Words of affirmation are one of Dr. Gary Chapman’s five love languages, focusing on the verbal and written declaration of someone’s love and affection.
Dr. Champan is a psychologist-anthropologist and the author of the book “The Five Love Languages,” published in 1992.
Love languages, as a concept, describe the way someone expresses and receives love (Champan, 1992). Words of affirmation are thought to be the most common among the five love languages and reflect people who feel fulfilled and loved by someone’s expression of positive emotions (Chapman & Chapman, (2010).
These expressions come in various formats, such as praise, compliments, positive phrases, gratitude, encouraging words, endearments, etc.
In This Article
What Are Words Of Affirmation?
Words of affirmation focus on people who enjoy and value hearing people’s thoughts and emotions. Consistent and genuine communication is thus key to feeling secure and validated for these individuals.
Similarly, hurtful words, a negative tone of voice, and even withholding verbal reassurance can be extra hurtful to people with this love language.
Words of affirmation are not gender or age-specific (Chapman & Campbell, 2008); anyone can have a preference or disinclination for them, which can also change over time as it is not a rigid concept.
Examples Of Words of Affirmation
Below are some examples of phrases that illustrate words of affirmation:
- ‘I love you’
- ‘You look lovely today’
- ‘It meant a lot to me when you did x’
- ‘Thank you for helping me with x’
- ‘I am so proud of you for doing x’
- ‘You are such a special person to me’
- ‘X looks really nice on you’
- ‘Your support means the world to me’
- ‘I am here for you if you need me’
How Do You Know If Your Love Language Is Words Of Affirmation?
One of the easiest ways to determine your primary love language is by taking the free quiz developed by Dr. Champam himself (available on the five love language website). It will ask you a series of questions to help you reflect on your preferences and what is most meaningful to you.
Additionally, there are a few things you can reflect on yourself to help you decide if words of affirmation are your love language. You could ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it important to you when someone says they care or love you?
- Do you feel particularly nice when receiving compliments or when someone expresses pride in your achievements?
- Do you feel especially disappointed or that something is missing if someone does not verbally or in writing say their appreciation?
People who have this love language enjoy hearing expressions of positive emotions. It aids in verbalizing thoughts and feelings and helps them feel fulfilled through this positive reinforcement.
Similarly, you may know if your love language is words of affirmation if you instinctively express your own positive emotions towards someone either verbally or in written format. For example, you may be one of the first to congratulate someone on an achievement, enjoy telling people how much you care about them, or thank them if they do something nice for you.
Many people unconsciously use their preferred love language to showcase their emotions to someone, as that is how expressing care comes the most naturally to them. Hence, it is worth reflecting on your own actions and seeing if you typically use words of affirmation to show love.
Why Are Words Of Affirmation Important?
Words of affirmation are important across various types of relationships, as it is a wonderful way to showcase your love and care for someone. Some people especially need to hear positively affirming words directly, as it helps them feel more valued, loved, and seen.
To them, words may speak louder than actions, so quality expressions coming from a place of love, helps them feel fulfilled, can improve feelings of self-worth, and overall strengthen the relationship.
Using such words of affirmation applies not only to romantic settings but to any other type of relationship, from friends to colleagues and even to ourselves.
Going a bit more in-depth, in its essence, words of affirmation take your inner thoughts and express them. They verbalize your thinking into more tangible sentences and words for others to receive and feel your affection and unconditional acceptance.
Having the mindset that ‘they should know how much I love them, so I shouldn’t have to say it’ is not always good enough. Many people need to be told that they are appreciated.
Language is a powerful tool for transcending all races, ethnicities, and religions. Hence, positively affirming, either verbally or in written form, helps all parties, regardless of background, to feel more seen.
It showcases that their efforts are valued, builds up their confidence, and helps express their love overall.
What does the research say?
Looking at the empirical evidence, research indicates that expressing your feelings using your partner’s preferred love language boosts relationship satisfaction (Mostova Stolarski & Matthews, 2022), with words of affirmation, such as compliments, significantly fostering relationship security (Marigold, Holmes & Ross, 2007).
Additionally, positive online communication has been shown to strengthen friendships (Trepte, Masur & Scharkow, 2018).
Words of affirmation significantly improved workplace interactions and team dynamics in professional settings (Chapman & White, 2019), and positive self-talk improved physical performance (Tod, Hardy & Oliver, 2011) while reducing anxiety and boosting self-confidence (Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Mpoumpaki, Theodorakis, 2009).
Concludingly, words of affirmation have a place not only in romantic relationships but also in platonic ones, with colleagues, and even with ourselves.
