Can the 5 Love Languages Save Your Marriage?
What Are the 5 Love Languages?
The 5 Love Languages originates from the 1992 book of the same name and is the brainchild of its author, Dr. Gary Chapman. A New York Times bestseller, it was originally called, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to your Mate. The 2015 revised edition is titled, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Based upon over 30 years experience of marriage counseling, Dr. Chapman concluded that there are five ways in which people give and receive love. He coined these emotional expressions as love languages.
The five love languages he identified, are as follows:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
How the Love Languages Helped Me
I stumbled across Dr. Gary Chapman's book, almost by accident, many years ago. I had been watching an episode of the 'Real Housewives of Orange County' when one of the ladies commented that her 'love tank' was empty. The lady in question was Vicki Gunvalson and, at the time, she was married to her then husband, Donn. While you only see a snippet of their relationship on-screen, what I did see struck a chord with me, and made for uncomfortable viewing. Despite renewing their wedding vows, the Gunvalsons eventually divorced.
At the time of watching the series, I was in an unfulfilling relationship, but couldn't quite pinpoint what was wrong. I simply knew that I was unhappy. One day, I arbitrarily searched for the term 'love tank' and eventually landed on Dr Chapman's book. Reading it was a revelation to me and suddenly, everything made sense. I quickly realized that my love language was 'acts of service' and, more importantly, that this need was not being met. In short, my emotional 'love tank' was also empty.
The five different types of languages are explained in greater detail below. However, in my particular case, I needed my partner to show that he cared for me, by way of his actions. This didn't need to be grand gestures, just everyday small actions such as going to the grocery store because we had run out of milk, or preparing the evening meal because my train home had been cancelled. As soon as I understood what the problem was, I was able to articulate this to my partner, and explain how resentful it made me feel.
Thankfully, we were able to resolve our difficulties, most of which were related to us each owning our own property. My partner appreciated that I was extremely independent and, although he spent a great deal of time at my house, was unsure of his exact role. Establishing clear boundaries, in each other's home, helped make us both feel more comfortable when staying over and ultimately, saved our relationship.
Do You Know Your Love Language?
What Is Your Love Language?
How Can the Love Languages Save Your Marriage?
Chapman theorizes that inside every individual is an emotional 'love tank' that needs to be kept full. If yours or your partner's tank is running on empty, problems will arise. In order to fill your partner's love tank, you must be able and willing to speak their language.
Most individuals have a primary and secondary love language. The former is an instinctive emotional language that can be likened to someone's mother tongue. The latter is akin to a second (foreign) language that has been learned. It does not flow as easily, or as naturally.
Dr Chapman asserts that once you have identified and begin to speak your partner's primary love language, you will have discovered the key to a long-lasting, loving relationship.
However, the problem with most romantic relationships, is that couples rarely have the same love language. In these situations, individuals struggle to fulfill their partner's emotional needs. This is because people are minded to express love in the same way they that they wish to receive it.
In short, an empty love tank equates to an unhappy marriage. If you want to save your relationship, you need to identify your partner's language and refill that love tank.
We must be willing to learn our spouse’s primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.— Dr. Gary D. Chapman
Discovering Your Partner's Love Language
If you want to save your marriage or relationship, it is important that you discover what your partner's primary love language is, and begin to speak it. However, as many individuals also have a secondary language, this may not be as straight forward as it first seems, but don't give up.
Firstly, think back over your relationship and consider all of the times when your partner reacted positively to something you did or said. Also, try and evaluate what may have changed in your marriage. While the dynamic of any relationship will alter over time, consider what you both did to make each other happy. This should help give you an insight into the love language of your spouse.
The love languages are explained in more detail below.
#1: Words of Affirmation Love Language
This is the first of the love languages. For individuals whose preference is words of affirmation, what you say really matters: both good and bad. Negative remarks will hurt them deeply, and quickly deplete their love tank. So, bite your tongue and think twice before uttering any acerbic comments.
Affirmation is all about letting your spouse know that you are truly grateful for the contribution they make to your life, by actually telling them.
However, when expressing your verbal appreciation, it is important your tone is sincere and never nagging or judgmental. Remember, your aim is to create harmony, not conflict. Also, your comments must be heartfelt and not contrived. Your spouse will be able to tell if you are being insincere. Do not say something, just for the sake of it. Say it because you are genuinely grateful for the contribution they make to your life.
In addition to compliments, you can also express words of encouragement and support to your spouse. For example, they may be experiencing self-doubt about a job promotion opportunity at work. You can help instill confidence in them with some carefully selected words.
Indirect Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation can also be given indirectly. For example, you can pay your partner a compliment when speaking about them to family or friends. More often than not, your comments will eventually work their way back to your spouse. Alternatively, you can compliment your spouse when in the company of others.
Words of Affirmation Examples
Some examples of words of affirmation are:
- Thank you for looking after me.
- Thank you for always being there for me.
- I don’t know what I’d do without you.
- I know you can do it!
- I can always rely on you.
- You look stunning this evening.
- Your support means so much to me.
- I will always be here for you.
- You are the love of my life.
#2: Quality Time Love Language
The emphasis here is more on 'quality' than it is on 'time'. It is about living in the moment and giving your spouse your undivided attention. This may be on a daily basis or it may be at weekends. Either way, it is about making time for your spouse. Nevertheless, it is not about simply sitting in a room together watching TV. You may be physically together, but you are not emotionally together. If you are struggling to grasp this, then you may find it useful to explore the concept of mindfulness.
