Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, 2004. $13.99
The main point of this book is that there are essentially five core love languages. It is based on the premise that, just as there are different verbal languages throughout the world, there are also different love languages. The author points out that people have different ways of experiencing love, and we must learn our spouse’s language in order to make them feel loved. The author warns that you may be speaking your own language to your spouse, but if their native language is different, they will not interpret it as love. When the language is mastered, however, you can effectively fill your partner’s “love tank”.
These five basic love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. The strength of this book is that it encourages communication between husband and wife. Another strength is that it encourages readers not to go into relationships to get, but to give. The book is also very practical, easy to read, relatively short, and provides examples and exercise that may be useful to a couple working through the book together. The biggest strength of this book is that it is more important for you to learn to receive love as your spouse gives it than to demand that they learn to offer love in the way you want to receive it.
Most of us can look at the list and quickly put them in order of personal preference. The key application is that each person needs to understand his or her spouse’s love language and then learn to show love in that way. It is implied that the spouse will reciprocate and a happy marriage will ensue—the communication mismatch that lies at the heart of so much conflict will be resolved. There is a reason why this book has sold so many copies and that is because of its simplicity and its concept can be quickly put into action.
At minimum, this book does not propose actions that would likely be harmful to couples, as it encourages readers to explore the needs of their partner. Although I would not recommend this book, I also would not exercise church discipline or gasp if I was to find it in our church library. This book may provide practical solutions for some, although, it may not be sufficient to assist with more complex relationship challenges.
However, the question that needs to be asked is, “is this book best?” You have a couple struggling in their marriage and you can only recommend them one book to save their family is this book going to be it? Is it even going to be on your bookshelf to giveaway? Probably not, because all of our greatest needs in our relationships is the Gospel, not baptized psychology giving us advice on how to communicate.
At the end of the day, if a spouse does not have Christ, their greatest need is Jesus Christ, not practical ways to communicate to their spouse. As the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but its still going to be a pig, rings true here. This book is just worldly wisdom that has been dressed up and baptized in scripture and has had the lipstick of religious terminology applied, but at the end of the day, it is still psychology based off of worldly wisdom.
David Powlison puts this best in his critique of this book, “Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently” by saying:
Like all secular interpretations of human psychology (even when lightly Christianized), it makes some good observations and offers some half-decent advice (of the sort that self-effort can sometimes follow). But it doesn’t really understand human psychology. That basic misunderstanding has systematic distorting and misleading effects. Fallenness not only brings ignorance about how best to love others; it brings a perverse unwillingness and inability to love. It ingrains the perception that our lusts are in fact needs, empty places inside where others have disappointed us. The empty emotional tank construct is congenial to our fallen instincts, not transformative. It leaves what we instinctively want as an unquestionable good that must somehow be fulfilled. It not only leaves fundamental self-interest unchallenged, it plays to self-interest. . . .
There are a few things that I would want to warn readers about. First being that this book teaches that the desire we feel within are legitimate needs. However, that is not what the Bible teaches. That our desires from within our often idolatrous lusts, a spouse with good intentions might find themselves feeding the lusts of their spouse rather than truly loving them. A lust rather than being satisfied is like a growing dragon desiring more and more.
In fact, at the root is this not the Gospel. That Jesus Christ came, not to meet our desires, but to give us new desires. Is that not the point of the woman at the well? Jesus does not tell her the reason why you have been married five times is because you have been communicating poorly, but that she has been drinking from a fountain that will never satisfy. Even sinners love other sinners that give them what they desire. In conversion, we are saying to Jesus I need you to come in and rule my life because I no longer want to be ruled by my own desires.
The second warning I would give is that this book teaches that you love in order to be loved back. However, that is opposite of what the Bible teaches. The bible teaches a selfless sacrificial love that is pictured on the cross. We did not fill Jesus’ love tank and then he went to the cross for us. We love our spouse and our enemies, because Jesus first loved us while we were yet enemies.
However, these are warnings and do not render the book or the love languages as invalid. My wife and I use the terminology quite often, it was part of our pre-marriage counseling and will most likely be part of my pre-marriage counseling as a pastor as well. These warnings are there to help readers approach this book with care and discernment. There are better marriage books from a theological standpoint, but if you are desperate and need a quick fix, a starting point, this book with its common-sense observational insights can be quickly applied.
- We do have feelings (although we should not be driven or led by them)
- Suggestions on listening
- He isn’t in favor of “falling in love” – love is a choice
- Study and learn about your spouse and children
- He references God 10 times.
- He mentions the Bible once
- He seems to use the word “feel” the majority of time
- “Unmet Needs” is constant talk
- The goal is “one’s happiness” not God’s Glory and the good of the other
- Marriage is not presented as a covenant
- All his anthropological findings are not coming out of Scripture (“five ways”)
- He uses “egocentric” rather than selfish and sinful
- His authority seems to be psychologists who have observed man’s “needs”
- He says at the heart of man’s existence and basic need is to be loved – pg 21 vs forgiven and reconciled
- Void of the Gospel – gospel-less
- Man does what man does to get a payback “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” – giving to get (most of the book) yet once says –love ought to be unconditional – “the object of love is not getting something you want but doing something for the well-being of the one you love” (41) – then he writes “It is a fact, however, that when we receive affirming words we are far more likely to be motivated to reciprocate.” (41)…”Generally speaking, if we are kind and loving toward people, they will tend to be kind and loving toward us” (153)
- Man seems to be able to do all of this on his own (no real need for Christ and the Spirit)
- No framework for Christ and the church
- Promotes idolatry by calling on spouses to care for each other and meet the “deepest emotional need” (132) – marriage seems like an end-all and your spouse functionally takes the place of Jesus and the Spirit.
- A major problem on how you discover your “language” – what you most want, what makes you most angry, what most hurts you (124-5). These are usually what we are lusting for (Jas 4)
- Self-centeredness and selfishness permeate this book – couched in “love and needs”