This is the secret to getting holiday gifting right. 

By Julia Malacoff
Nov 25, 2020 @ 9:00 am
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Picking the perfect gift for your partner can be tricky, especially if they’re not the type to drop hints about what it is they really want this year. But there’s one way you can be pretty sure your S.O. will love what you give them: choose their gift based on their love language.

So, what are love languages, and how do you know your partner’s?

Love languages are a concept first coined by Gary Chapman, the author and marriage counselor who wrote the corresponding book called The 5 Love Languages. These days, relationship therapists and coaches often use the concept to help partners better understand each other better.

“Think of your partner's love language as the way they understand and communicate feelings of love,” explains Shannon Gunnip, LMHC, BC-TMH. “If someone is speaking a foreign language to me, but I only understand English, whatever they're trying to say to me will be lost in translation and I'll be very confused. The same thing can happen between romantic partners who speak different love languages. The way one partner communicates love might not be fully understood and appreciated as love by the other partner, which may leave the other partner feeling confused and hungry for connection.”

This is why knowing your partner’s love language can be so helpful, and why gifting them based on their love language is an amazing way to ensure they feel loved and appreciated by you, according to Gunnip.

But, how do you know what your partner’s love language is? If you don’t know already, you could ask them to take this quiz. Or, you can do a little detective work on your own.

“Think about when your partner is in a particularly good mood or when they seem most pleased with you,” suggests Tennesha Wood, dating coach and founder of The Broom List. “Remember to focus on what makes them happy, not what you enjoy doing for them.”

For instance, are they happiest when…

  • They wake up next to you after falling asleep cuddled on the couch? Then their love language may be physical touch.
  • You send a text sharing what you admire about them in the middle of the day just because? Then their love language may be words of affirmation.
  • You have uninterrupted time together without your phones? Then their love language may be quality time.
  • They get home and the house is clean and dinner is made? Then their love language may be acts of service.
  • You've returned from a trip with a trinket or souvenir? Then their love language may be receiving gifts. 

The Best Gifts for the 5 Love Languages

Physical Touch

People who value physical touch feel most loved when you hold their hand, massage them, play with their hair, and so on. Sure, sexuality is part of it, but it’s more than that, too.

Option 1: Buy them a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets are all the rage now, especially for people who experience anxiety,” says Beverley Andre, LMFT. “The pressure from the blanket can give the same sensation as a hug.” This might be an especially good pick for a long-distance partner.

Shop now: Sheltered Co. Salt and Pepper Weighted Blanket, from $265; shelteredco.com

Option 2: Sign up for a sexy class or workshop.

“Do an intimate experience like a tantra class that helps you learn more about your partner,  escape intimate ‘routines,’ and allows for the freedom to try something new on each other,” Wood recommends.

Option 3: Treat them to an at-home spa day. 

“Get them a special robe, draw them a bath, lotion/massage them, do their nails, and give them a facial,” Wood suggests. “It takes pampering to a whole new level when you are the one doing it.”

Shop now: Hill House Home The Men’s Hotel Robe, $100; hillhousehome.com

Words of Affirmation

For people who have this love language, your words are just as important as your actions — if not more important. Experts emphasize that if this is your partner’s love language, telling them how you feel about them with a thoughtful gift is one of the best ways to make them feel special.

Option 1: Frame a special memento.

If you’re married, consider framing your wedding vows. “Having a reminder of the verbal commitment made to each other is not only romantic, but also decorative,” Andre notes. If you’re not married, a love letter or meaningful note from your relationship could work, too!

Option 2: Get a customized photo album with captions.

“Include photos of you two from the start of your relationship until this point, as well short meaningful messages about qualities that you learned and loved about your partner at each stage of your relationship,” suggests Sheva Assar, PsyD.

Shop now: Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Book, from $59; artifactuprising.com

Option 3: Create a video library by mood.

If you’re feeling creative, Wood recommends recording several videos your partner can play depending on the mood they’re in. For instance, one for when they’re having a bad day, one for when they’re thinking about you, and another for when they’re under the weather. “It will give your partner words of affirmation at the times they need it most, even when you're not around,” Wood adds.

