The Five Love Languages guide to self-improvement is a global publishing phenomenon. Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, the book still ranks near the top of the New York Times bestseller list after more than two decades in print.
Yet despite its popularity amongst readers and professional therapists alike, the Five Love Languages concept is still an unexplored enigma in the field of relationship science.
In 1992, marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman published The Five Love Languages, his treatise on the 5 distinct ways people express their affection for each other. The book has sold over 11 million copies and been translated into 49 other languages… but to date, only three peer-reviewed studies have examined Dr Chapman’s hypothesis about the ways we express and receive love.
One additional conference paper did report an interesting finding though: study participants showed a significant quickening of their pulse and rapid breathing when exposed to their primary Love Language in clinical conditions, suggesting heightened arousal to a preferred Love Language stimuli.
Only 3 published studies after 25 years’ popular use in couples therapy – why such a marked lack of research, when millions of individuals and couples report wide-ranging benefits from putting Dr. Chapman’s proposed Love Languages techniques into practice?
Professor Nicole Egbert – one of the primary scholars involved in researching Love Languages -suggests that the concept is so successful because Dr. Chapman articulates the concept of relational maintenance (otherwise known as long-term relationship fulfillment) in a way that is accessible to everyone, not just academics.
The Five Love Languages has mass appeal because it contains practical, sound advice about the different ways people express their love, and respond to displays and gestures of affection from others. Paying attention to what brings you and your partner joy, and reinforcing your feelings of love for each other via meaningful emotional communication is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to improve your relationship.
The book itself is a light read – and seems quite dated in parts. Yet the ideas explored in The Five Love Languages have stood the test of time.
Essentially, Dr. Chapman suggests that love can be expressed and received in many different ways. Although everyone can speak all five emotional Love Languages, most people have a primary and secondary love language that they use to communicate affection.
Interestingly, Dr. Chapman suggests that most couples speak different Love Languages. This difference in preferred modes of communicating affectionate feelings frequently results in communication breakdown. Partners feel frustrated that despite their best efforts, it seems like their loving feelings aren’t being received – or reciprocated – by their partner. Learning each other’s Love Languages can bridge the communication gap and help deepen intimate connection.
If this is your primary Love Language, verbal compliments, terms of endearment and expressions of appreciation truly let you know you how much you are loved and cherished. People whose Love Language is ‘Words of Affirmation’ come alive in intimate conversations where praise and admiration are expressed – they thrive on frequent conversational interactions with their partner.
If this is your primary Love Language, actions speak louder than words! Whether it’s cooking a meal or picking up the dry-cleaning, any effort your partner makes to help out with responsibilities is received as an act of love, support and devotion. Rather than liking to hear “You looked amazing at dinner tonight”, you’re far more responsive to the sound of “Let me help clean up – I’ll stack the dishwasher and take out the recycling.”
If this is your primary Love Language, it’s actually the thought behind the gift that counts for you. Gifts don’t need to cost money – you appreciate the care, consideration, and thoughtfulness that has gone into choosing small tokens of love and affection. Daily loving gestures – like flowers picked from the garden, or a meaningful video sent to you on social media – are symbolic of the love your partner feels for you, and mean far more than words.
If this is your Love Language, you desire shared moments and the undivided attention of your loved one. Uninterrupted conversations and extended time in each other’s company participating in different activities are your way of deepening the bond of love with a partner. Spending time together (and ignoring any other distractions whilst doing so) results in you feeling cared for, prioritised and loved.
If this is your primary Love Language, you express and prefer to receive affection via physical contact. The spectrum of affectionate touch can range from hugs, to hair-stroking, to sex. Even abstract touch (like smiling or holding your partner’s eye gaze) falls within this Love Language’s domain. Caring, loving touch is the most expressive conduit for your emotions, and physical proximity to your partner feels highly rewarding.
Dr. Chapman provides a free, 30-question online questionnaire that will help you to determine your primary and secondary Love Languages. There is a questionnaire for couples as well, and both surveys are available in PDF format if you’d prefer to download and complete the quiz offline. Once you’ve determined your Love Languages, it’s a great idea to have your partner, friends and family complete the questionnaire as well.
Familiarising yourself with your own preferences for expressing and receiving affection, and knowing how best to communicate affection to your loved ones can lead to sustained improvements in communication, and deeply appreciated loving behaviour. No matter which Love Languages you and your partner prefer, taking the time to explore how you can best support each other is a powerful act of love in itself.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.