Talk is cheap—unless, of course, your love language is Words of Affirmation.
While some might argue that the term is fairly self-explanatory, there are actually a few misconceptions and misunderstandings about what to do if you or your partner identify as someone with this form of affection at the top of their list.
"Individuals whose love language is Words of Affirmation are stereotyped as extroverts. They often are seen as using this type of love language as a way of managing any anxieties that arise within [the relationship]," explains relationship and intimacy expert and co-founder of the Love Discovery Institute, Dr. Carolina Pataky, PhD.
She emphasizes that there's real vulnerability in giving and receiving compliments. "These individuals love to feel reassured by their partner’s words and openness to communication; it simply makes their day to hear their loved one comment on how attracted they are to their qualities and makes them feel loved and desired," says Pataky
In case you were wondering where all this love language talk comes from, you can thank pastor, relationship counselor, and author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary Chapman, PhD.
The five love languages are Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Receiving/Giving Gifts, and Words of Affirmation. And the theory states that everyone has two main love languages. But nowadays, you might find it more common for people to rank their love languages one through five to give others a better of what they like all around.
If compliments make you swoon or you're someone who appreciates kind and reassuring verbal remarks—you might wonder what that says about you. Read on for the lowdown on Words of Affirmation.
What is 'Words of Affirmation'?
In short, if Words of Affirmation is your love language, it means what your partner has to say about you and to you speaks volumes.
Words of Affirmation is typically the language of someone who gets off knowing their partner is paying attention to them, notices what makes them tick, and appreciates what makes them special, says relationship psychologist Maryanne Comaroto, PhD. It's not about fishing for compliments, but rather knowing that your partner thinks highly of you.
Say you have a big work presentation. Hearing your partner remind you that you're a badass will probably make you melt. That's because their words speak to why they belive you're great and what you do to make them think this about you. Of course, it feels good to hear all that. But ultimately, their words mean something because they confirm your partner knows you and gets you.
When it comes to relationships, feeling understood and, of course, appreciated is crucial. But if Words of Affirmation is your love language, you feed off of those occasions when your S.O. takes a moment to hype you up, acknowledge a nice gesture you did for them (or someone else), or remind you just how lucky they are to have you around.
But is the 'Words of Affirmation' love language a bad thing?
Nope, not at all! You tune in to details, and people love that about you. Because of that, you are someone who's looking for genuine appreciation or empathy, and if you don't hear it, you may not feel it. So it's important to communicate to your partner (and any other close relationships), that you feel most connected to them when they take the time to give you a heartfelt shoutout.
That's not to say a throwaway "Love you!" will land, though. You have an ear for B.S., so “authenticity is key,” says Comaroto. As someone in the Words of Affirmation camp, you’re looking out for the specifics in what your partner is saying. Anything less can feel like a platitude and not affirmative at all.
Some simple examples can be "I appreciate X about you," “I am so thankful for having you in my life,” and “I am so proud of all the hard work you have been doing,” says Pataky.
What if I'm not getting enough 'Words of Affirmation' from my partner?
A big Words of Affirmation no-no is relying on your partner to make you feel good about yourself. If you struggle with self-esteem (not necessarily the case, but possible), you need to work on the self-love first, says Comaroto.
"People often feel compelled to seek love outside of themselves, so there's a lot of pressure put on partners to complete us," she says. But expectations like that will just leave you wanting—at the end of the day, self-worth will always be an inside job. No amount of affection or reassurance from an outside party can replace your own.
If this isn't your strong suit, try standing in front of a mirror and telling yourself, "I'm enough." Not doing it? Scan your body, and thank your limbs, eyes, bones, whatever really, for getting you from place to place every single day. It might sound a little out there, but it works—you'll know for sure when something upsets you and you can give yourself a pep talk that's as good as any that would come from a loved one, Comaroto says.
No doubt, hearing someone else tell you how special you are feels nice and all, but it should always come as backup to believing in your worth.
How do I make my partner speak my 'Words of Affirmation' love language?
Having different love languages isn't necessarily a deal breaker. But not studying up on how each of you feels most loved—and trying to deliver on it—can make navigating inevitable relationship challenges extremely tough, says Comaroto. Why? Because your partner won't know that trying to cuddle you after an argument versus giving you a thoughtful and sincere apology, for example, will be lost on you, which can create a disconnect
Ultimately, it's all about being upfront with them. Your S.O. (unfortunately) can't read your mind, so here's how to keep them in the loop:
- Share what kinds of statements you value most. Whether it's words of empathy, forgiveness, understanding, or praise, your partner won't be able to give you what you need unless you tell them, says Comaroto. And don't worry, it doesn't have to be awkward. Try: "It makes me feel so good that you notice when I'm feeling overwhelmed and encourage me." Or if they always comment on how fire you look but gushing about your appearance only ever goes in one ear, there's no shame in saying you'd rather hear what they think about your accomplishments, even if it's just hyping you up about the small day-to-day victories.
- Drill in on the importance of authenticity. You'll know if your partner doesn't "take care to find the right combination of words," says Comaroto. So let them know how much you value kind words that are backed by genuine feelings. This way they'll spare you the disingenuous stuff. (For example, "You look great, can we go now? We're going to be late" type of stuff.)
- Express gratitude when they do speak your language. If you never acknowledge your partner's affirmations, they might start to feel like a personal self-help podcast, so thank them when they do make the effort. Try: "That just made me feel so seen and appreciated. I'm so grateful that we're in this together."
David and Victoria Beckham definitely speak each other's love languages—peep the proof in their ~body~ language:
What shouldn't I do if my partner's love language is 'Words of Affirmation'?
- Feed them negative words, accusations, or any negative phrases. Pataky notes that these people are usually highly sensitive to criticism since they value this form of communication so much. "The best approach would be to take a second to think before verbally responding to your partner to avoid any words being taken out of context at the moment, as any hurtful word can be taken to heart by the individual," says Pataky. "Any form of emotional abuse will only hinder the emotional connection with your partner and cause unnecessary arguments that can damage the relationship."
- Assume there's a perfect phrase for all of life's situations. On days you're feeling down, when your partner does their best to remind you of all the positives in your life or how great they think you are, and it still doesn't do much to cheer you up, don't hold it against them. Sometimes there's nothing someone can say to bust you out of a funk, and that's not their fault. Thank them for trying, and do what you can to turn your own mood around.
- Forget to cater to their love language, too. The same way your partner's offering you encouraging and affirming words, take time to learn about what makes them feel loved, says Comaroto. Relationships are a two-way street that require giving as much as you take, so ask your partner what you can do to make them feel special the same way they do for you.
- Be afraid to give your partner a refresher every so often. "Picking up on the nuances of someone's personality, day-to-day life, and emotions are tough," says Comaroto. So there's a chance your partner might forget how much you appreciate encouragement when you're feeling sluggish before a workout, or how badly you want to hear them tell you how much they love you when the clothes start coming off. There's no harm in reminding them by saying, "Hey, I really love when you... Can you start doing that again?" This way, they'll know how much you value their pep talks and make it habit. They want to please you...don't forget that.
At the end of the day, Words of Affirmation is all about communication and, well, affirmation—so take time to educate your partner about what it means for you and your bond will be all the better for it.
Your partner might just thank you for it—with a sweet love note.
Sabrina is an editorial assistant for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, training in mixed martial arts, or reading.