Gary Chapman says he and his wife had “a lot of difficulties” early in their marriage.
Chapman is the author of “The 5 Languages of Love: How to Express Sincere Commitment to Your Mate”. The book, published in 1992, describes five ways a person expresses or feels love:
- acts of service
- physical contact
- quality time
- To receive presents
- words of affirmation
As a rule, a person speaks the love language that he most likes to hear. Chapman’s is “words of affirmation,” something he continually offered to his new bride, he said.
“I said [my wife] how nice she seemed and how much I enjoyed what she was doing,” he said. “I was telling her all day, ‘I love you. I love you. ‘like,'” he told CNBC Make It.
But his wife’s love language is “acts of service.”
“One night she was like, ‘You keep saying, ‘I love you.’ Well, if you love me, why don’t you help me?” he declares.
So he started to help.
“I do the dishes, I take out the trash, I vacuum the floors and she tells me I’m the best husband in the world,” he said, “and I know that’s hyperbole but it’s been always good.”
“Before that, she wouldn’t give me any words of affirmation, probably because she thought I didn’t deserve any,” he said.
What is your love language?
Chapman says the issues he and his wife face are common, which is why 30 years after its initial publication, his book is still a topic of conversation.
” Which is your love language ? has become a common question on dates and happy hours and is used as a code to improve relationships in love, family and friends.
Chapman, a Southern Baptist pastor, says he invented love languages after decades of walking couples through hardships at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he and his wife live.
He says marriage counseling was something he was “pushed” into after becoming a pastor.
“Again and again, couples sat in my office, and one said, ‘I feel like you don’t like me,’ and the other said, ‘I don’t understand,'” a- he declared.
“I know people can be sincere and still miss the other person.”
For example, a wife who doesn’t care about a gift from her husband may not run away from his affection but rather not acknowledge it at all because her love language is, say, quality time or physical contact, says -he.
“The roots are extremely problematic”
Despite the book’s success, Chapman’s beliefs and expertise have been questioned over the years.
For one thing, her doctorate is in adult education — not psychotherapy.
And Chapman has expressed heteronormative beliefs and only works with heterosexual couples. Asked about same-sex couples, he replied: “I don’t deal with all that, but, yes, in all relationships, if you understand this concept, it will improve the relationship.”
Intentionally or not, however, he created a gender-neutral tool.
It is also endorsed by many therapists, although some have reservations.
Lisa Bobby, a psychologist and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching in Denver, says a lot of relationship counseling is more inclusive now than when Chapman published her book.
“I think what has evolved since then is a better understanding of attachment style and a greater understanding and appreciation of family, background and cultures,” she said.
Some experts believe Chapman’s identity should be taken into consideration.
“Roots are extremely problematic,” said Lia Love Avellino, psychotherapist and CEO of Spoke, an emotional wellness space in Brooklyn.
“Not just where it came from or who it was written by,” she said. “It’s a language that made sense to a straight, Christian, white man. It created a culture where people thought you had to choose one, you had to have a specific way of communicating.”
But the book is also “relatable and accessible”
Chapman’s book lives on because it can be used in just about any type of relationship. Bobby says she often discusses love languages with her patients, regardless of their orientation.
“It provides a very approachable and approachable way to understand and appreciate the differences we’ve had in a way that’s actionable for our partners,” she said.
The barrier to entry is also quite low, says Pamela Larkin, a relationship therapist. The quiz is multiple choice, free and only takes a few minutes.
“Some other personality assessments, like the Enneagram, require a bit more thought and deepen the discussion of motivations,” Larkin said. “The languages of love are simpler.”
The word “language” itself is also comforting, says Avellino.
“This idea that there is a language that we can teach someone else to speak empowers someone: there are words that already exist rather than having to find them.”
Some relationships can “feel better instantly”
Besides being accessible, the concept of love languages can actually be helpful and make relationships “instantly better,” Bobby says.
“Readers are able to understand all of these different ways of giving and receiving love in a way that doesn’t diminish the importance of any of them,” she said. “Words of affirmation are no more important than physical affection or vice versa.”
For Avellino, it helps his patients answer important questions.
“One thing I’ve noticed when I ask people in therapy, ‘What do you need?’ or ‘What do you want?’ most people don’t know what to answer,” she said. “It gives couples five pillars. There’s a standard language so it doesn’t feel so vulnerable to go out on a branch because there have been pre-established topics, so that has to be acceptable.”
“We Don’t Have One Me”
Larkin says the biggest danger in using love languages is believing that the work stops there.
Knowing and even practicing your partner’s love language does not exempt you from putting effort elsewhere.
“Doing acts of service does not make up for the need to continue to build trust, to build respect, to show honor, to listen to each other, to show up for each other, to be reliable,” a she declared. “You still have to do these things.”
It could also be used in harmful ways during cycles of abuse, she says.
“There’s a build-up of tension, the acute moment of violence, and then the honeymoon phase,” she said. “Let’s say someone knows their partner’s love languages, they can go through the other parts of the cycles, and then use the honeymoon to, say, give gifts, to try to say they’re sorry.”
Another criticism is that the five love languages are not universal.
“There are other ways to experience love and care that Dr. Chapman didn’t discuss in his book,” Bobby said. “For many people, emotionally intimate conversations are the most important love language, and Dr. Chapman doesn’t mention them.”
Your love language can also change throughout your life, says Avellino.
“We don’t have one me,” she said. “Different people bring out different needs, and circumstances change your needs.”
Chapman agrees that a person’s love language can vary according to “circumstances and seasons of life”.
A mother of two, he says, might discover that for the first time in her life, “acts of service” are her most important love language.
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