I wrote a short review of The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but I have more to say about this book. The author is a marriage counselor whose experience with clients led him to identify 5 distinct ways of expressing love and to recognize that the acts that convey to you that someone really loves you may be very different from the acts that really feel like love to someone else.
This basic idea certainly resonates with me, and the 5 love languages are pretty clearly distinguished. But I came away from it thinking that there really are more than 5 and/or there are dialects within each of the languages. For example, he says that people who feel most loved when having sex are speaking the Physical Touch love language, and that people who need lots of cuddling and public hand-holding also are speaking the Physical Touch love language–but I have been involved with some men who express and receive love mainly through sex but do not really care about being touched at any other time for any other reason, especially in public, and feel “led on” by touching that seems romantic but isn’t foreplay. It seems to me that they are speaking a totally different love language than the person who would be pleased by any of the 7 tips Chapman gives for “If your spouse’s love language is Physical Touch.”
My partner Daniel didn’t read the book himself, but we discussed it at length, and we both took the quiz to identify our primary love languages. Neither of us was surprised to find that we didn’t have an obvious primary: Our answers were all over the place, and a lot of the choices were hard to make because we were thinking, “Well, both things are important!” (Each quiz question asks you to choose which of two ways of expressing love feels more “meaningful” to you.) We did see that Receiving Gifts is less important than the others for both of us and that I lean toward Acts of Service while he leans toward Physical Touch (not just sex)–but our main feeling taking the quiz was that it was based on too narrow an idea of loving partnership, leaving out a lot of the things we do together that make us feel most loved!
Maybe that’s because we’re not normal people. Not only are we happily unmarried, but we fell in love in a way completely different from the process Chapman describes as normal and inevitable–the one where you meet someone you think is perfect, you’re obsessed with each other and can hardly think of anything else, you forget all about yourselves in the joy of being wrapped up in an all-consuming relationship, and then after about two years it all falls apart because he left dishes by the sink or whatever and the very idea that your partner is imperfect or that your partner might not adore every single thing you do is so threatening that you feel like you’re not “in love” anymore. Eeesh.
Each of us has experienced falling in love in that obsessively joyful kind of way, with other people before we got together. It’s fun and exciting! But is it really worth the horrible drop when the perfection runs out? Well . . . we think that both the giddy-in-love experience and the oh-shit-our-relationship-is-breaking experience belong on life’s bucket list, that they’re things we’re glad we went through for our long-term emotional growth. Both of us are glad that we had these experiences with partners who didn’t just run away at the first sign of trouble but worked with us to try to save the relationship, which also is a valuable experience. However, we’re glad that that isn’t the only way to fall in love and that our 24-year relationship with each other didn’t start with such a giddy foundation.
I appreciate that Chapman wrote this book to help couples who find themselves at the oh-shit stage and want to rebuild on a new and better foundation. He helps them understand how they can be different from one another and still stay together, and a lot of his advice about how to do that is excellent. But it’s really so much easier when you start out by falling in love with a real person you’re seeing clearly and being honest with, while each of you continues keeping up with the other things that are important in your individual lives.
The book is very focused on heterosexual marriages rather than any other type of relationship, and some hypothetical examples are set up using stereotypes about which side of the conflict a wife would take vs. a husband–writing some of them the other way around would help readers think more flexibly about what might happen in our own relationships.
The gender roles didn’t bother me nearly as much as the author’s tirade against polyamory–he doesn’t seem to realize that his negative bias comes from being a counselor who only sees people whose forays out of monogamy have caused problems rather than bringing more love into their lives! (He also has a book applying the 5 love languages to parent-child relationships–let’s hope that one allows for the possibility that you can love more than one person, each in his or her own way.)
This relatively short and easy-to-read book can inspire a lot of introspection and discussion! Despite its flaws, I recommend it to anyone as a nudge to examine how you are expressing and receiving love and whether you could try some new ways that might be more effective for the individual people you love.