I love the love languages. I love learning others, exploring mine, seeing how they shift as we grow and change, how our relationships and experiences mold us. How they present in all of our relationships, not just romantic. It helps me understand so much about the people around me.

One thing I don’t love, however, is piece after piece about the Words of Affirmation language. It seems those who speak it the least have the most to say about it. It often falls short for me.

I often get the impression that those who give advice about Words-of-Affirmation-speakers are trying to express something that it isn’t; that it’s about extraversion or soothing anxieties. They describe the surface operations but don’t understand the motivation behind how covertly beautiful and vulnerable this love language can be for those who embrace it.

No two people speak the same love language the same way, especially when they blend and overlap with others and are informed by other experiences such as past relationships and attachment. I don’t assume any authority over it; however, I feel compelled to share the two things that few, if any, of the many articles and essays out there really touch on that in my experience boil down the very essence of what this love language is.

Compliments are not what you think they are

Who doesn’t love hearing something good about themselves come from someone else’s mouth? It’s a nice feeling to know that one is seen and appreciated by others. Words of Affirmation-speakers love compliments, both giving and receiving.

But what is a compliment, really? So often, I read advice about how to speak the Words of Affirmation love language boiled down to: “Compliment them at every chance. Tell them they’re beautiful each morning. Reassure them verbally that they are loved and attractive.”

And every time I read that or anything similar, I am reminded of this guy:

I am not the kind of person who likes “good morning, beautiful,” texts. I can’t stand them. Forget trying to pick me up on a dating app or at a bar with some pickup line about how hot I am. The fact is: I don’t care what people think about the way I look. I don’t live for their approval. It makes me souncomfortable. I like the way I look.

Many women in particular often talk about how much they dislike unsolicited compliments about their appearance and to speak in a general sense, men often deal with the opposite and are rarely complimented on their appearance. This problem is so pervasive that just saying “compliment” is often immediately associated with one’s appearance. It’s a narrow view of what they really are.

Let’s rethink it. I am much more moved when someone tells me they love a certain quality about my personality or admire a talent of mine. Those are the things that stick with me. It’s so often said and oft-forgotten that beauty and attraction come from the inside. When you compliment someone who speaks Words of Affirmation: who are they on the inside? What is something that only that person brings to your life?

Everyone is beautiful in their own way. Everyone deserves to feel that from the inside out. This doesn’t mean: never tell your partner that they’re physically attractive if they are, it means that there is more to who we are than how we look. For someone whose primary love language is about words and communication, that is the stuff that will make one feel loved every day.

It’s about listening, too

Because words mean so much to me, I also value what others say and place a lot of importance on what they share with me. What this means is that I pay very close attention to what people not only say to me but also what they take away from conversations we share.

The things that make me feel most loved in any relationship is when someone mentions something, a small detail, that I never knew they picked up about me. Conversely, having to repeat myself several times as though I never shared a certain detail cuts me to the core. It tells me that the person I shared it with was more concerned with the act of talking, about the number of words exchanged or minutes spent on the phone, than understanding their significance or appreciating that I was their conversation partner.

As a Words of Affirmation person, I pick up on a person’s vocabulary; their tone; outlook; their life patterns; how they view things and so much more. I do my best to give them the same when I speak. I mean exactly what I say.

If you love someone whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, how well do you truly listen to them? They are listening to you. It’s likely that if a Words of Affirmation person tells you that you are strong, admirable, and beautiful: they mean it. If they tell you something that is hard to hear, trust that it is because they trust you to listen and understand.

It’s about affirming first.

You may notice that I haven’t offered a list of to-dos or specific scripts. That’s because there is no magic to perfecting Words of Affirmation for a loved one that can be achieved with a Top Five listicle. Hopefully, by reading this you have come to think of people in your life who speak this love language or perhaps have a better understanding of what motivates them.

In the end, the Words of Affirmation love language is exactly that: affirming another person by using our words. Really, all of the love languages are about this but it is the only one that is labeled outright. Actively listening (and also opening up and being honest) goes so much further in communicating your love and appreciation than how many words are shared or texts sent throughout the day (personally, I am not a huge texter, not until I like and trust someone. Go figure).

It’s not about talking all the time, it’s about saying and hearing the right things with the people who care about you.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto for Pexels

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