There’s *So* Much More to Acts of Service Than Just Doing Someone Favors

Picture this: You’re completely exhausted by your work day. (Hi, same.) But, unfortch, you know you can’t just pop a bottle and unwind with some wine and TV when you get home. Why? Because there’s dinner to be cooked and laundry to be done and, oh, IDK, about a thousand other responsibilities that come with being an adult. When you arrive home, however, you find that your partner already has food on the stove, clothes in the dryer, and even offers you a shoulder rub. You feel so incredibly cared for and loved that you’re not even tired anymorein fact, you’re actually turned on and ready to reciprocate some of that love. If this sounds more desirable than, say, receiving dozens of roses or a passionate declaration of undying love, there’s a decent chance that “acts of service” is your love language.

Cool! But, uh, what does that mean, exactly? “Acts of service is focused on doing activities that make life easier or more enjoyable for a partner,” explains sex educator Carly S. “You’re giving them your energy and time by doing something that takes some of the burden off of their day-to-day life.”

In case you’re thinking, “Wait, what is a love language? Do they make a Duolingo for this?” let’s backtrack for a sec. “Love language” is a term coined by marriage counselor Gary Chapman, PhD, famous for his 1992 best-seller The Five Love Languages. Chapman writes that the five love languages—which are acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, and giftscan show how people best give and receive love in their relationships. By understanding our love language, as well as our partners’, we can consume and enjoy affection most efficiently. Giving someone all the flower bouquets in the world won’t make a difference if what they’re really craving is the gift of your time and energy to make their life easier. (If you’re not sure what your love language is, go ahead and take this online quiz to figure it out—we’ll wait here.)

“Of the five love languages, ‘acts of service’ usually means don’t tell me you love me, but rather, show me you love me,” explains sex therapist Jenni Skyler, PhD, director of The Intimacy Institute. That said, because everyone interprets being “shown” love differently, it’s not always that straightforward!

To help give you a better understanding of what the acts of service love language looks like—whether for your own sake or a partner’s—keep reading for everything you need to know, including what it means, examples of acts of service, and tons of extra dating advice that will definitely come in handy if this is love language happens to be your love language.

What Does It Mean If Your Love Language Is Acts of Service?

Just like the name suggests, you probably either like doing acts of service for your partner to show them you care, or, when your partner does acts of service for you, it makes you feel most loved.

These acts of service typically include “helping” in some way, or making the recipients’ lives a bit easier, explains Samantha Kingma, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Rest + Renew Therapy. Importantly: “These helpful actions may be done with or without the other person having specifically asked for the help,” Kingma says.

Those practical actions, however, will look different for everyone. “You have to get specific to what people like, but everybody likes different things. They’re context-dependent,” Skyler explains. Basically, an act of service could look like anything from switching the laundry, to starting dinner, to making the bed in the morning, depending on the person you’re doing this for.

What Are Some Signs That Your Love Language Is Acts of Service?

There are a few signs that acts of service is your or your partner’s love language. For one, you could just take the test to see yourself. But generally, “if you feel loved when others notice things they can do to help you out, and you tend to feel overlooked when people don't pitch in to help you complete tasks, you may experience love primarily through acts of service," says Kingma.

This means if you find yourself making food for others, lightening up their workload by taking on some tasks yourself, or making their bed in the morning so it's one less thing they have to do to get ready for the day, your love language could be acts of service, says Kingma.

“I find that people who identify with the acts of service love language also tend to be orderly people. They’re also often doing acts that are in the realm of cleaning, though not always,” Skyler says. That’s why it’s important to notice what they do for you and, of course, ask what you can do for them.

Important note, though: Acts of service should not be confused with “serving” someone. There’s a fine line between wanting to help and completely serving another person who refuses to take on their own responsibilities.

Basically, if at any point, you're not enjoying yourself by taking on these tasks or you don't feel appreciated for doing them, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

What Are Some Acts of Service Examples?

If you need some inspiration, see the list below. And remember, the act certainly does not have to be anything extravagant, like deep cleaning the entire house while they’re at the store. (Though I’m sure that would earn you serious points, lol.) Some easy things you can do for your partner whose love language is acts of service are:

  • putting gas in the car

  • doing the dishes

  • checking in on them during a stressful day at work

  • making them a cup of coffee in the morning

  • taking out the trash

  • picking them up from the airport

  • planning a vacation

  • taking care of them when they’re sick

And TBH, sometimes it really doesn’t matter what you do, they just want to feel appreciated and helped. However, remember that if your love language is acts of service and your partner's isn't, you need to discuss your needs and expectations without shaming them for not sharing your love language, Skyler explains. (It’s not their fault!)

“I find that for acts of service people, it can be helpful if their partner asks them their top five acts that do it for them,” Skyler says. Then, those tasks are top-of-mind instead of leaving what you want up to guesswork.

Common Misconceptions About Acts of Service Love Language

“The most common misconception for folks with acts of service love language is that they are just looking for someone to whom they can delegate tasks,” Carly S. says. “But they want partners who are willing to share the responsibilities of everyday life and who are observant and tuned into their needs.” So, no, if your partner is into acts of service, that does not mean that they’re looking to downgrade you from lover to personal assistant. Nor does it mean that they're “needy.”

