Backing up for a sec in case you’re not familiar with the five love languages. They were introduced by Dr. Gary Chapman’s best-selling book The 5 Love Languages. “Love languages are specific ways that each individual is wired and/or conditioned to receive and value love,” says Kendra A. O'Hora, PhD, LCMFT, and owner and therapist at HarCo Marriage and Family Therapy and Wellness Center. “Dr. Chapman suggests that when your gas tank is running low, you need more and more love to sustain healthy levels of functioning. If you're running on empty in your relationship, then being kind, generous, supportive, loving, considerate, selfless, etc. becomes desperately difficult.”
While the other four love languages are pretty self-explanatory (physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time), acts of service is one that can be a little tricky to understand. (If you’re not sure what your love language is, you can take an online quiz).
Dr. O’Hora says some tangible examples of acts of service include running an errand for your partner, filling up their car with gas, or doing household chores like laundry and dishes. The acts of service love language can encompass so many things, though, where do you even start? How do you know if you’re doing it right? It doesn’t have to be as complicated as it may seem. Here, Dr. O'Hora shares her top strategies on how to master this love language.
5 tips to follow if you have an acts of service love language
1. Tell your partner that you have an acts of service love language
First and foremost, the key in any relationship is communication—and that includes sharing each other’s love languages. “I find that many couples do not operate well with the abstract or rather, the mind-reading of relationships,” Dr. O’Hora says. “We cannot expect our partner to know how to love us well. Knowing yourself is difficult enough.”
If you’re not sure how to go about communicating this with your partner, she suggests writing a heartfelt letter explaining what it means to you to have an acts of service love language so you can gather your thoughts and articulate them clearly. And then read that letter out loud to your partner.
2. Get clear on what specific acts of service are meaningful for you
Like many things in life, what constitutes an act of service is subjective. Meaning, an act of service that is meaningful for one person might not be for another. So it’s important to not just tell your significant other that your love language is acts of service but to actually tell them what specific things will make you feel most loved. It could be making you your morning cup of coffee or taking care of the kids so you can enjoy some me-time. To make it crystal clear, Dr. O’Hora suggests writing a list of 30 acts of service that are the most important for you and ask your partner to check one off every day.
3. Get comfortable asking for what you want
Many people can feel uncomfortable, or maybe even like a bother, when they ask for things. But, as Dr. O’Hora says, there is nothing wrong with asking for love. So if your love language is acts of service, her advice is to first get comfortable with asking your partner to do the acts of service that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Be your own advocate. Don’t expect your partner to always know what you need and when you need it.
Ask in a nice, loving way, of course. Dr. O’Hora suggests something like: “Hi honey! I hope you had a good day at work. Can you please tackle dinner tonight? It would mean a lot to me. Thank you!”
4. Share how you would like the act of service done
“For the person with an acts of service love language, completing the task well is just as important as the task itself,” Dr. O’Hora says. That’s why she recommends offering to show your partner how you’d like the task done because if you have to redo the task yourself it kind of defeats the entire purpose (like, um, if they load the dishwasher incorrectly). It goes without saying, but be sure to share this in a loving tone and not with a micromanaging vibe.
5. Acknowledge your partner
When your partner does do an act of service for you, it’s important to acknowledge them and thank them for the love they have offered you. “This reminds your partner that you value that they are actually filling your tank,” Dr. O’Hora says. “This is not a pat on the back for taking on their share of household responsibilities. This is an acknowledgment that your partner is loving you well. Remind them how full your tank is and how happy you are.”
All in all, by simply advocating for yourself and your love language and acknowledging your partner when they make you feel loved, it’s a win-win for the relationship. “Both partners will feel heard, valued, seen, and appreciated,” Dr. O’Hora says. “You’ll then want to pour out the love even more and that's the groove that helps keep your relationship strong.”
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This post was originally published on December 28, 2019; updated on October 2, 2020.
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