Think of love as 'a nutritionally balanced diet' – here's how to make your relationship last, according to science

Spoiler: it takes more than one love language

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It takes more than one love language to maintain a happy relationship, according to a new study. Here's why a 'balanced diet' is the secret to long-lasting love...

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and for busy parents, it might be the excuse you need to set aside some couple time. For some, that might look like spicing up the relationship and trying something new – like tantric sex – while others might use it as an opportunity to revisit their love language.

In case you're out of the loop, love languages are the five different ways of expressing and receiving love: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. The concept was created by Gary Chapman, author of the book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, and he theorised that every person had a preferred love language. Understanding your partner's love language is widely thought to be one of the keys to a happy, long-lasting relationship.

However, a new study published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science suggests that long-term love isn't quite so straightforward. The authors of the research evaluated existing research on love languages and found that most people need to use and feel a mix of all five in order to cultivate long-lasting love.

They offer an alternative metaphor, describing love as a 'balanced diet'. The researchers write: "The process of maintaining successful, loving relationships is akin to keeping a healthy, balanced diet. Whereas Chapman’s language metaphor implies that people can feel love only when their partner speaks their love language, the healthy-diet metaphor suggests that people need multiple essential nutrients to maintain satisfying relationships."

A mean and woman smiling and making eye contact with their faces close together

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However, that doesn't mean you should disregard the love languages theory entirely, as the researchers explain: "This does not mean that all expressions of love will be equally important to all people and in all situations. Just as there are times when people might have particularly strong needs for certain nutrients (e.g., a marathon runner needs extra carbs), people might benefit more from specific expressions of love at certain times, such as physical affection during times of stress."

They add, "Relationship science has shown that people with chronic relationship insecurities, for example, people higher in attachment avoidance who tend to have issues trusting in their partner’s love and care, experience even greater benefits when their partner expresses appreciation."

Relationship rubrics and categories like the love languages theory are a comforting and easily understood way to simplify something that is actually pretty complex and – as parents will know more than most – not always easy to maintain.

It's likely for this reason that Chapman's theory of the five love languages is so popular – The 5 Love Languages has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and been translated into 50 languages since first publication, and the hashtag #lovelanguages on TikTok has more than 500 billion views.

Unfortunately, relationship fixes are rarely so straightforward – though this probably won't come as a surprise. Sure, if you and your partner are busy parents who don't have enough time in the day to do anything for yourselves, then acts of service probably go a long way. But next time your loved one is feeling down about the way they handled that toddler tantrum, try a few words of affirmation instead.

As the study explains, "Successful relationships require that partners have a comprehensive understanding of one another’s needs and put in the effort to respond to [them]".

In related news, here's six phrases for de-escalating conflict in your relationship, and the questions to ask your partner for a relationship check-in. We're not surprised that half of British parents are ‘too tired to have sex’ - we aksed a relationship expert to share her tips.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.