we love and to avoid accidentally harming them, we need to find out what love language they speak. You can usually figure it out by watching how they love and care for you. That’s how they need to be loved in return. It might not be your love language. But it’s worth trying to speak it to them.
Take the time to learn a second love language. Watch the spark of realization when you start speaking the same language. You will love well and be well loved. And, hey, you just might start a fire again.
What’s your love language? Does your spouse speak a different language? Share your insights in the comments.