I’ve heard a fair bit about The 5 Love Languagesâ€”usually recommendations and praiseâ€”so I decided to check it out for myself. My partner and I took turns reading it to each other on a fairly epic road trip, and we agreed that it was a generally useful and interesting read, though with a few drawbacks.
Chapman’s premise, based on his years of experience as a marriage counselor, is that people intuitively gravitate toward one of five ways of expressing and interpreting love and affection. Couples run into problems when they’re speaking different love languages to each other, leading to complaints that “he/she doesn’t really love me.” In actuality, according to Chapman, they just need to learn each other’s love languages in order to start communicating in a way that will be received as loving and caring.
The great thing about this book is that it gives readers a vocabulary with which to discuss common relationship issues. Once you learn what the five languages areâ€”words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touchâ€”you can start applying them to your own relationships (and not just romantic ones, in my opinion). The five distinct concepts are easily grasped, so my partner and I were able to immediately incorporate them into our relationship discussions.
Chapman is also good at giving very concrete examples. He introduces each love language with a case study of a couple he helped by diagnosing their miscommunication problems. So readers would get some insight into how people actually express themselves in a given love language. The author reinforces again and again that the more specific you can be in requests for love, the better, and he repeatedly shows us lists of things that might fulfill each love language’s needs (tasks that can demonstrate love through acts of service, for instance).
On the downside, the book is pretty heterocentric and monocentric. It also has a Christian bias. All of the examples of married couples were heterosexual men and women, and Chapman believes that monogamy is the way to go, ruling out the possibility that open relationships can be healthy and fulfilling. He has a dubious grasp of anthropology, too (for all that he claims to have studied it). Can you spot the problems in this paragraph?
Nothing devastates marital intimacy more than sexual unfaithfulness. Sexual intercourse is a bonding experience. It unites two people in the deepest possible manner. All cultures have a public wedding ceremony and a private consummation of the marriage in sexual intercourse. Sex is designed to be the unique expression of our commitment to each other for a lifetime. (184)
Sexual intercourse can be a bonding experience. It can unite two people. Or more than two people. Or just one person. But sex wasn’t designed to do anything other than help us reproduce; every other meaning that sex has is constructed by societyâ€”which is not to say that sex is meaningless, just that it’s only as meaningful as we make it. And yes, there are societies that don’t have marriage at all; Sex at Dawn discusses them.
Despite the book’s shortcomings, I think its concepts are useful enough that I would recommend it to anyone in a relationship (not necessarily just a sexual or romantic relationship, either). Chapman has some great things to say about love and relationships, such as:
Meeting my wife’s need for love is a choice I make each day. If I know her primary love language and choose to speak it, her deepest emotional needs will be met and she will feel secure in my love. If she does the same for me, my emotional needs are met and both of us live with a full tank. In a state of emotional contentment, both of us will give our creative energies to many wholesome projects outside the marriage while we continue to keep our marriage exciting and growing. (136)
This paragraph made me want to cheer! Expressing affection is a choice that you have to renew, just like giving consent, and communicating about your needs. I like the book’s focus on being honest with yourself and your loved ones about your emotional needs, and I think that many readers could benefit from the ideas herein.
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