How To Show Love With Words Of Affirmation
Words of affirmation in romantic relationships
Saying, “I love you,” “You mean so much to me,” “I love spending time with you,” “You look beautiful,” “You are my favorite person,” or “Thank you for being there for me,” are some of the easiest ways you can express words of affirmation in romantic relationships.
To take it one step further, you can complement specific things you love about your partner. For example, it could be the way they smile, the quirky things they do, their style, etc. This way, you showcase you have noticed all the little things that make them unique and that you love them for it.
For written words, sending texts throughout the day letting them know you are thinking about them, leaving sweet notes, or sending flowers with thoughtful cards, are sure ways for your partner to feel your love.
Words of affirmation in friendships
Saying, “I really value our friendship,” “I loved the time when we did x,” “I always have so much fun when we’re together,” “Thank you for being there for me,” and “I love making memories together,” or “That looks great on you!” are a few simple phrases you can mention to friends.
By expressing your appreciation/pride and verbalizing that you have noticed all the things or times they have been there for you, you display your affection in a manner your friend with this love language will relate with the most deeply.
For written words, if you see something online or in person that reminds you of them, send it or take a picture to show that you were thinking of them. Commenting on their social media posts is another good suggestion, and just a simple text to show your gratitude will solidify your friendship further.
Words of affirmation in the workplace
Saying, “Thank you for your help in x,” “I am so proud of you for your achievement,” “You look great in that,” “Your suggestion was great,” and “I’m so happy to see you achieve your goals,” or “You did so well, great job!” are some great examples to express your appreciation to your colleagues or employees.
If you are in the office, leaving post-it notes with encouragement would be another suggestion. If you are online, you can express this similarly via email. The goal is to verbalize or write down your positive thoughts about them, especially around their achievements or personality.
This will help your colleague or employees feel seen, heard, and valued, helping elevate the overall working environment.
Words of affirmation to yourself
This can be a foreign concept as many are used to expressing love to others but seldom to just themselves.
Firstly, identify if it is easier to do this verbally or in written form. Try both first, and see what feels the most comfortable. Verbally, you can send voice notes or record yourself and express feelings like pride, gratefulness, and appreciation. You can also practice in front of the mirror in the mornings or evenings.
Some suggestions for things to say can be “I love myself,” I am so proud of what I have achieved,” “I love all the ways I am unique,” “I am grateful for who I am,” “I believe in myself” or “I accept myself unconditionally.”
For written form, you can keep a gratitude/self-love journal and write down everything you are grateful for about you, or even schedule emails or texts to receive them when you have something challenging coming up, e.g., an exam or interview.
Lastly, if you purchase anything online, do not bypass the “type a note” section but instead, write a sweet message for future you to see when opening your order.
What Should Words Of Affirmation Not Do?
There are several things you should avoid with words of affirmation to ensure you are not causing more harm than good.
Firstly, your words should not be fake but must come from a genuine place.
People with this love language highly emphasize the emotions behind the sentiment, so if you are being disingenuous with your words, that has the potential to deeply wound people.
On that note, being watchful of your tone is also important. Simply saying things just for the sake of saying them and being mindless in your delivery can also come across as fake. Highlight your reasons and be sincere in your tone.
Additionally, instead of copying things or overly repeating the same phrases, attempt to personalize your words of affirmation to your person. If you sound robotic or compliment them on something that is not very personal or even applicable to them, your words of affirmation may have the opposite effect.
Lastly, if your partner has this love language, being silent and withholding your words is something you should never do. Through this behavior, you are directly neglecting their emotional needs and refusing them the love, appreciation, and validation they would like to hear.
Can words of affirmation be problematic?
Words of affirmation can certainly turn problematic, especially when used nefariously to manipulate someone. When used in a malicious manner, words of affirmation can make a relationship toxic.
One such example is “love bombing.” For words of affirmation, this could manifest as someone overwhelmingly showering you with words of adoration, love, and compliments with the goal of controlling your feelings.
Love bombing through words of appreciation can create dependency and reduce personal boundaries (Strutzenberg, 2016).
For example, they may say things like “I want to spend every second with you’,” “You are the most important thing in my life,” “We were destined to be together,” etc., and this begins from early on in the relationship.
While these phrases may not necessarily mean someone is love bombing, these phrases, especially early in the relationship, may be a cause for concern.
Another manipulation technique that can lead to words of affirmation being toxic is gaslighting (Podosky, 2021). This is typically observed with narcissistic partners who attempt to make you ashamed of your needs and doubt your reality.
For example, they may belittle or make fun of the fact that you need words of affirmation and then follow up with phrases like “I am doing this because I love you,” “If you loved me, you would understand,” or “Everyone else is lying, I’m the one who cares about you the most,” in an effort to gain control over you and the relationship.
