I'll never forget the time my ex gave me a set of grey floor mats for my car for Valentine's Day. That went over almost as well as the rowing machine another ex gave me for the holiday: “Maybe this will help make your thighs thinner." There's a reason exes become exes.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking – I was being ungrateful. Some folks just aren’t good at picking out gifts. It’s not their nature or their personality type. Actually, I can be especially grateful – when a gift is selected with some genuine thought and sentiment. And, as it turns out, anyone can become a fabulous gift-giver on Valentine's Day or any day – once you know the secret!

Now, I love presents. Maybe it’s the showy ENFP in me. I like to think about them, shop for them, wrap them up and present them. I love making a big deal about them. While I’ve had my share of homeruns, I’ve also had my share of gifting disasters. Not only have I been on the receiving end of some pretty unromantic gifts, there have been many times my presents were met with a less than an enthusiastic response as well.

The magic pulsating shower head I gave my mom one year didn’t go over well at all. She broke into tears when she opened the box. I dated a fellow for a while that was even harder to please and I never could get it right. It didn’t matter if I took the romantic route and created a custom CD of his favorite songs or took a more practical tack and got him a gift card to his go-to hardware store. Nothing I came up with seemed to move him. And as it turned out, gifts weren’t the way to his heart at all. That’s when I learned that there’s more than one way to demonstrate affection for someone. In fact, according to best-selling author Gary Chapman, there are actually five!

In his best-selling book, “The Five Love Languages” Chapman suggests that we all ‘speak’ a different love language. In other words, we all feel loved a little differently. If your gifts have missed their mark in the past, perhaps you need to show your love a different way.

To be sure, there are some of us that feel especially loved when we receive tangible tokens of affection. Bring on the colorful boxes and wrappings and ribbons. Others, however, prefer more intangible demonstrations of regard, like affirming words, physical affection, spending time with us or doing something for us.

Chapman notes that all five ways or languages are loving, but to truly and successfully convey our affection for our nearest and dearests we should demonstrate our sentiments in the way or ways they feel most loved.

Let’s break it down. My mate of 28 years is an “acts of service” kind of fellow. I can give him presents galore, tell him he’s wonderful, spend hours on end in his company and be physically affectionate but nothing moves him quite as much as balancing his checkbook – -- or mopping the kitchen floor or vacuuming his truck. It’s not the task per se that makes the difference, it’s that I went out of my way to do some chore on his behalf that melts his heart.

It never fails. Even when I’m not particularly trying to be affectionate, I can tell by his response how happy I make him when I make the effort to do something for him. Forget the love songs and poetry, nothing says I love you more than washing and folding his laundry. To me, it might seem inconsequential, but that’s the point. Doing something for him, communicates love to him.

Over the years he’s learned that doing things for me won’t get nearly the response that words of affirmation will. I’m just a sucker for sweet talk. When he praises my cooking/vocabulary/outfit/writing I grin from ear to ear. Tell me you admire me or are proud of me and you’ve got the key to my heart. Flattery, in my case, will get you everywhere.

My friend Paula, on the other hand, could care less about praise or accolades, and she’s pretty darn particular. An ISTJ, she’d much rather do her own chores and take care of her own errands in her own time, her own way. If you try to do something for her, you probably won’t do it the way she would like. Her husband Glenn figured out a long time ago that what trips Paula’s trigger is what Chapman calls, “quality time.” Glenn gets very creative in planning weekends away together and date nights free from the kids and other distractions. When Glenn carves out time for just the two of them, Paula feels very loved indeed.

The beauty of Chapman’s system is anyone can become a good giver. It doesn’t matter whether we are more thinking than feeling or extraverted than introverted. If we know how our loved one feels loved best, we can make a point of loving them in that way as often as possible.

Best of all, learning what our loved ones prefer isn’t tricky at all. Usually, as Chapman points out, we’ll demonstrate affection in the very ways we most like to be loved ourselves. For example, spend any time around me and you’re going to be complimented. I’m a natural-born exhorter – I’m always telling people how well they do something or acknowledging their talents. I’m good at giving praise and compliments. Not surprisingly, I love (and feel loved) with words of affirmation.

Now, I can praise my mate until the cows come home, but he’s not going to be moved. In fact, he’s a pretty humble guy and gets embarrassed by that kind of conversation. But he’s always doing things for me to show that he loves me. That’s how I figured out that acts of service were the best way to show him how much I care about him.

Your loved one will telegraph how they want to be loved. If they are always lamenting a lack of time with you then their love language is probably quality time. If they are always going out of their way to give you tangible tokens of affection, you know what to do. If they are noticeably physically affectionate, return the gestures and see what happens.

The best part of speaking your loved one’s love language is that it’s not hard to do. Regardless of our combination of letters, we can all praise more, touch more, give and do more and spend more time with our beloveds.

The best part of it all? I think when we focus on what makes our loved one’s feel love, we are being our most generous, unselfish selves. A friend of mine that's been happily married for 60 years gave me the best quote and insight on romantic gift-giving. He told me he spent their first three decades together trying to take her places he wanted to go. “Things really turned around,” he said, “when I finally started giving her what she wanted instead of what I wanted her to have.”

This Valentine’s Day, whether you’re a Sensor, Intuitive, Thinker or Feeler, consider giving your sweetheart what they really want – your love – just the way they’d like it!

Ellen Lambert
Ellen Lambert studied at California State University Fullerton and the University of California Santa Barbara, earning an MA in interpersonal communication. A motivational speaker and writer focusing on health, well- being, and self-improvement, she is a card-carrying ENFP, and also serves as a BHQC, (bad habit quitting coach). She is committed to helping others free themselves from the habits that hold them back from living the lives they can enjoy. She lives with her ISTJ husband Charles and their INTP German Pincher, Rex Luther in Buffalo, Texas.