Jane was dreading her doctor’s appointment — afraid she would be talked over, dismissed, body shamed. When her partner sensed how anxious she was, she volunteered to take off work and go with her, for support, to listen, and to speak up if Jane had trouble being heard.
Jane’s anxiety melted, and she felt new warm-fuzzies about her partner. She really felt cared for. What Jane’s partner did — using her time and energy to do something that Jane needed, even if she didn’t ask for it — is called an act of service.
Acts of service is one of five love languages identified by marriage counselor Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, The 5 Love Languages. The other four are words of affirmation, physical touch, giving and receiving gifts, and quality time.
Acts of service in a relationship is when one partner does something in service of the other or in place of the other — usually household chores and adulting tasks like laundry, paying bills, ordering takeout, changing the water filter, grocery shopping, scheduling appointments, etc.
Acts of service may be a person’s primary love language (they need to perform or receive acts of service to express love and feel loved); or it could be a secondary love language, supporting loving feelings generated by their primary love language.
One person may show love by performing acts of service and also need to feel loved by their partner by receiving acts of service. Here are some examples of giving and receiving.
|Giving acts of service||Receiving acts of service|
|You collect and wash laundry from the kids’ hampers.||They fold and help the kids put their clean clothes away.|
|You take the recycling to the bin.||They keep track of the garbage pick-up schedule and put the cans at the curb.|
|You order flowers to be delivered to their mom on her birthday.||They drive you to visit your sister 2 hours away.|
|You call the pest control company to schedule a visit.||They come home early to let the plumber in the apartment.|
|You pick up their special order from the bookstore.||They order dinner so neither of you have to cook on a hectic day.|
|You mend a rip in their favorite shirt.||They replace your yoga mat when they notice it’s looking worn.|
|You make a meal plan and grocery list for the week.||They do the shopping and put everything away.|
|You vacuum while they’re out for a run so it doesn’t disturb their meeting later.||They make coffee so it’s ready when you wake up.|
|You make dinner while they work late.||They clean up and do the dishes.|
|You go with them to be an ally at a doctor’s appointment.||They go with you to your eye exam to help you pick out new frames.|
|You take the dog for a walk while they watch sportsball.||They put the kids to bed so you can meet with your support group.|
Giving and receiving acts of service in a relationship requires communication and intentionality.
You and your partner might make two lists — things you would like help with and things your partner would like you to help with. This will ensure that when you give each other acts of service you know you’re doing the deeds that you both will appreciate most.
One catch with this love language is that it must be done with a positive attitude in order to be received as an expression of love. Grumbling about it or dragging your feet will have the opposite effect.
If acts of service is a person’s love language, the little tasks their partner does not only add up to make them feel cared for, but it also helps them feel less stressed.
Stress hormones make way for “feel good” hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. A person who doesn’t get their acts of service needs met consistently might start to feel lonely, unloved, stressed, and burned out.
How can you tell if acts of service is one of your top love languages? Pay attention to how you feel when someone spontaneously does a chore or helps with a project. Do you feel “seen,” appreciated, loved?
Do you have the urge to take on your partner’s to-do list when they’re overwhelmed? If so, acts of service may be your love language.
Notice if other things give you more lovey-dovey feelings, like cuddling, spending time together, or receiving gifts. That could be a sign that you speak another love language. You can take a quiz to help you figure out your top love languages.
If your partner expresses love with acts of service but you speak another language, it can be easy to miss one another. Here are three tips for experiencing some multilingual love:
- Communicate. Be open about your love languages and be specific about your needs.
- Adapt. If your partner has a different love language from you, adapt in order to learn and really practice it. Likewise, you can adapt to accept your partner’s love language when they show it.
- Appreciate. Notice when your partner does an act of service or other expressions of love. Let them know you see the effort and are grateful.
If you or your partner needs or uses acts of service as a way to feel and show love, you can work together to make sure it helps both of you. Talk about what acts of service each of you like to perform and like to receive, and use that information to build love and closeness in your relationship.
Anna Lee Beyer writes about mental health, parenting, and books. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.