Five love languages – a defence

Last month I wrote a post about the Five love languages which generated a comment with an opinion I suspect is held by more than a few men.  I am taking parts of that comment and addressing it below – the comment in bold, my replies in regular text.

I get the whole “Love Languages” but I really disagree with this theory on many fronts. It’s interesting to study and I believe there is some benefit here, but I have never heard of any real data backing it up. Yes, that is anecdotal evidence, but when you have a large amount of consistent anecdotal evidence, it’s reasonable to think there is something there.

I can’t point to a well done study that “proves” the concept. I can point to a lot of folks, many of them highly trained, who agree it has validity. I can also point to a great many individuals who will tell you it has made a difference in their marriages, and many counsellors who say it is a very useful tool in helping couples.

First why is the opus completely on the Love giver (which almost always is the man, more on this later). Why can’t someone learn to appreciate Love in other forms. I know I have my preferences, but I can accept any form and appreciate it. … I think this is kind of like eating: there are foods I like more than others, but I can accept them all. The only reason the food doesn’t nourish me is I don’t accept it (and eat it). Works the same with Love.

The term “language” is poor in this respect since one can learn a new language, and since asking the giver to learn a new languages does seem unbalanced. In many ways food is a better way to think of it – “love flavours” if you will. I can offer my bride love in a number of flavours, some of which she likes, some of which she does not. Learning to like a flavour you dislike is difficult to impossible. In this instance it is clearly the giver who should make a modification. I would also say this is not just about “nourishment”, or should not be. It’s not loving to feed someone foods they greatly dislike while withholding a foods they like. They may be nourished, but they won’t feel very kindly about you.

Second, the book is almost certainly written for women and then applied to men. I’ve never heard hint of a man saying his correct love languange isn’t being satisfied or any other saying communicates this thought in English. We certainly have the ability to actually see when we are loved and not just live with blinders showing us what we want to see.

It is less common to hear a man say something like this, but I have heard it a number of times. I have also seen situations where failing to speak a man’s love language was hurting or limiting the marriage, and have seen very positive changes when his wife learned how to speak his love language. Are women inherently more sensitive to this than men? I would agree they are. But to me this is just another place where the genders are different, and another place where we need to understand the difference and do what it takes to bless our spouse. Just as it’s good for a wife to understand that sex is more important to most men than to most women, and to change her behaviour based on that understanding, it is good for a husband to understand what is more important to his bride and to change his behaviour based on that understanding.

Now any person can now say they are unloved and they got a book to back them up (with Christian backing, no less). Most men I know work themselves silly providing for their family to show their love. Does this even show up on the radar?

I could provide very well for my family and be a horrible husband and parent. Providing alone does not make a man good or loving. In most couples the wife either also works outside the home, or works her rear off at home doing many things needed by the family. Does that get on the man’s radar? The reality is these thing are expected and required, and while it is praiseworthy to do them and do them well, it’s not enough – not on either side. I hear women replying to complaints about a lack of sex by listing all the things they do well, and how they work so hard. This does not make the sexually starved husband feel better.

While it is true they can probably improve in these areas, they shouldn’t be condemned for their wife’s inability to adapt.

If she is, as you say, unable, then what? Where he can adapt, he should; where she can adapt, she should. Marriage is a team sport, with each doing all they can to cover the weaknesses of the other. If he can more easily adjust on something, then he should do most of the adjusting, if she can most easily adjust then she should do most. It seems to me that it’s easier to learn to “show” our love in a different why than it is to change how we feel love. It’s one thing to recognise that something is intended to speak love, it’s another to actually feel it – I personally think that our love languages are something built into us at a young age, and I honestly don’t think we can do much to change that.

The love languages is not presented as a quick fix, or a series of steps. Rather, it is offered as a way of understanding what makes your spouse feel loved so that you can focus on doing the things that make them feel loved. In some ways I think of it as much like what we do at our jobs – we figure out what makes the boss feel we are doing a good job. How hard we work is not important, how hard the boss thinks we work is.

