I’m going to bet you’ve either heard of or read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. I read the book a long time ago when someone gave me it as a gift. I remember thinking it was really helpful. The book, if you haven’t read it, details five primary love languages that individuals relate to best. If you want to be effective in communicating your love to your partner (or child), asserts the author, you must learn which love language your spouse prefers and provide them doses of your love via their preferential love language. And, in order for your spouse to provide you with loving attention in the best way, it behooves you to know which love language you respond best to, too.
Every individual has a preference of how they prefer to be “spoken to” and how they interpret and understand emotional love. The five love languages according to the author are:
- Acts of service
- Words of affirmation
- Material gifts
For example, Joe and Mary are married and Joe discovers by reading the book that he responds best to loving intentions from Mary when she uses words of affirmation. “I love you Joe” means so much more to him than a little gift or quality time spent together. Mary prefers touch. She loves it when Joe comes up and hugs her and she loves it when he gives her a kiss first thing in the morning. Joe and Mary feel intense love for one another because they are getting their needs met in regards to their specific love language. If Joe were to only use his preferred love language (words of affirmation) with Mary, she would become frustrated and problems would occur between them–a build-up of resentment, misunderstandings, and the like.
This concept of a love language sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? If my partner and I figure out our love language, we will be all set–we just relate to one another using what we and our partner needs and we will have an amazing relationship. Alas, if only this were true! It should be that simple! The book is a great resource if you’d like to find out about one facet of relationships–but relationships are more complex than what this book presents.
Relationships are a vehicle to discovering yourself, your partner, and you as a couple through the ongoing process of love and connection.
If relating to one another only came down to using a language your partner prefers, then the divorce rate would be lower by now. If this was the magic formula, then every couple should be using it. And every couple who uses this book as a reference for their relationship should have a long-lasting, loving relationship. But (sigh) this isn’t the case.
I am a big fan of John Gottman. Why? He and the researchers at the Love Lab have done a tremendous amount of research on couples and relationships. They can predict with over 90% accuracy which couples will end up divorcing. Those are really good odds–the kind of odds you want to pay attention to. What his research has proven, among other things, is that keeping the energy of your relationship positive is one of the keys to a loving and long-lasting relationship. You can do this several ways (see my post on the 8 Secrets of Solid Relationships and How Dr. John Gottman Predicts Divorce for more on this). One of the ways is to use the love languages. Knowing your and your partner’s love language helps, but there is so much more to maintaining relationships than relating from your love language. The love language can bring about positivity and it may help you to focus more on your partner, but relationships are so much deeper than any language–or any communication issues between you. And, keep in mind–every couple is different as is each individual.
If you were to look at the connection between you and your partner as a bank–with positive thoughts, words, and actions as bank deposits and negative thoughts, words, and actions as withdrawals–you can see that if you were to withdraw too much from your relationship’s emotional bank account that it would deplete and eventually bankrupt the relationship. You need a positive balance in your emotional bank account. You can do this by speaking to one another using your love languages, but there are other ways to stay in the positive as well.
There is a lot of great advice out there that will help you with your relationship (and there is some bad advice out there too. For example, read this article I wrote about Dr. Laura Schlesinger: Which Comes First: Your Children or Your Marriage?). While having knowledge of your and your partner’s love language helps, like I said before–it’s only part of the picture.
To keep a relationship healthy and loving requires a set of tools–not just one (i.e. a love language).
Marriages also need consciousness and awareness, continued growth, positive intention, honesty, trust, fun, commitment, shared goals and values…If you don’t have these things, your relationship suffers. If your partner is intentionally dishonest or they are not committed to the relationship–your love language is not going to help. If you don’t have shared values or goals–the love language? Not going to help. If you have an issue of trust–love languages are not going to bandage that up. Relationships are complex and multifaceted–they need more than a love language to keep the energy between you in the space of loving and positive.
There is nothing wrong with this book–it’s a great idea to relate to your partner using love languages. “The Five Love Languages” is a simple tool you can use to create more love in your marriage/relationship–but it is only one tool.
One last thing to keep in mind: your love language can change over time as well. Five years ago, you may have been all about receiving gifts. This year, with, say, a cancer scare–it’s all about touch or words of affirmation. People change. Relationships change.
“The Five Love Languages” positively adds to the relationship literature out there. It provides another way of relating positively with your partner. However, used alone it will not resolve some of the deeper issues in relationships.
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If your relationship needs some attention, and you’re not sure just reading articles like these and books will help, I invite you to discover relationship coaching. You can find out more by clicking here: Relationship Coaching.
My passion is to enrich people’s lives by helping them create extraordinary relationships. I am a certified life coach, have a Master’s degree in psychology, and am a Marriage and Family Therapy Candidate. I am the author of Transforming Divorce, the Transforming Divorce Workbook, and co-author (with my husband Don Nenninger) of The Secrets of Loving Relationships, and The Art and Science of Parenting: How to Act When Your Kid’s Acting Out.