Quality Time

This love language is all about giving your partner your full attention, so the best gifts for this category revolve around uninterrupted time together.

Option 1: Give them a quarantine getaway.

“Research how to safely travel and get off the grid for the weekend,” Andre recommends. “A change of scenery and being intentional with time together is needed especially with a lot of people working from home.”

Option 2: Plan a “get to know each other all over again” date night.

“Google a list of questions that promote emotional intimacy and save them,” Gunnip says. Then plan a date night where you take turns asking each other the questions. “This will create some really intimate conversations and will demonstrate to your partner that you enjoy spending time together.” Pro tip: don’t forget to put your phone on do not disturb.

Option 3: Get into their hobby for a night.

“A partner whose love language is quality time will appreciate you dedicating your day to showing interest in something important to them,” Gunnip notes. If they love hiking, grab your pack and hit the trails. If they’re into cozy nights at home with puzzles and board games, stock up on some new ones and some special bottles of wine.

Piecework Buns Out Puzzle, $36; pieceworkpuzzles.com.

Acts of Service

This is the kind of person who values a helping hand more than anything else. So your gift for them should ideally do that.

Option 1: Pay off a bill. 

This one might be a little tricky depending on your relationship, but if you share finances or split any bills, it could be a really meaningful way to show you care and that you want to help. “The pandemic has affected a lot of people financially, so helping your partner with a bill can offset a lot of stress they may be experiencing,” Andre explains.

Option 2: Figure out where they need help, then commit to helping.

Find a specific task your partner has on their to-do list, then cross it off for them for the rest of the year, Assar recommends. Something like cleaning the house yourself (or hiring someone else to do it), handling school drop off, or taking care of the grocery shopping.

One note: This is most effective as a gift if you’re already contributing significantly to the emotional labor in your household. Otherwise, it might come off as if you think doing your fair share is a “gift” when it’s actually just being a good partner!

Option 3: Get them something small that makes their life easier. 

Getting this option right starts with taking notice of what your partner handles, then figuring out how you can make it easier for them. “This shows that you're paying attention and appreciate the care and details they put into their day,” Wood explains. “Does your partner love to cook but is missing some essential kitchen gear? Get a new gadget or appliance that saves time.” This can be something really small, like a one-pot dinners cookbook for the home chef who hates doing dishes, or a garlic press that saves chopping time.

Keeping It Simple: Easy Weeknight One-Pot Recipes by Yasmin Fahr, $20; amazon.com.

OXO Good Grips Garlic Press, $17; bedbathandbeyond.com.

Receiving Gifts

“For partners whose love language is receiving gifts, the most important aspect of the gift is that it demonstrates thoughtfulness and consideration for your partner,” Gunnip explains. So don’t think any old last-minute gift will do.

Option 1: Look to their secondary love language for inspiration. 

“Often, people in this group do not require flashy or expensive gifts, but rather more personalized or unique gifts that show how well you know them,” Gunnip says. “For that reason, gifting for this love language might be different from person to person.” If you think they’ve got a tendency towards another love language as well, start there for ideas.

Option 2: Buy them a gift subscription. 

“Consider getting a subscription to some of their favorite products because it’s literally a gift that keeps on giving,” Andre says. This is easy to do with Amazon subscriptions, or with any number of smaller retailers.

For instance, for cheese lovers, you could try Murray’s Cheese of The Month Club (from $63 per month; murrayscheese.com). 

For book lovers, go for Book of The Month (from $50 for 3 months; bookofthemonth.com). 

For beer aficionados, Craft Beer Club offers a monthly subscription that includes 12 beers ($45 per month; craftbeerclub.com). 

Option 3: Snoop on their wishlist. 

Consider what your partner’s been eyeing but won't buy for themselves. “Get them something off a public wishlist, or see which brands they like or follow or social media,” Wood says. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to spend money on themselves for things that aren't practical. Get them something that they don't necessarily need but really want. This spares them the guilt of feeling frivolous.”