Book type: Counseling/Self-Help
Summary: Many of us spent this Valentine’s Day weekend thinking about love–love that we have or love that we hope awaits us. But many of us also spent the weekend feeling unloved, wishing that we had someone who would appreciate us and who would make us feel loved. Whether you fall into the group of people who are happy and feel loved, or the group that wishes someone aside from your cat would notice you when you come home every day, The Five Love Languages is a book that might interest you. It was primarily written for couples with the goal of helping partners to speak the “love language” of their significant others; in essence, that means to communicate with a loved one in the way that fulfills that person the most. Author Gary Chapman provides the metaphor of love tanks to describe how relationships either flourish or falter. He explains that each of us has a personal love tank and that when our love tanks are full (through the words or actions of those we love), then we feel appreciated, fulfilled, and empowered. If, however, our love tanks are empty because our loved one doesn’t know how to speak our love language (or isn’t willing), then we often feel unloved, unsupported, and stifled in several aspects of our lives. So what are these five love languages that Chapman argues we speak? Pictured on the book cover above, they are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Let’s learn about the languages and how to start speaking the language of those we love.
- The feeling of falling in love isn’t love at all. In the opening segment of the book, before Chapman enumerates the love languages and their features, he discusses the phenomenon we call “falling in love.” He cites psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck and his explanation that falling in love is not real love for three reasons:
First, falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice. No matter how much we may want to fall in love, we cannot make it happen. […] Second, falling in love is not real because it is effortless. Whatever we do in the in-love state requires little discipline or conscious effort on our part. The long, expensive phone calls we make to each other, the gifts we give, the work projects we do are as nothing to us. […] Third, one who is “in love” is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person (33).
On this last point he provides more detail, namely that when we’re in love we’re unconcerned with growth and development, either for ourselves or the object of our affection; we experience such euphoria that we feel we have already arrived, “that we do not need further growth” (33). All three of these points relate back to a simple understanding of what it means to love in a real way. Chapman points out that “Love is a choice” and that it is “something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself” (136). This hearkens back to a post I did a while ago on The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, the basic point of which was that love is an action, not an emotion. It is something we exercise, like a muscle, so that our capacity for loving grows. The feeling of falling in love is just that, a feeling, it is not an act of love. Deliberately loving, and doing so by communicating effectively, should be our goal.
Falling in love is just like this. Your euphoria elevates you until you feel like you’re floating. To many others, you appear to be an idiot. And you don’t realize that ahead of you, as far as the eye can see, is desert. But damn it feels good while you’re in the air.
- Words of Affirmation. This is the first of the five love languages, and it, like the others, is pretty simple. People with this love language feel most loved when they are told great things about themselves. This could be anything from a quick “Wow, you look gorgeous/handsome today” to, as the author suggests, “You’re the best potato cook in the world,” which is awkwardly specific (40). Even if Words of Affirmation is not your primary love language, it’s always nice to receive a compliment. But if it is the way to fill your tank, then verbal criticisms or lack of receiving compliments can cut right to the bone and leave you feeling hurt or ignored.
- Quality Time. Chapman makes a declarative statement in this segment: quality time is NOT watching TV together, since “When you spend time that way, ABC or NBC has your attention–not your spouse” (55). Instead, quality time is about actively sharing time with the purpose of cultivating “Togetherness [which] has to do with focused attention” (59). Quality time does not necessarily have to be staring into each other’s eyes while talking about your childhood dreams and aspirations. It could be traveling, playing games or sports, or even gardening. It’s any activity that you and the one(s) you love do together in order to create memories or to know each other better. It’s not that you happen to be in the same space at the same time.
- Receiving Gifts. This one might seem like less of a “real” language than the others because it appears to be materialistic. But really “Gifts are visual symbols of love” (75) and they don’t necessarily have to be expensive. People whose love language is receiving gifts feel appreciated when their significant other picks something up for them at the grocery store, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or a bottle of wine, or when the other person picks flowers for them, or sends them a card in the mail. One of Chapman’s main points on the topic of gift giving is that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone (most people aren’t fluent in love languages other than their own anyway), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
If you are a spender, you will have little difficulty purchasing gifts for your spouse. But if you are a saver, you will experience emotional resistance to the idea of spending money as an expression of love. You don’t purchase things for yourself. Why should you purchase things for your spouse? But that attitude fails to recognize that you are purchasing things for yourself. By saving and investing money you are purchasing self-worth and emotional security. You are caring for your own emotional needs in the way you handle money. What you are not doing is meeting the emotional needs of your spouse (77-78).