Do some women use the 5 love languages book to try to manipulate their husband? Yeah, I have no doubt that is the case. Have some couples been significantly helped by learning about the five love languages? Yes, absolutely. It’s not going to help every marriage, but for many couples it will make a positive diference.

20 Comments on “Five love languages – a defence

  1. I found today’s discussion fascinating in that I think the original comment missed the point of the book.

    Each of us is wired differently, and the authors have discovered 5 general ways in which our “love” receptors are wired and they are simply stating that a good number of folks may have one or two of these receptors wired as their ‘primary’ receptors.

    Is it written for women? Perhaps, after all, the female mind is more wired to be relational and to be concerned about relationships. But does that mean it is a weapon against men? I think that is a stretch.

    Love is about others, the more we focus on the needs of others the greater we are able to love. Unconditional love is just that.

    If we seek to meet the needs of others then it naturally follows that we should also seek to meet them in ways understandable and perceptible to them.

    Case in point, I felt for years that my wife could have cared less about me than she did about our house. I am a quality time guy, she is an acts of service gal.

    So while she was cleaning the house she was saying “I love you because look what I am doing for you!” and I was saying, “you don’t love me you would rather do the dishes!”

    The flip side of that coin was that she perceived I didn’t love her because I never did anything for her other than sit around and watch her work!

    As for the science behind all this, I think with a little research one would find that the 5 love languages correspond with the primary personality types that have been studied to death.

    For the most part, I do find the 5LL to be somewhat simplistic, but it has helped me recognize the primary ways my wife & children feel loved and especially when the chips are down for any of them I can consciously choose to show my love and support in their love language which brings comfort more swiftly and surely.

    For my wife that means taking some of the load off her task list. My middle daughter, shower her with words of praise. My youngest, tokens and little mementos. My son, well he is a bit different in that he responds to all but responds to one not listed, knowing that you are available should he call.

    Are the 5LL the be-all, end-all? Of course not! But they are another tool in the tool box to becoming a better lover of those around you!

    • @ Rick – I like the term “love receptors” and the idea that many of us “have one or two of these receptors wired as their ‘primary’” – excellent way of stating it.

  2. Great Post! I am a guy who loves his wife and used to think that she really did not love me. How could she say she loved me when she would not put my laundry away? Or leave her shoes in the doorway for me to trip over or not refill the ice trays? (you can tell this was from a long time ago). Why did she say she love me, but did not ever show it in acts of seervice for me? I used to stay uup late and get up early to do little things for her (acts of service) but she never really noticed or thought much about them. I thought I really was not loved. She kept craving affirmation. She wanted me to praise her and speak highly of her especially in public) Why would I do that she already knows that she is a capable woman and a great mom. She just kept wanting me to say it. Some friends shared the book with us and we both cried. We really did love each other, but gave and received that love differently. Now (many wonderful years later) we know exactly how to share our love for each other, Prairse God for that book!

  3. I would offer that the book Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs should be a companion book to the five love languages. A man’s primary need is for respect and a woman’s primary need is to be shown love. That is why Ephesians Chapter 5 concludes -However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
    (Eph 5:33 ESV)

    That would explain why the man feels like he is the love giver and why the five love languages seem to be directed to him.

    We each need help in areas where it is not natural for us to respond in the way that the other needs.

  4. I think the commenter missed the point of the book. We can try to change our wives, but we will be more successful when we try to change ourselves and how we treat our wives. God tells us that we must not concern ourselves with others, but to better ourselves. One way to do that is to figure out what make our spouses happy and try to provide it to them. Only then will we able to influence our spouses to change.

    • @ Kent – I don’t know the fellow who made the comment that started all this (and thanks so much for that) but it is certainly possible that he has been one the receiving end of some “it’s always all the guys fault” treatment. There are a very few properly trained counsellors who do that, and a great many more lay-counsellors who tend to it. I know a couple of Christian marriage ministries which very clearly put it a the man’s feet, no matter what is going on. I fear this approach helps some (where the guy is the majority of the problem) does not help some, and even makes some marriages far worse (where the woman is significantly at fault, and uses the “it’s all his fault” message as cover for her own wrong behaviour.