Think about what your spouse enjoys doing. This includes hobbies to dining at their favorite restaurant. Do they have a bucket list? Do they long to visit a close relative? Whatever it is, organize it and share the experience with them. Making your partner happy should also fill you with joy.
Cancelling dates or failing to turn up to scheduled events will be deemed extremely disrespectful by your spouse. Quality Timers need to know that you are there for them.
Quality time is about creating memories that you will both remember for years to come.
#3: Receiving Gifts Love Language
While this language may seem materialistic, receiving gifts is what makes some people feel truly loved. Chapman also points out that gifts are a symbol of thought. It means that your spouse remembered you and was thinking about you at the time they made the purchase or chose the gift.
Naturally, any gifts you buy must be in keeping with your financial means. The last thing you need is to incur unnecessary debt. It is also worth remembering that some gifts can be inexpensive or even free. You just need to be creative. For example, you could stop to pick some wild flowers, or perhaps paint a love heart on a pebble that you collected from a special holiday together. If your spouse has a sentimental piece of jewelry that is broken, surprise them by getting it repaired. You could even buy some of their favorite flowers or shrubs and plant them together in your garden.
If receiving gifts is your partner's love language, then you need to become an habitual gift-giver while staying within your financial means.
#4: Acts of Service Love Language
This language is best summed up as, 'actions speak louder than words'. It means doing what you promised to do and more!
As well as lending a helping hand, it also extends to completing tasks that your spouse despises. For example, if your partner hates slicing onions because it makes their eyes sting, then do it for them. If they are stressed because they are late home from work, have the children bathed and ready for bed, and dinner in the oven. Too much? Think about it. If your spouse can do this each and every evening, then why can't you?
It can range from doing the laundry to taking out the garbage. Consider what would happen if your partner wasn't around. Who would get the children ready in the morning? Who would walk the dog? Who would load the dishes and make sure the bills were paid? You get the picture? Take stock of everything they do to make your life run smoothly, and let them know you are truly grateful and do not take them for granted.
It is worth remembering that individuals who value acts of service, do not tolerate laziness or broken promises. It makes them harbor resentment and rapidly empties their love tank. If you are unwilling to demonstrate your love with actions, you are essentially telling them that you do not love them.
#5: Physical Touch Love Language
The first thing to stress is that this is not solely about being intimate with your spouse. It is more to do with every day interactions such as a kiss on the cheek, a shoulder massage or holding your partner's hand. Appropriate physical touch makes these individuals feel safe, as well as loved. Also. these individuals need to be held in times of need and will not tolerate any form of physical abuse.
The following are just a few examples of some subtle signs of affection:
- Brushing your partner's hair back from their face
- Lightly touching their waist as you walk into a room together
- Adjusting your partner's tie or other piece of clothing
- Brushing a speck of dust off their shoulder
- Massaging their feet after a hard day
- Holding hands when in a crowded place
Scientific Research and Criticism
Lack of Scientific Research
Chapman's love languages theory is based upon his 30 years experience as a marriage counselor. When he first published his book in 1992, no scientific research had been undertaken to test, analyze and measure his hypothesis. However, some subsequent research has been undertaken.
Egbert & Polk (2006) concluded that Chapman's proposed five love languages was superior to unidimensional, three-factor, and four-factor solutions. He is also correct in attempting to help people understand the impact that differences in love languages can have on relationships.
However, the study contradicted Chapman's assertion that individuals express love in their preferred love language style. Other results provided little empirical support for Chapman’s notions of love languages.
Surijah & Septiarly (2016) suggested further research be undertaken to gain a better understanding of the inclusion of Quality Time and Receiving Gifts as components of the five love languages. They also concluded that individuals may have more than one primary love language.
Given that Chapman is an associate pastor of a Baptist church, it is perhaps unsurprising that references to scripture are scattered throughout the book. Additionally, the copyright notice at the front of the book does refer to quotations from the Holy Bible. Nonetheless, this appears to have offended some readers who perceive it as an attempt to instill Christian values.
All Relationships Must be Saved
One common criticism is the inference that all relationships must and can be saved. Some disgruntled readers point out that this is overly-simplistic and fails to take into account factors such as compatibility, abuse or infidelity.
While there is definitely some merit to this, Chapman does make a valid point that individuals are more inclined to walk away from a relationship, the moment it becomes difficult, rather than stay and work through any problems.
Related Publications by Dr. Gary Chapman
In addition to the The Five Love Languages, Dr. Chapman has written several other love languages books. These are:
- The Five Love Languages Singles Edition: The Secret that Will Revolutionize Your Relationships (2017)
- The 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts (2017) Co-authored with Jocelyn Green
- The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively (2016)
- The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively (2016)
- The 5 Love Languages for Men: Tools for Making a Good Relationship Great (2015)
- The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People (2012) Co-authored with Paul White
The One Year Love Language Minute Devotional (The One Year Signature Series) (2009)
- Chapman, G. D. (2015). The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Northfield Publishing, Chicago. [30 August 2018]
- Egbert, Nichole; Polk, Denise (2006). Speaking the Language of Relational Maintenance: A Validity Test of Chapman's Five Love Languages, Communication Research Reports,23:1,19-26, DOI: 10.1080/17464090500535822. [1 September 2018]
- Surijah, Edwin & Levy Septiarly, Yashinta (2016). Construct Validation of Five Love Languages. Anima Indonesian Psychological Journal. 31. 65-76. 10.24123/aipj.v31i2.565. [1 September 2018]
© 2018 C L Grant