As sex therapist Kelly Wise explains, another false narrative about acts of service is that it's a fast track to codependency. As warm and fuzzy as enjoying this love language can be, receiving such affection can take some work. "Receiving is not the easiest for some people, so try and sit back and take the offering in as a kind and loving gesture,” says Wise.

Here Are Some Relationship Tips for If You or Your Partner’s Love Language Is Acts of Service

Like in any relationship, no matter the love language, communication is key. If you don’t communicate efficiently with your partner, it can create unnecessary issues and unmet expectations.

So first and foremost, “understand that your partner’s love language can be different than yours, and it is important to show your love by speaking in their specific love language," says Katherin Winnick, sex coach at Let's Talk Sex.

Communicating your love language to your partner and telling them about what makes you feel most loved should help. But here’s what else to keep in mind, depending on who in the relationship identifies with the acts of service love language.

If Your Partner’s Love Language Is Acts of Service:

They appreciate someone who understands when they’re overwhelmed and do tangible things to make their life easier—without them necessarily having to ask. (Though of course, you’re not a mind reader!) This could look like taking on the daily chores when they're busy, picking up their dry-cleaning when they've had a long day at work already, or throwing their towel in the dryer so it's warm when they get out of the shower.

They would probably also love to hear you say, “let me help you and do this for you.” Nothing you do for them is too small, because little tasks can mean the world to them, even if they mean little to you.

Additionally, “pay attention. One of the best ways to really engage in acts of service is being able to predict the pattern of behaviors and intervene without being asked,” says licensed psychologist Marcuetta Sims.

Ideally, you would also pay attention to the way they care for you and model that behavior, Skyler explains. It can tell you a lot about what they like! If you notice that your partner brings tea for the two of you while you’re watching TV at night, perhaps you can be the first to brew it next time. Or if they always do your laundry on Sundays, take note of that and get it done first to make them feel cared for.

If Acts of Service Is Your Love Language:

Again, communication is key. “People engage in their own acts of service to show their partner what it means, but that doesn't work if your partner has a different love language,” says Sims. Instead, teach them the ways that you want to be cared for and tell them what that would look like for you.

“Your partner is not a mind reader. Even if they know that service is your love language, that doesn’t mean that your partner knows what to do for you,” says Skyler. What’s beautiful about the human experience? We’re all different, so get specific with your S.O. Making sure that your needs get met ultimately comes down to you voicing them and, ideally, your partner responding appropriately.

And of course, to ensure that this conversation is going both ways, make sure that you’re also asking your partner how you can better meet the needs partnered with their love language, too.

What If Dating Someone With an Acts of Service Love Language Is New for You?

While, no, there is no Duolingo for love languages (sorry), like anything, learning how to please someone new takes time and patience. Perhaps you're head over heels in love, already crafting your happy-ever-after with a total babe who is into acts of service. But, up until now, you've never dated anyone with this love language. You're smitten but also admittedly a bit in over your head. According to the experts, while love languages aren't the same as learning a new verbal language, talking is still the key to success, especially if this love language is new for you.

"Communication is going to be your best tool. Talk to your partner and check in on how you can support them and if they feel they're being shown the love they need," Carly S. says. And if it turns out those needs aren't being met? You can work together and brainstorm ways to get on the same page and meet halfway, finding delightful and mutually beneficial compromises where you can better support and show your partner love. "Relationships are about giving and receiving, and sometimes this can mean stepping out of your comfort zone to make your partner feel loved," says Carly S. "Learning a new language takes time, and love languages can be no different." So take this as your reminder to give yourself grace and patience to practice.

What Are Some Compatible Love Languages with Acts of Service?

Love languages are not like astrology, where select signs are compatible with each other. "Love languages are more about figuring out how to communicate to one another despite there being differences," says Sims.

Ultimately, “it's about humbling yourself enough to know that you will need to learn a different language, even if that's not your natural tendency,” says Sims. “It also means that you might have to put in some extra work. There's a lot of effort in the beginning if you don't speak the same language.” But that doesn’t mean your relationship won’t work!

And again, even if you speak the same love language, it could mean different things for each partner. Perhaps it has nothing to do with cleaning or organizing, but rather, waking up ten minutes earlier to ensure you’re not late for the kids’ carpool, Skyler says. This is why it’s always useful to check in with their boundaries and communicate your wants and needs.

What If You Don’t Have the Same Love Language? Is the Relationship Doomed?

No! Definitely not. As mentioned, everyone has a bit of every love language in each of them, so someone having a different love language than you doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker. What’s more important is learning to understand the ways that each person prefers to be loved, then executing on what you learned, Skyler says.

Like with any relationship, you both need to communicate your expectations, wants, and needs, and knowing your partner’s love language can help you do so even if you don’t share one. Despite you wanting acts of service, you should give love to them the way they need, too—even if it's not as important to you, Skyler explains.

TL;DR: A relationship, no matter the love language, is about taking care of the other person and helping them grow. Learning each other's love languages is a great way to start.

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