Five Love Langues: Legit? If so, what the heck is mine?
March 10, 2014 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I have two questions about the "five love languages" paradigm (from Gary D. Chapman's books). 1. Is there any evidence backing it up (ie, academic studies)? 2. I am asking this because it doesn't "feel true" to me. That is, I can't for the life of me figure out which love language is mine; I think I have them all. I have taken quizzes, but they have been unhelpful. So, if this is a real thing, how else might I try to figure out what my love language is?
posted by hishtafel to Human Relations (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
There isn't any academic basis for this work, no. It's a religious book not a scientific one.
posted by Justinian at 6:03 PM on March 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

Perhaps I should say "spiritual" not "religious" there.
posted by Justinian at 6:04 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the idea is interesting as a framework, but I don't even know how you'd even go about testing whether this is based in Fact. Love languages aren't like the laws of physics, which either exist or don't exist and you can prove them using math.

It may be more helpful not to try to peg yourself to one specific Love Language, but to use the quizzes as an exercise to think about how you prefer to show love to people and recognize love when it's shown to you. Think of it more like a tool, and less like a label.
posted by Sara C. at 6:06 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you are over thinking it.

The real takeaway is that different people express love and feel loved in different ways. Plenty of people may use more than one way and that's perfectly fine. The most valuable lesson is learning that the ones you love may express that in ways you might not have found obvious.

Mrs. Advicepig is big on acts of service, both giving and receiving. I grew up in a family where those were seen as chores and duty, not so much an expression of love. It's helped us dramatically to know that it's one way she expresses love for me and she wants to feel loved that way too. So I might not think of doing dishes as an act of love, but she does.
posted by advicepig at 6:11 PM on March 10, 2014 [22 favorites]

Here are Chapman's qualifications:
He is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from Wheaton College and Master of Arts (M.A.) degree in anthropology from Wake Forest University. He also received Master of Religious Education (M.R.E.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He doesn't hold any academic degrees in fields related to psychology or counseling. The Five Love Languages are pop-psychology: they're created by someone outside the field, there's no serious academic discussion about them, and they're not taught by anyone except the author.

That being said, if it helps, hey, it helps. If it doesn't, that's not a failure on your part. It is, at its core, a book a man wrote to make money from people who buy his book.
posted by griphus at 6:19 PM on March 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

Rather than thinking of Chapman's love languages as something true or false, or scientifically verifiable, as if they were mathematical principles or something, it might be more helpful to frame them as a sort of artificially manufactured lens, or heuristic device, rather like something like MBTI - something that groups things into fairly arbitrary categories that can still be helpful for conceptualizing things for some people and/or in some situations. It's entirely possible that this framework resonates for some people and is useful for them in imagining their relationship dynamic; and yet not does not resonate with you and is not useful for you in imagining your relationship dynamic.
posted by ClaireBear at 6:25 PM on March 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There is something scientific behind the Love Languages (and all kinds of other "what brief descriptor can you apply to yourself and others? type quizzes).

The something scientific is Forer Effect and it basically means that most people will more readily agree with a description of themselves if they feel that it is uniquely tailored to them. Hence the quiz. This effect is widely known among anthropology students. As noted above, Chapman studied anthropology.

In reality, most people who think critically while taking the Love Languages quiz might have thoughts like "well, it depends on what kind of day I've had" or "it depends on who is showing me affection!" If you answer the questions based on what you would want "right this second" then your results might vary in a week's time, or even tomorrow morning.

You might prefer to receive gifts from your mother, physical affection from your spouse, and words of affirmation from your friends. Or, you might be comfortable with hugging all your friends all the time, and use that to show and reinforce love and belonging, while words of affirmation may feel fake to you, unless they come from your mom, or maybe no matter which mouth they come from. Gift giving may be important to you, but only if the gift feels sincere or is something you really really wanted. (I know people who love to receive a gift, no matter how poorly considered or un-usable the thing is. Just having a thing to open is the best. This feeling baffled me for a long time. I think back to Homer getting Marge a bottle of engine oil on the Simpsons....)

So I'm with you. I think you do have them all. And I think everyone does, to some extent. But then, I also studied anthropology.

I sort of think of myself as ranking them in order of my general preference/tendency.
  1. Acts of Service (I am the person who shows up to change diapers and cook huge batches of lasagne when things get tough. Because that is when people need caring the most. I also really appreciate every day help with minor and basic things. That whole men opening doors for women thing? I suspect it lives on because it is an Act of Service.)
  2. Physical Affection (I hug everyone. I hear I'm good at head scratching. physical things.)
  3. Quality Time (let's just read books together by the fire place. Or sit on a beach with magazines. Or take a long walk.)
  4. Gifts (I am a good hinter about what I want. If your gift does not fill a need in my life, or otherwise thrill me in some long lasting way...I will think you have not been paying attention to me, and really caring comes down to paying attention.)
  5. Affirmation (I either know I'm awesome, or I'm in such a place of self loathing that nothing positive you can say about me will be believable to my depressed brain.
A more balanced (and absolutely research based from the link "The divorce and happiness change predictions are probably among the most replicated studies in the family research field.") approach to relationship strengthening and preparation would be John Gottman. He has many books, and his "Love Lab" has an astonishing rate of predicting which relationships will succeed (or, um, fail). The number one biggest danger to a relationship? Contempt. Couples (usually) could not recover from it's damage without getting rid of the contempt. There are others. Lots of meaty stuff, and it indicates that no matter how much physical affection, how many gifts, or snuggles, if basic respect is not present in a relationship, it will likely fail. Learn how to show and receive respect, and you'll be off to a good start.
posted by bilabial at 6:36 PM on March 10, 2014 [26 favorites]

I think I have them all.
I don't have a lot of experience with this, and my wording might be clumsy, but I think that we all have them all - that is to say, everyone feels loved in each way to a certain degree, and the idea is that one or two are simply more meaningful than the rest.
posted by sm1tten at 6:46 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like any human trait, of course there is variation. Does the book even say that people have to have one and only one?

