Female Friends Happy with Arms Around Each Other

The best ways to encourage friends, based on their love language

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” –C.S. Lewis

We walk through a lot of times in our lives where we feel alone and misunderstood, and finding friends that “get us” can alter the course of our lives. Finding that connection with another person brings us so much fulfillment. It takes effort to make friends, especially as adults, and can be even harder to maintain them well.

The “Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman offers us a way to love the people in our lives better, to maintain relationships in a way that shows our friends that we understand them. Expressing our love can be complicated—especially when we all receive emotional love differently. Chapman lays out five ways that we express and give love: physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service and quality time.

It’s important that we understand each other, and how we receive love, so that we can know how to give it in a more personal way to those we love. Chapman says, “You cannot force someone to accept an expression of love. You can only offer it. If it is not accepted, you must respect the other person’s decision.”

It’s possible that we’ve received the wrong messaging from our friends, because of the way they choose to accept and express love. We can better understand why we haven’t been feeling loved and encouraged by our friends, and take it less personally when we know how they prefer to receive love. Chapman says, “Love can be expressed and received in all five languages. However, if you don’t speak a person’s primary love language, that person will not feel loved, even though you may be speaking the other four. Once you are speaking his or her primary love language fluently, then you can sprinkle in the other four and they will be like icing on the cake.”

Ever notice how some friends never say I love you, but are always bringing you coffee? They might not say the words, but their act of gift giving shows that they care for you. We all express our love in our own way, but instead of feeling like someone doesn’t “get you” or appreciate you, this is a way to reframe your experience and show up for your friends in a personal way.

Here is how you can use the five love languages to encourage your friends:

Physical touch

You can show encouragement and love through hugs and pats on the back. It means a lot to the physical touch love language types people for you to receive their physical gestures. Physical touch people are often the “hugger” types, who feel comforted and close to someone through touch. If you’re not a physical touch friend, simply letting them hug you or be close to you means a lot to them.

How to encourage your physical touch friend:

  • Give them a hello and goodbye hug.
  • Sit close to them.
  • Hold their hand to pray with them.
  • Put your arms around them, especially when they’re feeling down.

Words of affirmation

When your friend seems down or in need of encouragement, give them a confidence boost. It’s important to give them verbal reassurance in their moments of insecurity or even during their wins. Encourage them with your genuine words of kindness and vocalize how much you see them. For them, hearing the words is important.

How to encourage your words of affirmation friend:

  • Show them that you see their progress and encourage them to keep going. Say, “I’ve really noticed how you’ve been showing up lately. You’re doing a great job!”
  • Compliment them. Say, “You look amazing today! I love your style.”
  • Notice the details. Say, “Did you get a haircut? It looks so good on you.”
  • Express what you like about them, and how much you appreciate them. Say, “You’re such a kind person. I feel lucky to know you.”

Quality time

Show up and be on time. If you need to cancel, be sure to reschedule. For a quality time person, your presence is enough but they want to feel like they can rely on you to show up physically for them and truly be present. Suggest friend dates that involve communicating with each other. Coffee time is great—something where they have your undivided attention. This rules out Netflix and movies as quality friendship time.

How to encourage your quality time friend:

  • Cook a meal together or go out for dinner.
  • Go for a walk to the park.
  • Discover a new coffee shop in a neighboring city.
  • Stay in and do crafts, play a board game or work on a puzzle.

Acts of service

Acts of service means doing the things that your friend doesn’t want to do or just simply making their lives easier. If you see that your friend has been really stressed lately, ask what you can do to help—and even better, be specific about it. It means you’re listening, and showing up for them in the way they need most. Notice what they don’t seem to enjoy doing, or are finding difficult in this season of their life, and take action. They don’t want to feel like they have to tackle everything by themselves.

How to encourage your acts of service friend:

  • Offer to help them with something on their to-do list, especially when they’re stressed out.
  • Encourage them to try out a meal plan delivery or cleaning service to outsource some of their stressful workload.
  • When you’re over at their house for dinner, offer to wash the dishes.
  • Plan out the itinerary for hangouts so all they have to do is show up.

Receiving gifts

People who enjoy receiving gifts might seem like they’re materialistic, but what they really appreciate is feeling like they’ve been on your mind, even when you’re away. “Thinking of you” gifts to them mean a lot. It means that even when you’re not in their presence, you’re thinking about them. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it’s truly is the thought that counts with the receiving gifts love language.

How to encourage your receiving gifts friend:

  • Pick up their favorite coffee.
  • Surprise them with tickets to a show (free events count!).
  • Send them a Spotify playlist or podcast episode that you know they’ll love.
  • Always bring them back souvenirs after a trip—even if it costs a few dollars, it will be treasured.

Do Good:

  • Subscribe to The Do Gooders Podcast to be inspired by those doing good and find tangible tips for simple actions you can take today.
  • Visit westernusa.salvationarmy.org to find The Salvation Army nearest you.
  • Give to support the fight for good in your community.
  • Join in the free Find Your Story course today and dive into the email workshop to find your voice, own your story and share it with others.  
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