- Acts of Service. These are physical actions we do for our loved ones. People with this love language appreciate nothing more than their loved one mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or making dinner. These and other actions have the effect of telling the person, “Look how much I love you; I do all of these things just because I care about you and want to make you happy.”
- Physical Touch. Now, if you skipped over all the other love languages just to get to “the good stuff,” go back and read from the beginning. Physical touch, while it can be on a scale of Marvin Gaye, doesn’t always have to mean “Let’s Get It On.”
The idea that physical touch automatically means going to Bonesville is a misconception that many people have. While it can be that, it is more likely to be your love language if you long for a kiss goodbye, a back rub when you get home, or fingers through your hair when you’re lying on the couch.
For these two, it’s definitely a sensual trip to Bangtown, USA.
- The law of opposites. If you’re not sure what your primary love language is after reading through the descriptions, try thinking about the opposite of each of them and how you feel in those situations. Do you feel hurt if your loved one doesn’t praise or compliment you or tell others how great you are? What about if you feel like you’re always stuck doing things by yourself or like you never really talk to each other beyond pleasantries? Maybe you feel like your loved one doesn’t care about you if he or she leaves shoes out or never vacuums or dusts. Or is the “Love you, bye honey” with no accompanying hug or kiss like a dagger through your heart? If any of these stand out for you, that might be your language.
- The law of projection. Chapman notes that often we don’t realize we’re not speaking the love language of the other person because we’re too busy projecting our own love language onto others. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I always do ____ and (s)he never/rarely does it back” you may be acting out your love language needs and not those of the other person. There’s one couple in the book that illustrates this perfectly. The husband is constantly mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, and washing the dishes, but his wife complains that they never spend time together. The husband doesn’t understand why all the things he does aren’t good enough or why they go unnoticed and unreciprocated. It’s because his wife wants Quality Time from him, like fifteen minutes when she gets home to spend together talking about their day, whereas he wants her to lift a finger and help out more around the house.
- Be specific. If you want your loved one to spend more time with you, be specific about when, where, and what you’d be doing. Instead of saying “It’d be nice if we could go out once in a while,” make a specific request, like going to see a movie on Friday night. The more specific you make your requests (never demands), the easier it will be for your loved one to show you love in the way you need it.
- Love languages aren’t just for lovers. While most of the book focuses on recognizing and acting out love languages for our significant others, the same rules apply for our friends and family, and especially for children. Chapman makes a connection between children’s love tanks and the repercussions for not filling them correctly:
I believe that most parents sincerely love their children. I also believe that thousands of parents have failed to communicate love in the proper language and thousands of children in this country are living with an empty emotional tank. I believe that most misbehavior in children and teenagers can be traced to empty love tanks (169).
For my own life situation, I believe this applies to pets as well, especially dogs. Many people buy or adopt dogs expecting them to fulfill an emotional need but in return to need only food, water, shelter, and a pat on the head. For many dogs, their primary love language is quality time, and specifically, exercise. If you’re having behavior issues with your dog, most likely it’s because your dog is bored out of its mind. Imagine if you were expected to be quiet at all times and chill around the house all day with nothing to do except stare out the window or chew on a toy by yourself. You’d probably turn into a psycho. And yet we expect our dogs and our children to do as they’re told and accept whatever it is we feel like giving them, regardless of whether it’s what they really need or not. Words of Affirmation like “You’re such a nice girl” mean nothing to the child who wants a hug or the dog who’s holding a frisbee in its mouth, ready to play. We need to step up our game.
A final review/recommendation:
I know a lot of people would never want to read this book. For those people, I hope this entry suffices to explain Chapman’s main points and also provides you some ideas for bettering the relationships with those you love. For the people who are more interested, having read the lessons above, go ahead and check the book out. It’s relatively short and has a lot of useful information in it. The only negatives about the book are a) Many examples are outdated for our time, like the number of men in the book that expect their wives to do all of the household tasks, and b) It contains various references to New Testament writings, so if Christianity specifically, or religion generally irks you, you may find those references tedious or annoying. But let’s face it, you’re not going to like every single part of everything that you read, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something. If there’s one overall recommendation I’d like to make to you, it is to remind yourself frequently that love is a choice and an action, it is something you do, something you must practice and exercise. If you want better relationships, begin with yourself and see what happens.
Book cover: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/df/The_Five_Love_Languages.jpg
Jump For My Love: http://kokofeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/falling-inlove.jpg
Let’s Get It On: http://imoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/9-Step-Brothers-quotes.gif
Love In the HuhTub: http://i.imgur.com/wmEYBk9.gif