Look at it this way: Lucky you to be fluent in many ways of receiving and expressing love!
posted by ottereroticist at 6:55 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have said, it's a tool, most useful when you or your partner aren't feeling "loved." Recognizing that the other may not know what you need to feel cared for, or that you may not be caring for them in a way that registers for them, can be a useful way to frame a discussion. For example, I tell people upfront that effort in giving me gifts would be better spent giving me massages.
posted by metasarah at 7:05 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

Pop psych for sure, but useful in understanding WHY I feel how I do at times. The non-obvious facet that took me awhile to recognize is that not only does each of us have a preference/ordering, we also prefer different languages for giving and receiving love. I tend to give gifts to show affection, and I respond best to quality time that is given to me.
posted by kcm at 7:14 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work in a relationship seminar where we use this. I do see someone, every seminar, say they are all of them, in different settings and with different people. And as others have pointed out, they can be more guidelines than anything too solid. Anecdata, but my fiance and I are both strongly touchy language. The problem re love languages relationships I observed in the seminar is if I was touchy and she was words of encouragement/affirmation... so I'm touching her and she's telling me stuff. I don't feel loved, she doesn't feel loved, we both feel like we are giving a ton of love and not getting any back.
posted by Jacen at 7:25 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Building on what metasarah, icm, Jacen, and others have said above, one recent AskMe seemed to me to exemplify this talking at cross purposes, in terms of love languages:

The things that I am not satisfied with:
- She shows love more through action (doing things for me) rather than curiosity. To me, it is much more important that someone wants to know about ME as a person and asks me about myself and shows a genuine curiosity to understand me. I don't see that too much from her. I can see in her eyes that she loves me, but I can't help but feel unsatisfied. I have never felt this lack with anyone else, and while it is simply a difference in expression, it is an important one for me. I don't feel like she knows the real me or is intrigued by the real me. She will buy me thoughtful gifts and cook my favorite meals and want to spend time together and is sexually giving. But she doesn't really show a genuine curiosity in me, at least outwardly via her words. We have discussed this numerous times. It frustrates her that I feel this way. She also thinks I should be more outwardly thoughtful about doing nice things for her (I suck at this). We have both tried working on it, but it is kind of a fundamental difference in the way we express and prefer to receive love.

This would be an example of a couple who, to my mind, would benefit from learning about love languages. As with MBTI, I see love languages as most useful not to put people into wooden boxes but to help you become a more fluent communicator with others, especially with those that you love. As Sara C. said above: "It may be more helpful not to try to peg yourself to one specific Love Language, but to use the quizzes as an exercise to think about how you prefer to show love to people and recognize love when it's shown to you. Think of it more like a tool, and less like a label."
posted by ClaireBear at 8:02 PM on March 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing about books like this is that they work for who they work for. It's trying to solve a very specific problem: how couples communicate their feelings for one another when there's a difference in styles. For people who have a very strong preference one way or another, it's brilliant. If your problem in a relationship is not that there's a mismatch in how you communicate your affection, then the concept isn't going to do anything for you. Now, your partner might still have a strong preference, in which case that would be an issue. But other than that, picking a love language won't fix, say, if the problem is a couple who just plain aren't expressing love towards each other at all, or if the problem is frequency, not style.

Basically, if it was the problem, one party or the other or both would have preferences. But if it's not your problem, it's not your solution.
posted by Sequence at 8:21 PM on March 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's meant to be "organizational" more than explanatory. You don't see much scientific love research because the word "love" is too slippery to define in a way suitable to set up experiments. In some ways, the 5 languages is an attempt to add some specifics to the word and to thus improve communication between (or among) those who use the word differently.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:39 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you've read the book. I've listened to the audiobook version along my commute.

In the book, Dr. Chapman does say that nobody will perfectly fit into any of the five categories, and that most people use some combination of all the languages. Most people, he says, use a primary (and sometimes secondary) language out of his list of five to do most of their communication of love.

I don't think there's much scientific evidence to back it up. At least, I'm not aware of any. Dr. Chapman basically presents it in the book as observations he's made of patients who've come into his office for marital therapy over the years.
posted by tckma at 7:04 AM on March 11, 2014

The important thing about the Love Languages (and yes, I'm pretty much sold on using his book/quiz/what have you) is that people are different and have different ways of showing and expressing love. Beyond that, it's fucking arbitrary where the definitions fall. He came up with five, but I'm sure you could come up with more. But the key point is that people can both love each other, and try to be showing love as they would like to receive it, while still failing to show it as their partner likes to receive it.

Thus, it's a kind of gimmicky way of hitting someone over the head to be sensitive and understand that their viewpoint may not be the only correct one.
posted by corb at 9:43 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's a reasonable model applied to human behavior, but because it's human behavior, it will never be a perfect fit. The correlation is pretty decent.

For example, my daughter is (mostly) touch and my son is (mostly) quality time. If you want praise to stick with my daughter, pat her on the shoulder. If you want to get to my son, sit down and play a game with him.
posted by plinth at 8:39 AM on March 12, 2014

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