The Five Love Languages is a self-help book written by Gary Chapman, originally published in 1992. Its purpose is as a textbook, to instruct people, especially married persons, to communicate with their partner in the most effective way possible. His choice to write it as instructive is appropriate because he is knowledgeable on the topic. He has had almost 40 years experience counseling couples in marriage. The ideas presented in this book are a compilation of what he feels is the best way to learn to love your spouse in a way that he or she can understand. He sets up each love language using real-life examples from couples he has worked with or have shared with him throughout the years. The reader is able to picture himself or herself in some of the common scenarios making the application of the lessons much more practical.
Chapman begins by explaining the reason why love is not sustainable without work and why so many people fall out of love. He believes that it is each partner’s responsibility to fill the other’s emotional needs by making deposits. Similarly to financial deposits into a bank account, married couples must make the effort to give love in a way that their partner understands, thereby making deposits into their “love tank (34).” The effort is not required early in the relationship because the in-love feeling is based on instinct; it makes the person want to do anything and everything for the other. When that feeling fades (after about 2 years) the feeling is gone, but if the couple is married they must communicate with their partner in a way that fills their emotional need for love. What may seem like incompatibility is really the difference between speaking different love languages. Love languages are as different as English and Russian.
To communicate effectively, you must learn the love language of your spouse. The first language is “Words of Affirmation (37).” For the person whose love language is kind and affirming words, words of condemnation, such as, complaining and nagging, are the worst thing that a partner could do because it expresses to that person that you hate them. To show this person love, only say nice things about them, appreciation, verbal compliments, encouraging words, be humble when asking for something, and suspend all complaints.
Second language is “Quality Time (55).” There are two ways that people really like to spend time together. The first is “Quality Conversation (60).” The person who feels love this way just wants to talk and be heard. The way to show love to this person is to spend time talking and listening. The next way people like to spend time together is doing “Quality Activities (68).” Spending time doing things that the partner enjoys, whatever that may be.
Love language three is “Receiving Gifts (76).” The gifts do not have to be purchased, but can be made or expressed through the gift of time.
“Acts of Service (91),” is the fourth love language. Doing things that you know spouse wants, cooking, cleaning, washing the car, etc. If you ask your spouse to do something, do not expect that they will do it. You can make the request, but it is their choice to act upon it. “’Requests give direction to love, but demands stop the flow of love (96). ‘“ Requesting without expecting changes the dynamic of the communication because the requester does not feel let down when the request goes unmet and the spouse does not feel a guilt trip, forcing him or her to do something that he or she does not want to do.
The final language according to Chapman is “Physical Touch (110).” This love is communicated through loving touches as simple as a brush of the hand to sexual intimacy.
At the end of each chapter Chapman gives a list of ways to communicate love through the language by challenging the reader to follow steps to love their significant other. After explaining the love languages, Chapman helps the reader determine his or her own love language and that of his or her spouse. He then presents a game called “Tank Check (129).” It is a perception checking “tool for helping you understand others accurately instead of assuming that your first interpretation is correct (Adler & Proctor 105).” Learning a new language is difficult and partners are bound to make inadvertent mistakes along the way. The game is a non-confrontational way to address the difference between perceived communication of the new language and reality of what is being received by the partner.
The book has practical applications to society and interpersonal communications. With such a high divorce rate in this country, it is refreshing to find an author that can provide answers that are applicable to such a wide audience. The author does have a Christian bias, and would argue that despite feelings, all couples should work towards repairing the relationship instead of ending in divorce. The Christian perspective is that all marriages can and should be saved because it is God’s design.
Chapman’s theory involves the reciprocal nature of doing or saying nice things for one another. This pattern becomes a positive upwards spiral, “a word of praise can lead to a returned compliment, which can lead to an act of kindness, which can result in an improved relational climate (Adler & Proctor 347).” Most people will happily accept the kindness offered by another person if it is genuine.
The problems that I find with this book are threefold. First, is the six-month experiment. Chapman suggests that if you hate someone, it is possible to still love them and he theorizes that the love will be restored in the marriage after applying the lessons for six months.
There are two flaws with this theory. The first is that if the partner is abusive or has an addiction, the spouse cannot live together, at least for the short-term. Chapman makes no mention of specific causes for Ann (the woman in chapter 12) to hate her husband, but if he was violent or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, she cannot stay. It is not healthy for a person to exist in a dangerous relationship. She would be showing him love by leaving, using Chapman’s words, “’I love you too much to let you treat me this way. It is not good for you or me,’” this is Chapman’s only hint at abuse, but he never says exactly what to do in that situation (101). People must heal themselves before they are capable of healing relationships with other people.
Also, if there is no love in the love tank, how can one give love to another? Is there a way to take out a love loan? If the relationship has suffered so greatly and one person wants to save the marriage, but in doing so feels emotional pain each time he or she pays out love; it is like making a love withdrawal. Sending out love without receiving any in return is nearly impossible to maintain for an extended period of time.
The second problem that Chapman fails to address is the love language changes or shifts due to broken trust. Chapman says, “our primary love language tends to stay with us for a lifetime (176).” While I agree that the primary language does not change. There may be times when hearing or feeling a partner speak our primary love language can be too painful. When trust is broken, as in infidelity, the relationship needs time to heal. If the offending partner attempts to show the other love through physical touch, the wounded partner may recoil, even if that is his or her primary love language, or perhaps especially if that is his or her primary love language.
Finally, Chapman tells his readers to focus on one or two areas that are the partner’s primary and secondary love languages. The reality is that all five languages must have deposits. I have separate bank accounts, daily expenditures, emergency fund, savings for vacations and holidays, college education and retirement. I put most of our money aside for daily expenses, but if the other accounts do not get any deposits I will be in trouble, maybe not immediately, but eventually. Chapman’s love languages should be expanded to let his readers know that even if a partner’s primary love language is physical touch, speaking the other languages is also a requirement.
I found that the book was well written and easy to read. The ideas are pretty straightforward and simple to put into practice immediately. The results are easy to identify if a spouse respond positively, but can be painful if your bank is empty. I have recommended this book to a family member and can see practical applications in my relationships with my children, siblings and parents as well.
Chapman, Gary D. The Five Love Languages / Five Love Languages. Chicago: Northfield Pub., 1992.
Adler, Ronald B., Proctor, Russell F, II. Looking Out/Looking In. 13th Ed. Boston, MA: