Many a relationship – including my own – has been transformed by experienced couples’ counselor Gary Chapman’s life-changing book “The Five Love Languages“.
Chapman’s theory identifies five love languages – or different ways in which people prefer to give and receive love – as follows: words of affirmation – for example, saying “I love you” or giving compliments; spending quality time together – where we give someone our full attention; physical touch – such as hugging or making love; act of service – like giving your partner a lift in your car; and gifting.
Originally written for couples, it also applies to our platonic interactions with friends and family – helping us to have more satisfying and longer-lasting relationships throughout our social circle.
During this unprecedented era of widespread global self-isolation, many of us feel anxious or lonely due to social distancing, as we hunker down at home and potentially grieve temporary separation from those we love for an unknown period of time – maybe as much as we fear the actual COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some ideas to still receive the love you want, and to help lessen feelings of loneliness for the people in your life, according to your respective love languages, when you are home alone. You can ask others how they most like to receive love, or what they miss the most from regular contact with others during social isolation, if you are unsure. It may be totally different to what we ourselves count as being “loved”.
There is even a short quiz you can take to find out your favorite love language here.
Love languages in social isolation:
Physical touch – We can give ourselves soothing physical touch when we are missing it from other people, by spending 10 minutes before bedtime slowly stroking our own face, head, neck, arms, legs and feet. Spend a minute or two on each area and notice what feels good for you. We can wrap our arms around ourselves when we feel like a hug, and imagine that we are being held by whoever comforts us the most. Hugging a pillow at night can also be incredibly comforting when we are missing cuddles.
Words of affirmation – Check in each day with a few people you would like to support, or who make you feel more positive after you contact them. Send a text, a voice note or a call as appropriate. Schedule longer calls in the diary, like you would for a date or a meet-up, so that you both have that connection to look forward to. Let them know how much they mean to you and what you admire about them often. Limit time spent listening or reading too much negative news – we are often emotionally most affected by negative manifestations of our favorite love language. We can also tell ourselves “I love you” when we go to bed at night, or repeat positive affirmations like “I am safe, I am healthy, I am loved” or “Each day is a gift” when we first wake up in the morning.
Quality time – Set aside time to have regular video calls together, which usually feel more intimate than phone calls. You can share meals with loved ones using apps like Facetime or Zoom, with each person placing their phone or laptop on the other side of the table as if you were sitting across from each other. Give others your full attention during your time speaking to them, rather than simultaneously checking your phone or watching TV. Share how you are feeling with those you trust honestly, and use active listening to hear them out too.
Acts of service – Ask those you know if there is anything you could do for them. If they are less able than you are to do essential shopping or pick up medication – arrange a delivery for them, or make a drop off outside their door after you visit stores (if you are not in a high-risk group yourself). Offer to help them with anything administrative or online that you could do remotely for them. Invite them to useful online groups and communities, and think of them when you receive positive or helpful information. People over a certain age are less likely to know how to make use of technology to keep in touch, stay informed or be entertained – share your knowledge with them. Treat yourself to acts of service too – take a relaxing bath, watch a movie you enjoy or cook your favorite healthy meal – to uplift your mood.
Gifts – Try to think of small ways you could support others financially – could you buy any necessities for them, help support their small business, or donate to a charity they are passionate about during this time. Ask if there is anything that they need (that is comfortably within your own means). You could buy them online vouchers, or subscriptions to entertainment packages like Netflix or Audible for when they feel bored at home. Offer to buy them a gift or take them on a trip or an experience once this is all over. The gift doesn’t need to be big, it is usually the thought that counts.
It is also useful to try not to forget birthdays or other meaningful anniversaries during this time – people may need morale boosts on days that are meant to be celebrations now more than ever.
Most of all, as long as people know you are there for (even if at the end of the phone) and thinking of them, this will help to make sure they do not feel totally alone during a difficult time. It is also worth being kind to and taking care of ourselves first, so that we have a greater emotional capacity to support others. At a time when most of us are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can choose to share our vulnerability and compassion, to connect with those we love, those we want to know better, and our wider communities. We may be self-isolating, but we are in this together.
Take care to always follow your government’s recommendations on the evolving pandemic situation (the UK’s are updated here).
Jessica Warren is co-founder of Mind: Unlocked – a mental well-being business that provides practical tools, courses and workshops to help people cope with the stress of everyday modern life. She has been featured as a wellness speaker on BBC Radio and at conferences like Wanderlust and Eurekafest; and writes for Thrive Global, Economia Magazine, and the StartUp and P.S. I Love You publications on Medium.