  5. The 5 Love Languages book is like the Boundaries book: it is for the reader to exercise, not for the person the reader is thinking about or directing it towards.

    It’s like a sermon — it’s for the person listening, not the person that the listener is intent on changing.

    It is about how we can love our spouses BETTER and possibly how we can understand and receive love from them better. It is NOT how they can love us better. We have to own it and nobody can own it for us — nor can we own it for someone else.

    Failure to recognize this probably points to a failure in boundaries, teamwork, and communication because we are asking someone to do something that we don’t have the authority to do — ask them to love us better. We can request, but we can’t expect or require another person to love us better. This goes for both genders.

    • @ Joel – These various books are also tools which can be given to folks – with specific tools being for specific needs. If you have plumbing problems, my loaning you my wiring tools is not helping. If you use the tools to try and fix your plumbing, it won’t work, and if you work on your wiring while standing in water …

  6. I *strongly* disagree that men don’t “[say] his correct love language isn’t being satisfied”. I know many men who have benefited from their wives learning to speak to them in a way that they can really hear. In our marriage when we explored the concept of “Love Languages” we both benefited hugely. Not only did I learn how to better show love for my wife, but she also learned how to better show me love too.

    Also, in my experience pulling the “I work so hard to provide for you” card is an absolute smoke screen for men to avoid accepting responsibility for their own actions, (I know, I have done it).

  7. Well it is good to see you are paying attention. I think I wrote most of that stuff, and you certainly gave answers. I can’t help feeling like you missing the bigger point. Maybe I was unclear. There are many points I agree and disagree with, but do we have any proof.

    As I said before, I don’t disagree with the book, as a theory. But all theories need to be tested. Most theories are later modified or disproved, so very few actually make it very long when scrutinized. What we have here is a nice theory made up by a nice man, that seems to work well with Christian thought. It sounds good, and has some supporters so we avoid the hard work and just make it law instead.

    I have seen this book in work in real life and I’m not convinced. I’ve seen marriage counselors base all of marriage counseling off from this book. Talk about dangerous. How would you like to be in a plane based on the antigravity particle that scientists think exists but have never proven. Why do base something as important as marriage on things we won’t even bother to look at?

    We would never approve a medicine that someone thinks will help you get better. And isn’t that what counseling is supposed to be, medicine. The truth is the medicine would likely hurt many more than it would help. We can’t just look at the positive results, but the negative ones as well. This is absolutely crucial. Counselors can’t remove themselves from the scientific process because it is more difficult to define success. Marriages, Christians, and churches deserve better than this.

    I know that if someone focused solely on the specific area that I liked most, then that would make me feel pretty good. Of course, it may also be making me into a spoiled brat. We seem to get this with kids, but we think adults are immune. My challenge is to prove me wrong.

    Has anyone talked to respected individuals would have “bad” marriages or suffered through a divorce? Do you even know respectable people who have been through a divorce? Do they know what kind of effects this book can have in these circumstances?

    In the end, I see the same thing in this book that I see in virtually every counselor I have talked to. An arrogant person, with a self-described nearly perfect marriage tries to tell me how to make my marriage like theirs (not better mind you, like theirs). They went through “hard times” too, so they can relate to me in my struggles, but really all struggles are the same thing. They have found the holy grail of marriage wisdom and are willing to share it with me as long as I never disagree with them or try to stand on my own. They don’t care about Biblical authority or why your grandparent’s generation never got divorced. They spread their wisdom and expect angels to accompany their advice with an unspeakable melody as you listen intently. When things don’t work as advertised they tell you that it is your fault. This kind of counseling belongs on an infomercial.

