How to Use Acts of Service in Your Relationship

Doing Laundry
Performing Acts of Service.

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Growing up, my father would cut up pineapple and leave little pieces in the fridge, a toothpick poking out of each, because he knew that pineapple was my favorite fruit. I didn’t know it then, but my father showed his love through Acts of Service. He’d take my car, unannounced, and fill it up with gas. He’d spend hours washing windows, cleaning leather shoes, running to the grocery store. This was his way of showing me his love and affection.

Love Languages Defined

Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages dives into the power of communicating love in relationships, both intimate and platonic. He explains that each of us gives and receives love differently. Of the five languages (Acts of Service, Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, and Receiving Gifts), we often prefer one more than the others. 

In terms of intimate relationships, Acts of Service is a language that can best be described as doing something for your partner that you know they would like, such as filling up their gas, watering their plants, or cooking them a meal.

When you give Acts of Service, you give up your time. This non-verbal form of love can be time-consuming and exhausting, but if it’s what you partner needs, then it's worth the effort.

Giving Acts of Service

If you have identified that your partner prefers to receive Acts of Service, then you’re one step closer to making your partner feel loved (and assuming you love your partner, you should want to make them feel this way). Whether it’s in your nature to give Acts of Service, or not, know that anyone can learn this love language.

When it comes to performing Acts of Service, here are four things you can do:

  • Pay attention to the small things: what your partner wants to do on your next trip together, how much sugar your partner adds to their morning coffee, what time your partner’s favorite show is on, etc. Take notes, if you can’t remember.
  • Consider the things your partner doesn’t enjoy doing. If you’re partner complains about taking out the trash, researching financial terms, cleaning the space between the wall and the dresser, or walking the dog, then you can do these tasks for your partner. If your partner doesn’t like dealing with the cable company, offer to take on responsibility for the monthly cable bill.
  • Focus on acts that are easy for you to accommodate into your schedule. Pay attention to your partner’s calendar each week and see if you can add in Acts of Service. Maybe your partner has limited time between their workout in the morning and their first work meeting. Plan to have coffee and breakfast ready and waiting.
  • Utilize your strengths. If you understand something your partner doesn’t, offer your services. If you’re more handy than your partner, for example, focus on handyman tasks like changing your partner’s oil, or fixing the broken lightbulb in the bathroom.

Even if your partner prefers another love language, Acts of Service can be beneficial for every healthy relationship. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half of all married couples believed that sharing housework was a major importance in a successful marriage. Whether it’s part of your love language or not, it’s important to make sure that you and your partner are both satisfied with how much work you do around the house.

Receiving Acts of Service 

If you prefer to receive Acts of Service above all other love languages, then it’s important to tell your partner this. Just make sure you are kind and patient, as you ask for the things you want. Acts of service aren't always easy to do, and you shouldn't assume that your partner will do everything you ask simply because you prefer Acts of Service.

Many times, Acts of Service can be a difficult love language to implement, because it requires so much time, and often, preparation. Maybe your partner is studying for their PhD and unable to focus on any acts. Maybe your partner returns home late from another long day of work, only to give you thirty-minutes of quality time without a TV or smartphone.

Try and cherish these efforts, recognizing that your partner likely loves you, even if they can't perform Acts of Service that day or week.

Understanding Your Partner’s Love Language  

If your preferred language is Quality Time, but your partner keeps focusing on Acts of Service, then you may feel slighted when your partner spends time cleaning your car instead of giving you undivided attention. Make sure you and your partner are up front about your preferences and find a way to work together to achieve the mutually-desired results. If your partner likes when you cook, for example, maybe you can start by preparing a weekly breakfast for them.

A Word From Verywell

You don’t have to speak the same love language to have a lasting, fulfilling relationship. You just have to know how to communicate your needs with your partner, whatever those may be. Communication is a key component of every healthy relationship and it’s especially important if you wish to achieve a long-lasting relationship with your spouse--or with any loved one.

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Article Sources

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  1. Chapman G. The Five Love Languages. 2016.

  2. 2014 Religious Landscape Study recontact survey conducted March 17-May 6, 2015.