How to Use the 5 Love Languages to Support Your Loved One Living with Cancer

July 07, 2021
How to Use the 5 Love Languages to Support Your Loved One Living with Cancer

Written by CJ Johnson 

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy by Lea Ann Biafora

Esteemed therapist Dr. Gary Chapman created an enriching and deeply endearing new way to look at love in 1992 with the concept of the five love languages, which posits that individuals have a specific language that authentically resonates with them when they feel the most loved. The five love languages quickly picked up steam around the world, providing a clear and efficient way for people to better understand how to love those near and dear to them.

As you navigate your journey with your own loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, the five love languages can help you honor the unique ways they feel genuinely loved. They can be the key to honoring your loved one as they navigate cancer to feel seen and heard in the most heartfelt of ways, because doing so now is when it matters most. This article will answer the question of what are the five love languages, and their importance in how to support someone with cancer.

What are the five love languages?

  • Words of Affirmation: Verbally expressing what someone means to you, or compliments that align with that person’s esteemed opinions of themselves. 
  • Physical Touch: Creating physical intimacy in ways that makes someone feel safe and/or desired. 
  • Quality Time: Spending uninterrupted time with someone and being fully present with a loved one. 
  • Acts of Service: Performing acts that will alleviate hardship or inconvenience for a loved one. 
  • Gifts: Buying items that a loved one covets or will highly appreciate.

With good communication, you can discover and honor the loved language of the cancer patient in your life and fill their spirit with nourishment, mind, body, and soul. 

According to noted psychologist and rejection researcher Dr. William Kipling, people are born desiring two things: to be seen and to be heard. Those two desires never go away as we age. 

When we love people in the ways that matter to them most, they can bask in acceptance. Love is the antidote to suffering. Love is essential for us to feel accepted. 

When my best friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in September 2019, intuitively I knew that she was going to yearn for her two love languages—acts of service and physical touch—more than ever before. I had observed over the years that these were the ones that she craved the most. She had never been married or had children, and because of that, she felt that acts of service and physical touch had eluded her for a lifetime. 

I remember taking her to a series of appointments at the Veteran’s Affairs hospital, where she rested her arms on my shoulders with such a quiet sweetness. When I would offer to bring her popcorn—her favorite snack—every week, she would light up over the phone like a little kid. 

Sadly, in just three short months, my dearest friend passed away. However, I find some solace knowing that I did my best to make her feel seen and heard—that I loved her in the ways that she had always longed for during her brief 46 times around the sun. 

After losing my best friend, the fragility of life has stayed front and center in my heart. Currently, my father is in the radiation stage of his journey with prostate cancer. We’ve never had a close relationship, but I feel empowered to see past parental shortcomings and childhood wounds. I’m observing him in ways I never have before, being mindful about what love looks and feels like to him, whittling down what his love languages are. In the past few months, I’ve discovered that he responds most favorably to quality time, followed by acts of service.

How to determine your loved one’s love language

Knowing what the five love languages are is one thing, but you also need to  determine which  are the most appropriate for your loved one. If you are unsure about the preferred love language of your loved one, I suggest taking the following two approaches. 

Firstly, take free The Five Languages test, which ask you to consider a simple but insightful question: How do you give and receive love? There are no wrong answers. By knowing how you are most comfortable receiving love should help  inform how you are most comfortable with giving love. 

Becoming more self-reflective during this time as your loved one lives with cancer can help to strengthen your own personal development. Knowing your own top love languages is a solid way to hold up a magnifying glass to see how true love flows throughout your life. 

Secondly, commit to being more observant of how your loved one responds to acts of love. Closely listen and pay attention to their dreams, secrets, regrets, and thoughts when they open to you. 

You can ask questions to help you understand them more deeply, such as:

  • Would you like me to take you to the doctor today or make you a home-cooked meal?
  • Do you prefer going on walks together or me picking up your groceries?
  • Which would make you smile more, getting a handwritten letter or receiving flowers?

Try not to have any reservations about asking these questions. Don’t assume that you automatically know what would best make them feel loved. What may have made them feel loved a decade ago may have changed, especially during this chapter in their lives. 

Embrace having healthy and balanced two-way dialogue whenever possible. Communication is key during this fragile time in their lives, as well as your own. 

Equally important is to  understand that caretakers must be willing to love the person they’re caring for in ways that may be different than their own primary love language. For your own well-being, keep in mind that it may take time to reorient how you show up and love someone when dramatic life changes have transpired. Be patient not only with the person you’re caring for, but with yourself, too.

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