A pop psychology phenomenon.
First published over 30 years ago, Gary Chapman’s concept of the Five Love Languages has become a global success and has helped many people in their romantic relationships. It is an undeniably popular tool that has been utilised in marriage counselling and throughout the self-help industry.
I've always been resistant to the concept of the Five Love Languages; in truth I’m resistant to most psychological theories that tend to categorise people into neat little boxes. Recently I was in a particularly difficult period of conflict with someone I loved and I started to consider the way that I demonstrate love to those around me. I decided to read Chapman’s original text The Five Love Languages.
What is the theory?
The theory behind the Five Love Languages is that there are five different ways that people communicate love. Although he uses the term ‘languages’, these are not necessarily spoken words. Chapman's Five Love Languages are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. He suggests we all have a primary love language that we use to communicate love, both the giving and receiving of love. Often we can be deaf to love languages that are not our primary love language. When you identify the love language of another person you can learn to ‘speak’ their language. If your partner also learns to speak your love language, the suggested outcome is that both people in the relationship feel loved and fulfilled. The concept is not a particularly complicated one, and you could find an outline of the Five Love Languages in many online articles or YouTube videos.
In my own experience of relationship conflict, I found that by simply having a conversation about love languages, an atmosphere of support and investment was created. Where before there was conflict, I could see a willingness in us both of to work on our communication style. This can be a healing experience and provides a foundation on which to focus your individual expression of love. Reflecting upon the Five Love Languages also encourages you to consider how your partner has already expressed love rather than fixate on hurt feelings.
Do I need to read the book?
In short, no. Chapman does offer some helpful insights, but largely I found that the book reiterated what I had already understood colloquially about the Five Love Languages. The book is filled with stories about the effectiveness of the theory, and Chapman dedicates a chapter to the exploration of each language in full. I suspect that most of the information that a person might need about the Five Love Languages can be found through a quick online search rather than reading the book in full.
Chapman does present a specific spiritual and world view that some readers may find challenging. The book relies upon gender, heterosexuality and Christianity. Many of the authors anecdotes mention the church as a feature in the lives of his clients. In a late chapter, Chapman outlines a personal plea that the reader seek out Jesus. Unsurprisingly, sex outside of marriage is presented unfavourably.
Given that Chapman’s theory appears to be relatively straightforward, I was surprised to discover the quantity of books published with the Five Love Languages as their central concept. These included The Five Love Languages of Children, The Five Love Languages Singles Edition, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, The Five Love Languages for Men and even The Five Love Languages Military Edition.
If the five love languages are new to you, I encourage you to look them up or read Chapman's original book. There is something enjoyable about identifying your love language, and I believe the concept can be a wonderful tool in nourishing relationships. The reason why Chapman's concept has become such a huge success is because it is simple and effective. It provides an insightful lens through which to examine your relationships.
THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES by Gary Chapman is published by Northfield Publishing ($15.99 U.S.)