January Book 1: The Five Love Languages

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?

6 thoughts on “January Book 1: The Five Love Languages

  1. you also forgot to mention the off-putting cover!!!!

    i like the essence of the ‘love languages’ because it’s about thinking, and paying attention to yourself, and your partner… as unique people rather than stereotypes, or genders. it helps me a zillion times more than any marriage advice list to know what makes my husband tick, and what makes me tick too. i’m still figuring both out.

    i don’t remember more than the basics of the book, but i think the ‘theory’ is a great springboard for a marriage of paying attention. as you know i’m also a myers-briggs-nerd too … i love all that stuff that helps us understand ourselves and each other! xxx

    1. LOL – what a cover! 🙂

      Love what you said about the process of thinking and listening to your & your partner’s self-ness. It’s good to know this is useful a few years into marriage also!

      Need to hear more about the Myers-Briggs thing. Let’s get that catch up in the diary!

      1. yes let’s wee ‘cuz… will give you a non-blog “shout”.

        love JD’s comments also… YES to them all…

  2. Like you I read this during my engagement, I suppose as some sort of prep for marriage, and too found that my learning wasn’t limited to the husband/wife relationship. Primarily I probably recognised that I shared a lot of love languages with my mum! I guess it just explained why we ‘get’ each other the way we do.

    It was a while ago so my memory of the details of the book are fuzzy, but I took from it the main ‘languages’ theory and in general I think it has been an important part of a growing awareness of myself and of others.

    I find it so funny that on meeting my husband initially I couldn’t believe how similar we were. (The phrase “He’s the boy version of me” was bandied about a bit too freely, and naïvely.)
    After 5 years together, 3 and 1/2 of which we’ve been married, I realise that we are so so different it’s hilarious.

    The love language theory is initially enlightening but to my knowledge doesn’t account for how we as individuals can change purely by being loved and by loving. The funny thing about love is that by choosing it we become it. (By this I mean that expressions/languages which are unnatural to me can become natural and comfortable purely by my exercising them.)

    Like I say to my husband who is a keen mountain & road biker, ‘You invest in what you love. You love what you invest in.’ Sacrifice is it’s own return, especially in marriage. You lose and therefore you win.

    If this book has anything to offer in a culture where self-gratification, self preservation & consumerism are extremely pervasive self-love languages, it’s that it reinforces that love is something we learn and relearn, we practice, make mistakes, dust off and try again. It highlights that my love languages are not superior, my needs are not greater, and I need to continue to learn to combat my selfishness both in the ways that I show, and want to be shown, love.

    I think it can be empowering to read in a book, in black and white, something that validates me and makes me think ‘hey that’s totally me!’ However I need to be careful about getting over enthusiastic about presenting my love languages to my husband, highlighting what I want and becoming demanding about what I expect from love. (Not bad to be open and honest about ourselves but I’m ever reminded that love is patient and kind and has self control, even when our preferences are not always met.)

    So too, it can be easy to see seemingly clearly and in a formulaic way how to ‘show love’ to the other in your life. I think we need to be free to love in the ways that come naturally to us as well as tailoring our efforts to the languages of those we love. This way we are always growing, deepening, learning to appreciate and be appreciated in greater and greater measure. Which is in my opinion the very point of marriage, and of love; ‘Iron sharpens iron’.

    On reading back over this I seem to have engaged fully with the concept of discussing love languages and not provided much of a book critique. Sorry. That’s just what came out.

    I love that you’re a reader. I am too. But I seem to be in book hibernation at the moment. Your New Years book reading quest has roused me.

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