Relationship Tips

How To Speak (and Comprehend) the ‘Words of Affirmation’ Love Language

Photo: Stocksy / Pedro Merino
It's often said that actions speak louder than words, but for people whose love language is words of affirmation, it's actually words themselves that speak volumes.

Never heard of love languages? Introduced by Gary Chapman’s best-selling 2015 book, love languages are ways of communicating based on methods to speak and understand love. There are five different types: quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, and words of affirmation (which, according to Chapman, is the most common love language). Knowing your partner's love language is important because it clues you in as to the best way to show them how much you care. You may think your partner wants to feel showered with thoughtful presents (receiving gifts) when really they would so much more appreciate you cleaning the kitchen for them (acts of service).

"People whose love language is words of affirmation like their partner to use words to express their love," says sex and relationship expert Jess O'Reilly, PhD. But if you don't consider yourself good with words, being in a relationship with someone whose love language is words of affirmation seem challenging. But Dr. O'Reilly says it's really not.

What Is the ‘Words of Affirmation’ Love Language?

“A primary human need in any meaningful personal relationship is to feel “affirmed,” i.e., seen, valued, and validated by the other person,” says Aditi Paul, PhD, a professor and relationship researcher at Pace University in New York. “Meeting this need with the use of verbal communication—written or spoken—constitutes what Chapman calls the ‘words of affirmation’ love language.” Words of affirmation, she adds, can include compliments, appreciation, and acknowledgement of your partner.

Examples include: 

  • I love you.
  • I’m so lucky to have you in my life.
  • You look amazing.
  • Your feelings are valid.
  • I love how much thought you put into our vacation.
  • Thank you for listening and not interrupting.

Furthermore, Dr. Paul adds that since the purpose of the words of affirmation love language is to provide your partner with thoughtful feedback, listening to your partner with empathy and intent is also key.

Regardless of what language you most identify with, the benefits of using words of affirmations are strong for both the relationship and overall well being. “[Saying] words of affirmation is a way of showing gratitude and acceptance for your partner,” Dr. Paul says. “Both these practices have practical benefits. Research has shown that feeling understood and accepted by partners increases relational satisfaction and showing gratitude increases life satisfaction.”

And words of affirmation (or any love language for that matter) isn’t just for romantic relationships. “Feeling appreciated and valued are human needs in any personal relationship, not just romantic ones,” Dr. Paul says. “This includes giving and receiving words of affirmation from your parents, children, bosses, and employees.”

How To Use Words of Affirmation

1. Write a love letter

Dr. O'Reilly emphasizes that you don't have to be "good with words" to speak the words of affirmation love language. "It's important to know that you don't have to come up with something to say right on the spot," she says. "You can spend some time and think about it, and then write your partner a love letter."

It doesn’t have to be a full-on letter either. Dr. Paul says any form of written words of affirmation can work. That includes text messages or writing down words of affirmation in a journal that you can later share with your partner when you’re comfortable..

2. Borrow some quotes

If you do take time to craft a love letter and it's still challenging to put your feelings into words, Dr. O'Reilly says to borrow from time-tested love stories over time. "You can quote a passage from a poem or story," she says. Or, you can gift your partner a book and underline passages that speak to your relationship.

3. Use specific and personalized messages

However, just a simple "I love you," (while nice) doesn't always cut it. "Generally people who are inclined towards words of affirmation are looking for specific and personalized messages," she adds. "They want to hear why you love them and how you love them." For example, what actions or personality traits do you appreciate about them? Thinking about that could help you make what you say more meaningful and impactful to both of you.

4. Leave surprise notes

Surprising your partner with notes is another way to express words of affirmation. "If they're going on a business trip, you can leave little notes in their suitcase. Or, you can put one in their lunch bag," Dr. O'Reilly says. "It's fun to surprise your partner!"

5. Express genuine feelings

According to Dr. Paul, the biggest don’t when it comes to words of affirmation is saying things just for the sake of saying things. “People are really good at picking up what is authentic behavior and what is fluff,” she says. “When you use words of affirmation, mean them.”

6. Start small

All that said, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by incorporating more words of affirmation, Dr. Paul’s advice is to start small. Remember that words of affirmations don’t have to be these grand gestures complete with big words and flowery language. “Be mindful and intentional about your interactions with your partner,” Dr. Paul says. “Look for small pockets where you can affirm them even for things that seem seemingly insignificant. He took the laundry out without you asking him to? Say thank you! She started the car so the driver’s seat gets warmed up before you get into the car? Say ‘I love you for doing that!’ Keep it small, keep it significant.”

The same goes for other relationships as well. For instance, Dr. Paul says, a “thank you, I really appreciate it” to an employee when they complete a report, or a “great job” when a kid scores well on a test can go a long way.

The key, Dr. Paul says, is to do it consistently. With practice, you’ll incrementally become more and more comfortable using words to express your feelings.

How To Accept Words of Affirmation

Dr. O'Reilly points out that someone whose love language is words of affirmation likely also likes to show their love this way, so it's important to be able to accept words of affirmation, too. If you're someone who can't take a compliment, this can be challenging. "If accepting words of affirmation is challenging for you, it's good to express this to your partner," she says. "Tell them. 'I'm not used to accepting words of love, but I'm working on it.'"

When your partner starts voicing all the things he or she loves about you, if you don't know what to say, Dr. O'Reilly says a simple thank you works just fine. "Just start with that," she says.

Just like with other languages, it can take work to become fluent in a love language. "It's also good to be fluent in more than one language, so it's great to practice the other love languages as well," says Dr. O'Reilly. The important part is that you and your partner are expressing your love to one another. And that's something that's appreciated no matter what language you speak.

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