    I am looking for a new set of marriage counselors that are willing to look at the real problems of marriage and then do the work to find the answers. I am not overly optimistic at this point.

  8. @ Take Two – I agree, anyone who uses one tool for every job is worse than useless – in many situation they will do a good deal of harm. I see the 5LL as one of many tools in the marriage repair too box. A good counsellor will have knowledge of, and skill using, a number of tools.

    Are there counsellors who want to make your marriage look like their marriage? Yes, there are. If you want what they have, then that’s fine, if you don’t want what they have, then they can be of no help to you. The good counsellors are those who will teach you how to use the best tools for what you want done.

    A note on those who want to help others – the vast majority of marriage counsellors got into it because of concerns about their own marriage, or concerns about the marriage of someone close (parents for example). In and of it’s self that is not a bad thing. It is, for example, usually the reformed drug user who is best at helping others get off drugs. Past problems with something makes a person sympathetic, less given to buying excuses, and passionate about the issue – all good things. The problem comes when someone has not worked out their own problems before they try to help others This is one reason why I like to see marriage counselling happen within a church – you can know the couple and have some idea of the health of their marriage.

    As to my own motivation it is much as I described above. My bride and I had significant sexual problems in our marriage, and that is no doubt why we do what we do. We have, however, gained real victory over those things. Our desire is not to help others have what we have, but have something better than what they now have. That initial focus has widened to marriage in general. We deeply enjoy our marriage and want others to do the same – no mater how that looks for them. We have done a lot of study and listening to be better able to help folks. We want to have the best possible tool box.

    BTW, there are a few subjects you don’t see me speak about, or when I do I point to others. I am very much opposed to trying to help others with something I don’t have a good grasp on. To me a good grasp not only means it’s working in my live, but also that I have some understanding of the various ways it can work. I have found that one size never fits all, and if all I know is one way, I really can’t be of much use.

    • I’ve been thinking about this reply and another one about counselors, and I think I have a different point of view. Part of it may be because of how we describe counselors. I don’t believe that people that give advice about marriage should be considered counselors. There are many of these people, especially in churches. I have no problem with what they do and they can be helpful, but these folks do not have the training or understanding to be truly helpful in marriage counseling. Real marriage counselors need training, so that they can at least identify real diagnosable physical or mental problems. Without this training you should not call yourself a counselor.

      Unfortunately my experience with counselors has been abysmal. I believe I have been to 8 counselors for advice at various times and there is only one I can say I approve of. I would never advise anyone to go to the others. Oddly enough, they all behaved in a similar fashion, as if like they were just different voices of the same head. They all promised to be honest, caring, and fair, but were none of these things. In the end they all manipulated me into do things that they promised they wouldn’t. They blatantly lied to me and went back on promises when it was convenient. It is nearly impossible to describe the frustration this causes.

      The most disturbing common aspect of every counselor was the fact they would try to emasculate you and take control of the marriage. They claim you are the head but don’t acknowledge it in any way, but instead start to take control away and manipulate every aspect of your lives. When you fight back, it gets really ugly. Counselors are used to having their way with people and when you refuse counsel, they basically start condemning the marriage. Of course, you can understand how much this actually helps a marriage that is already in distress. Then you have to deal with your wife harassing you for the next year about how you don’t listen to people and that is why the marriage is bad.

      If I were a counselor (which I am not) I would start by telling the husband that he is the only person on this planet that truly knows what this marriage needs. I would tell him that I am going to provide every resource I can to help him find what needs to be done to make the marriage what God intended (not what others intend). I would end by guaranteeing him that he is the only person who can do this and that the marriage will be a disaster otherwise. Clearly marriage counseling has gone the opposite direction and the results are obvious. I simply pray that one day this changes and the church repents.

      • @Take Two – I agree with your definition of a councilor. BTW, I do not describe myself as a counselor – despite some training, I do not have the certification that I think should exist for someone to take that title.

