OK, time to try to reach one of my 2014 goals! I finished my first book of 2014 last week.
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The child of a marriage counselling team, I couldn’t help but hear talk of love languages quite early on. I knew what the theory suggested in terms of the 5 ways people ‘speak’ and ‘hear’ love, and I still regularly consider this in my relationships – how does that person express their love? What do they best respond to? How can I communicate love to them most effectively?
I’m getting married this year, so when my cousin (who has a great blog about the small things which really are big things) gave me this New York Times Bestseller, I was excited to delve a little deeper into Dr Chapman’s theory and learn a bit more about how to love.
There are, according to Chapman, 5 love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch and quality time. Everyone speaks one (or, sometimes), 2 more strongly than others – Chapman suggests that this is often determined by how someone is raised.
When you enter into a relationship with someone and once the adrenaline-pumping, rose-tinted glasses, honeymoon feeling leaves, you need to choose to love, as an action, and this is where it is helpful to know which love languages your partner speaks most strongly. I liked Chapman’s emphasis on love as a choice and as something you do, rather than just something you feel. I think that that is what makes love so beautiful: I feel butterflies around Dan and being around him is the best part of my day, and I think that he is the best thing since sliced bread, but I also choose him and choose to love him every day.
And so Chapman goes on: you want to communicate your love for your partner, to your partner, in the best way – but they may speak another love language. For example, if I was raised on a lot of verbal encouragement and little notes in my lunchbox, I might most naturally express my love for my partner by doing similar things. He, on the other hand, may be more touched by me spending an afternoon with him. I can write him a love letter per day, but if I don’t spend any time with him, he won’t necessarily feel loved.
So the book, in a very readable, letter-to-a-friend sort of way, outlines the importance of speaking people’s love languages, and various ways in which each language can be spoken. There are helpful insights on each love language (and their ‘dialects’ – quality time, for example, can involve activity or just talking.)
The theory seems fairly basic: there isn’t any mention of personality types, character traits or past experiences (particularly, the emphasis on people speaking the love languages they were raised with doesn’t account for people who had difficult childhoods.) I also thought the book was simplistic in its terminology at times: Chapman refers to ‘love-tanks’ having to be filled by love languages being spoken. A person isn’t a love-tank, nor is a successful marriage only about two full love-tanks.
I do think that everyone speaks most or all love languages – according to the test in the book, mine isn’t physical touch, but I love it when Dan holds my hand. There are of course stronger languages for everyone, but it’s important not to reduce or be too quick to categorise or label. And some of the things Chapman would class as being in a language are just things that people need to do: ‘acts of service’ mightn’t be my love language, but of course I’ll appreciate it when Dan does the vacuuming.
I was also concerned by other terms around the idea of speaking someone’s love language being of ‘credit’ to the speaker, or gaining them ‘points’. Chapman gets it right later though when he talks about the need to speak someone’s love language even when it isn’t comfortable (ie: you may not love cooking, but if your partner feels particularly cared for when you do it…make an effort to cook them a nice meal once in a while) because it’s about the other person.
There was also a chapter on how to love someone you hate, which highlighted some advice given to a woman who hated her husband, and whose husband hated her back. I was uneasy about some of this advice – possibly because of its lack of regard for relational and personal needs that go beyond tanks being filled.
However, a helpful, practical book on how people speak and interpret each other’s languages – not just in marriage. I discovered I spoke a language I didn’t think I did (quality time – specifically, quality conversation…which I had always thought to be more about the words said) and Dan and I discovered we both have the same primary language, which is quite rare.
Have you read The 5 Love Languages? Did you find it helpful? Do you agree/disagree with Chapman’s theory?