I am not on Tik Tok, but a client of mine mentioned this Love Languages/Toxic Traits concept was a hot topic on that platform, so I looked into it. It seems to resonate with a lot of people, so as a PSA, I am going to add my 2¢ to the conversation.
Love languages are a popular concept in the realm of relationships, referring to the different ways in which individuals express and receive love. The five love languages are words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. While these love languages can be helpful in understanding how individuals give and receive love, it is important to note that they can also be used in unhealthy ways.
- Words of Affirmation: This love language involves verbal expressions of love and appreciation, such as compliments, affirmations, and words of encouragement. They can also just be kind or compassionate thoughts that you share with or about the other person.
- Acts of Service: This love language involves doing things for your partner that show you care, such as cooking a meal, cleaning the house, or running errands. It is important that it be meaningful for the other person, and that you are expressing genuine & positive feelings towards them by doing it.
- Receiving Gifts: This love language involves giving and receiving physical gifts as a way of showing love and affection – they do not have to cost a lot of money but they must be meaningful.
- Quality Time: This love language involves spending time together, engaging in meaningful conversations, and participating in shared activities. This can also be about sharing things about yourself or doing things the other likes to do (even if you do not love doing it, and with a positive spirit).
- Physical Touch: This love language involves physical contact and affection, such as hugging, holding hands, and cuddling. This does not have to be sexual, and should convey intimacy, respect, and care.
Here’s the link to take the 5 Love Languages Quiz.
It’s important to understand your own love language, as well as your partner’s, in order to effectively communicate and express love in a way that is meaningful to both of you.
Now take a look at the “toxic traits” that go along with these love languages. Do these seem familiar to you, also? While totally normal, it is something to be aware of that you need to manage in relationships, just like you need to manage you and your partner’s love languages. These love languages and toxic traits apply to all kinds of relationships, not just romantic ones.
They often stem from our family of origin and whatever love languages were modeled for us. These are the things that we do when our needs are not being met. They are maladaptive things we may have learned to do to feel better about ourselves when we are not getting what we need – always be aware that it is better to communicate than continue in one of these negative behavior patterns.
|Love Language||Toxic Traits|
|Words of Affirmation||Lying or manipulating with words|
|Acts of Service||Procrastination or not asking for help|
|Receiving Gifts||Materialism or impulsive spending|
|Quality Time||Self-Isolation or withdrawal|
If this lines up with your experience in relationships and with your own self-knowledge, you probably have a pretty good idea about what you should be doing about or with these traits. It is, though, an excellent reminder that there is always balance between light and dark, positive and negative.
Words of affirmation
When used in a healthy way, words of affirmation can be a powerful tool for building self-esteem and strengthening relationships. However, when used in a toxic way, words of affirmation can become a form of invalidation or manipulation.
Toxic trait: Lying or manipulating
Sometimes, a person will lie to people they care about when they are not getting their needs met, even when the lies are not significant. This is a way of invalidating the other person, even when they are not aware of it. For instance, saying you did something when you have not gotten to it yet or lying about what you are doing on your phone when you are only playing a game.
Other times, they will be inauthentic, giving insincere compliments or backhanded compliments that are intended to manipulate or control the other person. For example, saying “You look great in that outfit, but it’s not really your style” or “You’re so smart, but you always make such silly mistakes.” Also, you may use what you know against your loved one – like making a comment you do not mean about a sensitive topic in the middle of a fight.
If you have lied or manipulated someone you care about, the best way to handle it is to come clean – preferably before you are caught. Tell them what you have been doing, why, and talk through your frustrations.
Acts of service
When used in a healthy way, acts of service can be a way of sharing the workload and showing appreciation for the other person. However, when used in a toxic way, acts of service can be used as a shield of competence used to keep the other person at arm’s length.
Toxic trait: Procrastination or refusing to ask for help
People who refuse to ask for help even when help is needed are usually trying to avoid feeling like a burden, even if their partner or loved one would not see it that way. They often have a need to take care of others, even though it can quickly become toxic when they do not take care of themselves.
