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Love Languages and the Emotional Bank Account

group of teenage girls of different races standing in circle and looking directly at the viewer

Figuring out how your bank account works was probably one of the first things you learned as you entered adulthood. After all, your day-to-day survival depends on that knowledge! If you withdraw too much, you’ll find yourself in the red, with no money to spend when you need it. But it’s also not practical to keep money in your account and never make a withdraw.

Your relationships operate similarly to your bank account. Healthy relationships depend on the right balance of deposits and withdrawals. Deposits are actions, like spending quality time together, offering sincere praise, listening and talking honestly with each other, and sharing positive experiences together. Withdrawals are holding boundaries, saying “no”, and offering constructive feedback when needed.

As you make appropriate deposits and withdrawals in your relationship with your teen, he/she will feel valued, loved, supported and understood. When this occurs, healing can take place and the path to lasting change opens.

Love Languages

We all like to give and receive love, but each of us does this in our own way. In our relationships with others, sometimes these emotional expressions of love are misunderstood. Learning to express love in a way that your family members can understand is an important part of the emotional health of your family. You make emotional deposits in others’ accounts by expressing love in a way that they understand. And when you need to make withdrawals by following through with consequences or giving constructive feedback, you’ll have enough emotional deposits to do so.

Gary Chapman, Ph.D., identified five primary love languages. Giving love in a variety of ways is helpful but when we speak each others primary love language, it will touch more deeply and fill the emotional bank account more quickly. If we ignore others’ primary love languages, the emotional bank account remains empty.

The five love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation: This is giving sincere and specific words of praise. If you are not able to praise results, you should praise efforts. This also means expressing words of affection (saying “I love you” or “I love spending time with you”). With teens, speaking words of affirmation in front of family is a good idea, but be cautious about doing this in front of peers.
  • Physical touch: This means hugging, cuddling, pats on the back, arm wrestling, kissing (with a spouse or partner), etc. With teens it is important to find time for appropriate ways to touch.
  • Quality time: This refers to spending time together. Activities might include really listening and validating each other, and teaching instead of lecturing. The most important thing is to focus on the person with whom you are spending quality time and try not to do other things at the same time.
  • Acts of Service: As a parent, you probably feel you give constant service to your children and you are probably right, but to show love through service you have to check your attitude. Making the child feel guilty for all that you do for him/her will not help him/her feel loved. Manipulation is also not showing love (“I will drive you to the mall if you clean your room”). Instead, some acts of service may include teaching your teen how to do something he/she doesn’t know how to do.
  • Gifts: Gifts are visible evidence of emotional love. Again, a true gift is not used to manipulate someone into doing something you want him/her to do. Giving gifts is to express emotional love but they should never be given to take the place of true love (such as being too busy to spend time with your kids, and trying to make up for it by buying gifts).

Learning your own love language and the love languages of your family members will go a long way in filling your family emotional bank account and creating healthy relationships.

What Is Your Love Language?

  • As a family, each of you list the five love languages in order from how you most like to receive love to how you least like to receive love (#1 is your primary love language). Also list the ways you tend to express love to other members in your family. Can improvements be made so everyone is better at understanding each family members’ love language?


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