I recently finished reading The Five Love Languages and decided to share my thoughts on the work.
The intent of the author, Chapman, is to provide couples with they advice they need to make their relationships work. To over simplify things, his main thesis is that each person has a love tank (as opposed to a hate tank). When this love tank is filled by your spouse, you are happy and content. When it runs empty, you are unhappy and most likely considering divorce. The way to keep this tank topped off is to figure out your spouse’s love language and act accordingly.
According to Chapman, there are five love languages. Technically, these are not languages. However, if you consider any means of expression to be a language, then they would be languages. The five are quality time, affirmations, touch, service, and gifts. According to Chapman, each person has a main love language (though some rare people might have two). Put another way, for each person there is a main way of acting that will most clearly express love.
For example, if Sally’s love language is service, then they way her husband can best fill her love tank is by servicing her. He could, as specific services, wash her car, do the laundry for her, and fix her computer for her. For Sally, these acts say “I love you.” If Bill, Sally’s husband, has as his primary love language gifts, then the clearest way that Sally can say “I love you” is to give him gifts. These need not be store bought or fancy gifts; but they need to be expressions of her love.
The basic thesis is plausible: the best way to express your love is to find what sends that message clearest to the person you love and take the relevant actions needed to send that message. To use an analogy to teaching, the way to succeed is to present the information in the way that the students are most likely to pay attention and learn.
It also seems obvious that people like, in varying degrees, being affirmed, receiving service, receiving gifts, being touched, and spending quality time. Of course, these might be seen as rather vague (a common criticism of self help and relationship books) and hence sorting out the specific needs of your partner might require more than just reading through this book.
Chapman freely admits that his work is not an academic work and it does not approach the standards that such a work would have to meet. This is not a criticism of his book. After all, his goal is not to present an academic study or text but to sell a book to help people. Being a philosopher, I still could not help but read his work with a critical eye.
One method he employs is the anecdote. When he discusses each love language, he includes a story about a couple mired in a dire domestic disaster (or, in his terms, empty love tanks). Naturally, each seemingly doomed marriage is saved by the method he suggests. Obviously, one anecdote does not prove that his method works (in fact, basing a general conclusion on one example would be the fallacy of hasty generalization). However, his goal is not to prove his method works (presumably) but to illustrate his approach and draw the reader into the book (because people love “gossip” about failing relations).
Interestingly, his book contains no tale of failure. Why this is so should be obvious: the work is intended to be positive (even feel good) in tone and it is, to be a bit unfair, a “happy fluffy book”. Failures would not be positive nor would they be “happy fluffy” stuff. Also, the target audience is most likely people with problems and hence tales of success would be more appealing and effective than tales of failure. After all, when you are trying to help someone, you do not want to tell them how others failed in their circumstances. You want to boost their morale by telling them tales of success.
I did think, however, that the work would be more realistic and more poignant if it had included a tale of failure. Also, such an example might be very instructive as well. But, to be a bit cynical, the realism of failure seems to have no place in such works. Of course, people can supply their own tales of failure.
While the book is not explicitly a Christian book, it does contain (especially in the later chapters) religious elements. Given that most Americans are vaguely Christian, this is a smart approach to take. If you are a Christian, then you will probably find these aspects appealing. If not, the Christian aspects are not critical to the five love languages approach as such.
What makes the book important to me is not the content. Rather, the specific book I have is important to me because the person who gave it to me put post-it notes throughout the pages. Each note holds a personal comment or question from her and those notes, more than anything else, make the book truly special.
Whatever a person’s “love language”, I think that communication is critical-it is most often in the shadows of ignorance that love dies and resentment grows.