The point of this book is that not everyone feels loved or cared about by the same things, and that the old "treat others the way you'd like to be treated" is a little off base. The more effective version is 'treat others the way they want to be treated." For instance, I am a person that is generally pretty huggy-kissy. My girlfriends and I hug and kiss on the cheek and call each other "love" and that kind of thing. I know people, though, who are physically standoffish, even with those closest to them. You go to hug them and they look at you as if you have the plague and are about to contaminate them. Therefore, I've had to learn that there are certainly ways to show these people I care, but hugging them is not it.
I'm not generally one to summarize books and such, but I feel that the points that form the basis of this one are incredibly important, and that we often miss the mark when it comes to our interactions with others. It seems that lately we've become such a "me" society, and we expect others to interact and react the way we do, or there's something "wrong" with them. Yet, there may be a very valid reason that they don't. Every person is built differently, and I thought that a discussion of this book's content could perhaps shed some light on this, at least when it comes to the way we express caring.
According to the book, the five love languages are:
1. Quality time. This one is pretty straight forward. It means that you spend quality time with someone, by their definition of quality. "By their definition" is the critical point here. If your vision of quality time is watching reality TV and mine is going for a hike together, telling me that we're going to spend time together and turning on Big Brother does not make me feel loved. In fact, it probably makes me feel like you don't really know, or don't really care, what I want to do.
2. Words of affirmation. Basically, this is using (positive) words to let the person know how you feel about them. It can be a compliment on their appearance, or an appreciation for who they are or what they do, or a "great job on that promotion, I'm proud of you". It doesn't have to necessarily be spoken. You could write them a letter or a song or come to the door as a singing telegram. But it should be genuine and heartfelt. And it should be something you know is important to them. If they're feeling down about their appearance, or job, or whatever it is, and the best you can come up with is "you make a mean biscuits and gravy", they may not feel super cared about. Yes, you may really have loved last night's dinner, and that's nice of you to say it, but that's not how they want to be recognized.
3. Acts of service. The name is a bit tricky, and I'll admit that when I first read it, I thought this was a "barefoot on the kitchen and pregnant' kind of a thing. But basically, this means doing things for the person that are important to them. If they don't have time to make dinner because of their work schedule, and surprise them with a nice dinner, that's an act of service. So is cleaning the house when they hate to do it. Or running errands or taking care of things they need to do but don't have time or don't want to do. It doesn't have to be an essential need. It can be knowing that they'd love to have a garden, and clearing a space for it in the yard and planting some bulbs. Again though, this has to be important to the person. If having the house spotless is your compulsion, but I could care less, saying spending hours cleaning may make you feel loved if the situation was reversed but isn't the way that they feel loved.
4. Gift giving. This can blend in with acts of service a bit, because it's an action of giving something to the other person. The difference, though, is that this is generally not an action, but something actually purchased or made/created that you give to the person, and it's generally something that's not a necessity. So if the vacuum broke and you pick up a new one because the house is dusty, that's probably closer to an act of service. If they've been dying for that new grill they saw on TV and you randomly come home with it one day, that's a gift. In a professional setting, it could be throwing an appreciation day for your employees or coworkers or something along this line. It's not a gift per se, but you're creating something nice and unexpected for them.
5. Physical touch. Ok so this is the one that probably shouldn't apply to a professional situation. But it doesn't have to be just romantic or intimate. It can be the hug example with family or friends that I described above, or just holding someone's hand. It's that extra personal touch that makes someone feel cared about, loved, needed. It says "you're special to me".
Do any of these jump out at you? Do you recognize yourself or your loved ones or others in your life in these? There are two keys to this book. The first is to discover how you best feel loved (it can be a combination), so that you can let others know - "hey, I don't need expensive gifts, but I'd love for you to hold my hand or put your arm around me once in a while". The other key is to figure out how the important people in your life feel cared about. You may have been bringing them expensive gifts because that would make you feel special, but all they want is for you to spend some quality time that doesn't involve the TV or Facebook.
I want to add a caveat here. These indicate the way that you (or others) most feel loved. I'd venture to guess that everyone likes a combination of these, but some are just more important than others. So it's not really an excuse to say "well gift giving came in last in that quiz, so I didn't get you anything for Christmas!" Or, well we spent time together, so I never have to do the dishes again! There are general things that everyone likes. These just help you see how you, and others, most feel appreciated, because we may well be focusing on those things least important to each other.
The book has a test in it, if you're curious. You can also probably find the book or test online. Can anyone guess what my results came in at? I'll give you a clue, I had a clear winner, and a two-way tie for second place. There were two that were definitely down at the bottom. I wasn't surprised by the outcome at all. Still, it's always nice to know that you know yourself well.