        I can’t agree with you that a husband is the person (only or otherwise) who knows what his marraige needs. Human nature is such that most of us don’t see events we are in nearly as clearly as we think we do. And there is significant research to back that up. One example:

        Prior to marriages, couples, their families and their friends were asked to rate how their marraige would fare. When the couples were sought out again years later it was found that the man was the worst at determining how his marraige would go, with the woman being only slightly better. Family did better, but still poorly. It was her friends who did the best – they were far more accurate at “predicting” if the marriage would survive, and how happy the couple would be.

        As much as I would like to think I have a better handle on my stuff than anyone else, a solid wall of science tells me this is NOT the case. Often we are the WORST judges of our situation. This is no doubt why we are told to be in each others lives – to offer a better perspective.

  9. I am a wife who finds Generous Husband tips very useful for myself. I’ve been reading the comments and thought I would add in woman’s perspective due to the comments about who the book is aimed at.
    My husband and I are going through a struggle with our relationship right now. If we did not know about the 5LL, life would be unbearable. My husband’s primary LL is acts of service and mine is physical touch. We are both weak when it comes to using the other’s love language. If I did not understand this, I would not understand why it is such a huge issue for him that I haven’t done the dishes. Both of us frequently use 5LL in our conversations with each other to communicate our needs (not our wants), it is not a tool for us to berate each other with but to communicate and understand each other better.
    A few comments talked about the ‘love giver’, as far as I see it a marriage that only has one ‘love giver’ is not a relationship – both have to give. However, as mentioned before, I cannot change my husband only my own actions: so it is my love giving that I focus on. I can also choose to see my husband’s acts of love for what they are even when they do not hit my primary love receptors. Love is a choice, so knowing that he loves me, even when I can’t feel it helps me to continue to choose to love him. We don’t use 5LL so much as a solution, but as a tool to see where the breakdowns in communication are.
    Also, in answer to the question about speaking to individuals about 5LL who have gone through a divorce – my parents in-laws have been separated for about 20 years. They both believe in the value of 5LL. However, I don’t think that bringing just 5LL into their marriage at the end would have helped – the problem had gone too far with one of them refusing to admit there was even a problem. This is not proof that 5LL does not work, but that problems in marriages should be addressed early and that both people need to see and accept the need for change in their life.
    Hope this helps,
    God Bless.

  10. I don’t really understand what the problem was that this guy was having. But even if we don’t need to change ??? or the spouse doesn’t need to change ??? what if one doesn’t feel loved. This book can help us understand that we are loved because we can understand what the spouse is doing to show love even though it never looked like it or felt like it to us. This is a great book.

  11. I am a wife who knows the 5 LL book has done wonders for my marriage. No, I am not a counsellor, and yes, I could tell you horror stories (but I won’t) about my first marriage. By no means do I think of rainbows, puppies and flowers when one mentions marriage. Nor do I believe that any one task is for any one person in a relationship. What I DO know is this…words of affirmation and physical touch do not come naturally to me. I really don’t care if someone TELLS me that they love me fifty times a day; I will still not be convinced. Haul the trash off, and it’s a different story. If you only touch me to try to let me know you love me, I am going to think you are like the bad man that started touching me when I was in 6th grade. BUT, those are the two LL’s that my husband craves (unfortunately from different kinds of scarring from his past). I would never have understood what he needs from me, and vice versa if we hadn’t read the book. Now that we both know what the other needs, and have practiced it, it is much easier to do and we both feel much more fulfilled. Do I think this book is the Holy Grail? No. Do I think having the knowledge that I gained from it helps me to love more like 1 Corinthians instructs me to? Absolutely.
    My husband works out of town, and we both have a copy of the LL daily devotional that we read from so we can be on the same page (literally-haha) and discuss and pray when we talk on the phone. I have also read the book geared toward teens, to help me understand my less than chatty daughter. I think it has shed some light on what SHE needs from me, too. I highly recommend Mr. Chapman’s books to anyone who will listen. They are a wonderful tool to helping people understand one another.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: