The Five Love Languages is a bestselling book by Dr. Gary Chapman. Its concepts are useful for couples in long-distance relationships, but it also raises concerns that are important to address.
What Are Love Languages?
The basic idea of the book is that different people have different “love languages” through which they give and receive love to others. According to Chapman, the five love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
Following the linguistics metaphor, Chapman argues that every person has one native love language. While you can learn to speak and understand multiple languages, you’ll always have a preference for your first language.
Like an Enneagram number or a Myers-Briggs acronym, love languages are portrayed as an extension of personality. Learning your love language can increase self-awareness. In a dating relationship, seeking to understand how your boyfriend feels loved can help you learn how to practically care for him.
If you’re curious what your primary love language is, you can take the quiz on the Five Love Languages website.
Strengths of the Five Love Languages
The most helpful part of The Five Love Languages is becoming aware that not everyone feels love the same way you do.
Growing up, I never thought about this. Since my primary languages are Words of Affirmation and Quality Time, I assumed everyone felt loved by long conversations and encouraging words.
As a result, I just didn’t understand why my sister was always wanting hugs. I didn’t realize she valued physical touch, and that a three-second embrace meant so much more to her than a thirty-minute conversation.
The book also teaches you that you can’t expect other people to naturally know how to love you well — even (and especially) the people who are closest to you. It’s easy to misinterpret others’ actions if you only see love practically from your point of view.
For example, your boyfriend may be trying to show you love by sending you thoughtful gifts, but you’re not recognizing it because he’s speaking a language that you’re not familiar with.
With time, you may be able to gently help him see that receiving gifts isn’t your love language. More importantly, however, you can learn to appreciate that when he’s giving you a gift, he’s really telling you that he loves you.
Weaknesses of the Five Love Languages
No model is perfect. One of the problems of the book is that it is marketed to a Christian audience, but its material lacks some key Biblical foundations.
One of the most prominent critiques comes from David Powlison in The Journal of Biblical Counseling. He fears that Chapman’s focus on love languages glosses over the reality that sometimes we want things that aren’t good for us.
“Chapman never deals with the fact that even desires for good things can still be evil desires in God’s analysis of what makes us tick,” Powlison writes. “Your ‘love language’ (like mine, like the people in Chapman’s case studies) is a curious mix of creation and fall.”
If your love language is physical touch, for example, there’s a strong possibility you will struggle with sexual temptation. Your boyfriend needs to know that sometimes you may want affection from him that is wrong for you to have outside of marriage.
In that situation, loving you will mean denying you the physical touch you crave, because a truly loving boyfriend will want what God says is best for you.
Another danger arises when we expect those who know our love language to always show us love accordingly, and then use their “failure” as justification for not loving them in return.
This approach is not only selfish, it limits your vision of love. Reflecting on Powlison’s critique, Tim Challies writes:
“When I demand that people speak my preferred love language, when it becomes the one way I receive love, I unnecessarily narrow my experience of love. I miss out on all of those “exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak my language.’”
Redeeming the Five Love Languages
The Five Love Languages are a helpful but imperfect tool. I think the concept can be beneficial when applied with discernment, which is why I’ve written articles addressing the five love languages in relation to long-distance relationships.
In the end, efforts to understand love languages should always bring us back to the love of Christ. In a video, Challies points out,
“How do I know that love languages are flawed but can be redeemed? Because Jesus Christ did not speak the language I wanted, He spoke the language I needed. That is the heart of the gospel. I wanted Him to speak in all sorts of languages. He spoke in the language I needed most, that proves to me I cannot trust what I want.”