This month for Hope Street Cards Book Club in the spirit of all things love I read Dr Gary Chapman’s ‘The 5 Love Languages’.
I have read versions of this text before. This time round I embarked on the ‘Singles Edition’. Obviously.
You may have caught wind of these so called languages by now. The title has been sitting on the New York Times Best Sellers list for some time since it was originally published in 1995 and has apparently sold over 10 million copies world-wide. Not bad, for what sounds like a pretty cheesy self-help book.
According to Dr. Chapman, there are five universal ways that all of us express and interpret love. Reflecting on over 30 years of experience providing couples counselling, Chapman observed specific ways in which partners communicate with each other. His theory is that there the majority of us express and interpret love in the same five ways.
The premise is pretty simple: Different people with different personalities express love in different ways. Therefore, if you want to give and receive love most effectively, you've got to learn to speak the right language.
It’s hypothesised that we each have one primary and one secondary love language (you can take a quiz here to determine your love language), and we tend to give love in the way we prefer to receive love. Since we don’t all have the same preferences as our partners when it comes to giving and receiving love, this is how things can sometimes get a bit tricky. But if we develop an understanding of our partner’s primary love language, we can start to speak love loudly and clearly in our relationship.
The five love languages are:
1. Words of affirmation
According to Chapman, this language uses words to affirm other people. For those who prefer the words of affirmation language, hearing "I love you" and other compliments are what they value the most. Words hold real value within this language. Furthermore, negative or insulting comments cut deep — and won't be easily forgiven. Essentially, having affirming words will make you feel loved if this is your primary love language.
According to the online survey I took this was the outright leader as my primary love language, which I hadn’t guessed in reading the book. Or at least I thought my results would be a bit more closely aligned.
When I reflected on this, I kept coming back to the periods where I have truly, truly struggled accepting any words of affirmation. During my episodes of mental illness, loved ones would repeatedly provide affirmative love words that I could not even comprehend. Let alone assimilate. Initially I thought this was somewhat interesting and a flaw in Chapman’s whole theory, but due to the nature of the illness though one has to wonder whether I would have been capable to accepting any form of love (language) at that time. Hmmm.
Affirming words is more than just the “I love you’s” though. It’s also the words of encouragement and praise and kindness. It’s the way in which we express our words. How we sit with someone in silence. It is quite true that I do really love language, silence and positive reinforcement.
2. Quality time
This language is all about us giving the other person our undivided attention. If this is our primary language we deeply value doing things together and receiving full, undivided attention from our spouse, including sharing quality conversations and activities. Distractions, postponed dates, or failing to listen can be especially hurtful to us. Being with our loved one makes us feel satisfied and comforted. Distractions, postponed dates, or the failure to listen can be especially hurtful to these individuals. Being there for them is crucial.
This was a secondary language for me and I’d agree that I do often feel quite rejuvenated after spending uninterrupted time talking to a loved one or doing activities together. The online results noted “You deepen your connection with others through sharing time”. Which, yes, I agree with. But wouldn’t everyone?
3. Receiving gifts
Let’s not mistake this love language for materialism. If this is our primary language, we deeply treasure a gift or gesture that shows we are being thought of, cared for, and prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring you the gift. Gifts are seen as visual symbols of love. This doesn't necessarily mean the person is materialistic, but a meaningful or thoughtful present it was makes them feel appreciated.
Gifts can be purchased, found or made, and the value is often less important than the significance of the gift. If you are not intuitive at giving gifts but your spouse’s primary language is receiving gifts, you can start by making a list of all the gifts that your spouses has been excited about – this will give you an idea of what gifts he/she appreciates. Gifts also go beyond just physical items, and can include the gift of self (or the gift of physical presence). You feel hurt by the absence of daily gestures, a missed birthday, anniversary, or a hasty/ thoughtless gift.
Unsurprisingly, this was another secondary language for me. I say unsurprisingly because gift-giving is a dominant language in my family of origin. And it’s beautiful. Birthdays and Christmas are joyous and beautiful events and the “Gift-giving ceremony” is a tradition that is so meaningful that it brings overwhelming joy to both the giver and the receiver.
4. Acts of service
With this love language, actions speak louder than words. When we speak the language of service we want our partner to recognise that their life can be tough and we would like them to help them out in any way possible. Lending a helping hand shows you really care. People who thrive on this language do not deal well with broken promises — or perceived laziness — and have very little tolerance for people who make more work for them. Basically, if you're not willing to show your appreciation by doing them a favour, you're saying you don't value them.
I have a hunch that some of my close friends might have this as their primary love language. They are truly wonderful at helping me out when I’m feeling stressed or drowning in things to do. But also, I reckon that if their loved ones said to them “let me do that for you”, and then followed through with cooking a meal or washing the car, they’d feel so incredibly loved and adored. It might even lead to love in the bedroom. (Excuse me while I try to make this point very clear. In the off chance he might be reading!).
5. Physical touch
Physical touch can bring a sense of security and connection to any relationship. If this is our primary love language, we crave displays of care and love through is thoughtful touches, hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and/ or sexual intercourse. Neglect or abuse can cause serious damage and hurt to you emotionally.
Like other love languages, there are different dialects in physical touch, such as loving touches on the arm/ back/ shoulders, a back rub, sexual foreplay and intercourse, sitting closely on the couch, holding hands etc. Even if you share the same love language of physical touch, don’t assume he/she speaks the same dialect as you.
This language rated lowest for me. Don’t really have much to say about that.
The theory goes on to explain that one we’ve established our dominant love language and that of our partners it doesn’t mean we should stop expressing the others. We still enjoy traits of the others. And we can learn to develop and love through those as well.
Here’s my quick review of the actual book:
The good things:
- Totally agree with Chapman that to have a lasting relationship we need to recognise that the emotional high of the “in-love” experience is only temporary in nature and after this has run its course we need to make the shift to what he refers to as “real love”
I liked his definition of “real love” as:
- A conscious choice or an act of will to love the other person;
- Effort and discipline to understand and give love to the other person (not merely driven by the euphoria of being “in love”); and
- A focus on growth and development of yourself and your partner (unlike the “in love” phase when we simply see the other party as perfect and hope they will stay that way).
The less good things:
- There is a lot of ‘God’ in this book. There is also a very strongly worded chapter on the importance of marriage, which I did not read. For reasons related to being happily single at present.
- I had hoped that this book would focus mostly on developing your use of the love languages for use in relationships outside of couple relationships – as it was for ‘singles’. And it did that a little bit, but not much. The majority of the book, it was more of a dating guide for single people to become no longer single and address the issues they have had in previous relationships and become couples again. In case couples don’t know, single people also have important relationships in their lives.
You know a wonderful way to show love in any language? Send a card! We've got some for you right here!