Words of Affirmation is the first of the love languages described in Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages system. For people whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, it’s what you say that counts. This of course does not mean that you can act like a slob, forget your wife’s birthday gift or cheat on your spouse as long as you say nice things while you do it. It just means that in order for your spouse to feel truly loved by you, you will need to use the power of speech.
This is in some ways very easy and in some ways very difficult. On one hand, we all know what it means to speak nicely to someone. No doubt you remember the childhood advice “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all.” Please and thank you are natural to most of us at this point. So are simple comments like “nice car!” and “I love your purse!” But are only the bare minimum for someone who needs Words of Affirmation.
The other hand is that we live in a critical and judgmental world. We are used to criticizing and being criticized, not praising and being praised. To depart from this norm takes focus and practice, especially when we are dealing with someone you are so familiar with and spend so much time with; it’s easy to slip back into our normal patterns.
A Few Examples
So what do Words of Affirmation look like? These are comments that verbally express your love, value, and respect for your partner. They can indeed be small remarks like, “I like that dress!” or “Great casserole, honey!” They can also be deep, extensive monologues about why your partner is so special to you. And they can be anything in between. Here are some more examples:
- You really nailed that presentation!
- I really appreciate when you take out the trash before I even ask you.
- You are so special to me because…
- I love you.
- I am sure you’ll be able to figure out how to solve this problem!
All of these statements convey love verbally. Gratitude is also a significant component of Words of Affirmation. “Thanks” is a good start, but there is much more that you can do with your gratitude to fill up someone whose primary language is Words of Affirmation. Being specific about what you are grateful for and why means a lot to anyone, and especially to someone for whom this is the primary love language. So, for example, “Thanks for cleaning the car” is a stronger statement than “thanks!” Even stronger than that is noticing the details: “Thanks for cleaning out the car! You managed to get out the stain on the front chair that’s been there for ages. Way to go!” And to go even one step further, you can be explicit about the impact it had on you: “Thanks for cleaning out the car! It’s really a big help to me. I was dreading doing it myself, and I am super relieved that you took care of it for me. Thanks honey!” If you are a Words person, and even if you’re not, you can probably feel how much more impactful a really thought-out statement like that can be.
Now, Do It!
The trick to getting started with this practice, especially if expressing yourself verbally is not natural to you, is to work on noticing the good things in your relationship. This can be hard to do because many of them are so ever-present we forget to pay them any attention. The fact that you have a significant other to begin with is something to be grateful for. Does he do the shopping every week? Does she keep up the maintenance on the car? Things that you may overlook entirely can provide great opportunities to express Words of Affirmation and thereby to bring real happiness to your partner.
There is one more important to point I must mention regarding this love language, and that is that it has an all-too-common flip side: criticism. Nobody likes being harshly criticized, but to someone whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, they can feel like daggers in the heart. Nothing will kill loving feelings in such a person as quickly or effectively as harsh and critical words. While these should be avoided in any relationship, it is doubly important when your partner’s primary language is Words of Affirmation.
If you believe this language applies to your partner, start working on expressing yourself as we’ve described. It may feel awkward at first, but that is true of any new skill you try to master. In this case, it is certainly worth the effort. What could be more rewarding than a relationship full of love and intimacy. Give it a shot, and feel free to reach out for guidance and advice on making this shift!