How to 'Speak' Other Love Languages When Touch is Off the Table

When you can't physically be together and your primary love language is touch, how do you keep communicating? The answer is: learn another one. Here are some ways you can translate touch into the other four languages

Nearly three decades ago, Dr. Gary Chapman identified and popularized the concept of five love languages, which revolutionized the way people analyze their relationships and how we care for one another. Chapman identified them as Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gift-Giving or Receiving, Acts of Service, and Touch. Once you understand yours and those of your loved ones, it can foster meaningful connection and positive interactions that are essential to healthy relationships.

In the age of COVID-19, though, touch has become unavailable to many. Due to the pandemic, we have social distancing. Drive-by birthdays and showers, air-fives or elbow bumps if you’re starved for contact. Mandated regional and voluntary self-quarantines. Distance from vulnerable folks that we hold dear, but can no longer hold physically, for fear of infecting those who most need protection.

Locally, we can’t hug friends hello; dating is more difficult than ever; and long-distance relationships have come to a standstill as travel became restricted.

So how can we make up for it when a pandemic keeps you apart and unable to “speak” your love language? When you can’t squeeze a shoulder, clasp a hand, clutch in a tight hug, kiss or more, how can you get that oxytocin rush and keep the spark alight?

The answer is simple: learn another.

Here are ways to ramp up your proficiency in the four languages still available to most of us.

love note

Words of Affirmation

Words of Affirmation is centered around verbal support. Someone who is fluent in this doesn’t need to think twice before they offer compliments, cheer on their partner, or tell them that they’re on their side. They feel best clapping on the sidelines, beaming with a proud “that’s my guy/gal” smile on their faces.

Although this is the one that may be most difficult for many, it’s also the easiest substitute for the small, comforting touches one might give or receive during the day.

To help this take the place of physical contact, start with touch-related cues. For instance, the instant you start jonesing for the feel of the one you care about, break down what you get from it. Think about how it feels when your partner grabs your hand, when they run their fingers down the nape of your neck. Then turn it into a compliment and deliver it immediately.

Text, instant messages, and email make this easy if you’re tight on time or feel uncomfortable speaking the words aloud on the phone or via video chat.

Start with something simple like, “I love the way your fingers intertwine with mine. They just fit so perfectly and it makes me feel safe.” Think about the unique features of their touch, and tell them the little details that you notice but have never remarked upon: “I find the calluses on your palms from lifting weights comforting, because they’re so you,” or “the way you rub my back makes me relax right away.” Ask them to send you pictures of themselves in that moment, and pick out your favorite feature in the photo or point out what the lighting is doing for the sparkle in their eyes.

And of course, you can also affirm ways that you enjoy touching them. Tune into the pleasure you derive from it, and don’t keep it to yourself. Do you love running your hands through their hair? If so, why? Focus on what makes it so satisfying. Is it their skin you can’t get enough of, a particular spot where it’s soft or rough that you find yourself gravitating toward? Find the reason and tell them, even if you think it’s odd or silly. Or send a racy email, which can be paragraphs long or as simple as some bullet points of things you miss doing.

The best way to turn touch into words of affirmation is to celebrate the reasons why touch between you is electric. Just remember that no errant thought is too small to share—do it as fleetingly and unthinkingly as you would have once grazed their back.

couple calling on facetime

Quality Time

Those most conversant in Quality Time feel that the deepest and most meaningful relationships are forged during one-on-one bonding or shared activities. Those long car talks driving around with your best friend in high school, walks with a lover on an empty beach — the gift of time and attention is the most precious one those who love this way can give.

For those who find Words of Affirmation sweet but too short, this is the love language that allows for a deeper dive, figuratively turning a butterfly kiss of a text into the feel-good equivalent of a steamy makeout.

Much like the love language of touch, quality time doesn’t have to be R-rated. This just means that one-on-one time is prioritized, and you focus exclusively one each other. This is perhaps the next easiest way to shift love languages, and incorporate the illusion of touch into your relationship.

You can set up individual dates, like FaceTime dinners. Bundle up together and take long, socially distanced walks while on the phone, which may help sate that need for hand-holding on a neighborhood stroll.

Less novel but also effective: you can also plan to continue rituals, like watching a favorite show together. These simple moments of everyday life are sometimes the things we miss most, but with on-demand television and streaming shows, it’s easier than ever to cue up watch parties for two at a time that works best for you.

Set up a Zoom in one window of your computer, video on, and play your movie on the other so you can watch the film and your partner’s live reaction, or text each other all the way through a TV show. Either way, you’re committing to doing something in sync.

Technology—particularly with that “Do Not Disturb” setting on your phone—makes it simpler than ever to be fully present with one another, even far away. And it also opens the door for some closed-door (ahem) private quality time as well. Recall the feeling of skin-to-skin contact with all virtual and verbal channels available to you, for the same spicy QT you’d get to enjoy if you were in person.

Couple friends having a nice dinner

Acts of Service

Anything that helps increase convenience and quality of life, or decreases stress by crossing things off a to-do list, counts as an act of service. These good deeds, typically exhibited by pragmatic people, can be as creative as they are practical, and as simple as they are thoughtful, like making sure you wake to a hot cup of coffee, making you your favorite meal, or even emptying the litter box so you don’t have to.

This love language is a bit harder to “speak” during a pandemic, as the inability to be in close quarters makes it tougher to do tasks for the person you care about. However, it’s not impossible.

Though you may not be able to provide service yourself, the internet has enabled many ways to take something off your loved one’s plate. Grocery shopping is one: fill up a virtual cart and arrange for it to be dropped at their door. Can’t make dinner for them anymore? Send something from a local restaurant! Order the same meal from your own favorite place and share it on video for a fun quality-time-meets-acts-of-service date.

On a week you know your partner has a lot going on at work, take some home tasks off their list by hiring a dog-walker, arranging for a laundry pick-up service, or sending over a cleaning team if they’ve been stressed about making time for chores. This clears up their calendar and can alleviate stress – which means they may be open to more quality time together.

And if you’re looking for ways you can directly adapt acts of service to touch, there are a few options there, too. Many spas have reopened with restrictions, and some therapists will come directly to a person’s home. If your partner is open to it, they’ll surely appreciate the relaxing gift – and think of you with gratitude as they receive it.

woman opening package


This particular love language isn’t as superficial as it sounds. For givers, it’s about demonstrating love and the joy they experience witnessing reactions. For recipients, it provides a sense of being heard and understood. The focus is on unexpected, delightful moments or objects, which are high in sentimental value regardless of whether they’re small tokens or grandiose gestures.

Although you can’t box up and mail your touch, there are tons of creative ways you can try to appeal to that sense. Cozy is one route to go down: think plush throws, soft pillows, or silky pajamas.

You can also send gifts that mimic touch, like scalp massaging tools or heated lotion dispensers. And of course, there are adult toys designed to stand in for touch that you can explore together, whether it’s shopping online while on the phone or after delivery.

But if the love language of gift-giving is new to you and you’re finding it a poor substitute for touch, simplify the gifts and amplify the reasoning. Try communicating why you chose the gift to help bridge that gap, and make it a love language that works for you

The beauty of adopting gift-giving as your love language is that the possibilities are limitless, and available at almost any budget. Put enough time and thought into selecting a gift, and it’ll feel like a hug across the miles until you’re ready to cross those miles and hug in person.

Related Articles