These phrases may be confused for words of affirmation, but they are instead very toxic.
Knowing when someone may be using words of affirmation in a toxic or fake way can be tricky, so here is some general advice on spotting the signs.
Firstly, becoming aware of manipulation techniques, such as the ones outlined above, like love bombing and gaslighting, is highly important. Exaggerated verbal or written expressions of love early on or attempts to diminish your need for words of affirmation are definite red flags to pay attention to.
Secondly, receiving overly repetitive, generalized, and monotonous compliments should raise concerns. If someone genuinely does not seem enthusiastic when expressing their love and is not attempting to personalize their words, this can signal that they may be faking it.
Lastly, look out for instances where words of affirmation are only used when someone needs something from you. For example, they may say things like “You look great today,” “I love how you styled x,” or “You are so good at what you do,” but then follow up with a personal request either immediately or shortly after.
This can hint that their expressions and positive affirmations are not coming from a genuine place of care but are instead focused on getting something out of you. This can happen across many types of relationships, from romantic to platonic and even at work.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you tell someone you need words of affirmation?
Here are a few ways to tell someone you need words of affirmation.
Firstly, it is important to make them aware of the concept of love languages as, while popular, it can still be unknown to many. Once you have introduced the idea, you can sit down with them and discuss why words of affirmation are important to you and how it makes you feel when you hear them.
Doing so will help them understand you and the importance of hearing those words for you even better. You can even give them some personal words of affirmation that you value hearing.
It would be helpful to reflect on this before and maybe write down a few examples of what makes you feel cared for, e.g., receiving loving notes or hearing “I love you” frequently. This will make it easier for your partner to begin adding words of affirmation to your interactions.
Do words of affirmation increase relationship satisfaction?
Words of affirmation can certainly increase relationship satisfaction, especially if it is your person’s primary love language. Almost everyone wants to feel valued and cared for by the people they love, so any expression is a sweet reminder of your affection for each other.
Words of affirmation are one of the quickest ways to do so that really showcases you are paying attention to their wants, likes, and desires by displaying your appreciation and unconditional affection.
This can help your partner feel desired, safe, understood, and reassured. Thus, you can better ensure that your love is communicated with and received in the most impactful way that your partner values and understands.
However, when weaponized either negatively or by withholding your words, it can have the opposite effect and develop hurt, distance, and a rift in the relationship.
How do I get better at using words of affirmation?
Here are a few simple steps to get better at using words of affirmation:
1) Start small. If phrases like “I love you” or “I miss you” are too intimidating, begin with simpler ones. For example, you can say, “this color looks very nice on you” or “thank you for your help on this.” Remember, it is about expressing your gratitude and making the other person feel loved.
2) It does not have to be verbal. If you feel more comfortable expressing yourself in written form, you can, e.g., send someone texts throughout the day to let them know you are thinking of them or write a handwritten note/card.
3) Do not shy away from asking the person directly what makes them feel loved. Words of affirmation are a big category, and each individual is unique, so feel free to discuss preferences.
Chapman, G. D. (1992). The five love languages. Northfield Pub.
Chapman, G., & Campbell, R. (2008). The five love languages of children. Moody Publishers.
Chapman, G. D., & Chapman, G. (2010). The five love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Northfield Pub.
Chapman, G., & White, P. (2019). The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace: Empowering organizations by encouraging people. Moody Publishers.
Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Zourbanos, N., Mpoumpaki, S., & Theodorakis, Y. (2009). Mechanisms underlying the self-talk–performance relationship: The effects of motivational self-talk on self-confidence and anxiety. Psychology of Sport and exercise 10(1), 186-192.
Marigold, D. C., Holmes, J. G., & Ross, M. (2007). More than words: reframing compliments from romantic partners fosters security in low self-esteem individuals. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(2), 232.
Mostova, O., Stolarski, M., & Matthews, G. (2022). I love the way you love me: Responding to partner’s love language preferences boosts satisfaction in romantic heterosexual couples. PloS one, 17(6), e0269429.
Podosky, P. M. C. (2021). Gaslighting, First-and Second-Order. Hypatia, 36(1), 207-227.
Strutzenberg, C. (2016). Love-bombing: a narcissistic approach to relationship formation.
Tod, D., Hardy, J., & Oliver, E. (2011). Effects of self-talk: A systematic review. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 33(5), 666-687.
Trepte, S., Masur, P. K., & Scharkow, M. (2018). Mutual friends’ social support and self-disclosure in face-to-face and instant messenger communication. The Journal of Social Psychology, 158(4), 430-445.