When they procrastinate, they are putting off things that are more important to them. They may even say yes to things they really do not want to do because they are trying to fill a need they simply cannot fill themselves.
This can sometimes lead to a great deal of resentment on their part – even though they set the situation up themselves, what they really want or need is a demonstration of love and affection from their loved one, even when it is uncomfortable.
If you realize you have been procrastinating or not asking for help, reaching out is the best way to remedy this – involve others! Ask for something! Allow yourself to receive what they give without judgment.
Receiving gifts refers to the act of giving and receiving physical tokens of love, such as flowers, jewelry, or other presents as well as thoughtful or handmade gifts that represent thinking of the other person or making something for them. When used in a toxic way, receiving gifts can become a way of trying to fill the hole with things instead of the meaning associated with them.
Toxic trait: Impulsive spending or materialism
When someone whose love language is gifts turns to toxic behavior, they often spend more on themselves or others than is reasonable in an attempt to (again) fill a hole they cannot fill themselves. Gifts mean more than the material they are made of, and it is important to avoid using gifts as a way of making up for bad behavior or expecting the other person to reciprocate with expensive gifts.
If you have fallen into this behavior, a token or gift to the other may be part of the remedy – but it also may be returning things you bought or reaching out to the other person with their love language.
Quality time refers to the act of spending time together and engaging in meaningful activities, such as having a conversation, going on a walk, or watching a movie. When used in a healthy way, quality time can be a way of building intimacy and strengthening relationships. Keep in mind, partners need to agree what is quality time!
When used in a toxic way, quality time can become a way to exert control or avoid hurt by isolating.
Toxic trait: Self-isolation or withdrawal
When someone takes themselves away from you, emotionally, they are taking away their quality time and their affection. It is important to note that everyone needs some alone time, and isolation is a different thing. It is not just alone time, but emotionally avoidant. It will seem as if they do not want to spend as much time together as they usually do, or like they are walling themselves off – from others.
Quality time can also be used as a way to control or isolate the other person. For example, insisting on spending all of your time together and not allowing the other person to have time with friends or family, or using quality time as a way to avoid dealing with issues in the relationship.
It is very important that both partners enjoy the quality time they are spending together, even if it is an activity that means more to one of them. You cannot really be having quality time if one of you is miserable!
When you realize you have been withdrawing from your partner, setting up time to do something together you will both enjoy or re-establishing patterns from an earlier time in your relationship can help.
Physical touch refers to the act of physical affection, such as hugging, holding hands, or kissing. When used in a healthy way, physical touch can be a way of expressing love and building intimacy. However, when used in a toxic way, physical touch can become manipulative in that they are literally, physically keeping their distance.
Toxic trait: Avoidance
People whose primary love language is touch will physically withhold themselves from people they love when they are toxic. Usually, this will be a significant change from previous behaviors. There are times (like when ill) that it is normal to avoid touching others, or that you have to be isolated (like with a migraine or COVID) because of pain or contagion. This is very different from avoidance, which can also look like a lack of desire to touch people you care about. It can be protective, an attempt to minimize a feeling of rejection. It is a way of demonstrating discomfort with the state of the relationship.
If very toxic, someone may withhold physical touch as a way of punishing the other person, or use physical touch as a way of making the other person feel guilty for not reciprocating in the way that you want.
If you are avoiding touch, you are punishing yourself most of all. Reaching out, emotionally as well as physically, can be a good start to repairing the damage that may have been done to the relationship.
Remember, everyone wants some of each of these in their relationships – it depends on their primary love language and the type of relationship. As an example, touch could be your primary love language and this could come from being raised in a family of huggers, which is very different from romantic or amorous contact.
People usually demonstrate their love languages – what they want is likely to be the thing they do most in relationships. Each of us needs to be aware of that because it takes time, effort, and energy to pay attention to other people’s love languages and recognize them as care or intimacy when they are not your natural tendency.
I am sure each of us sees ourselves in some of these, and can apply the corresponding toxic behaviors to the things we struggle with in our relationships.
Let me know what you think!
For more on relationships and couples therapy, check out my Gottman blog here!