One-sentence summary of “The languages of Love”: Learning to fill the love tank of one’s spouse helps to make love last and to restore it when it has been tested, allowing everyone to know their own channel and that of their partner; it’s somewhat as if it’s a foreign language to learn to reach the other: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch are the 5 primary means recognized by author Gary Chapman.
By Gary Chapman, 1995, 188 pages.
The book “The languages of Love” has been on the New York Times Best Seller list since 2009.
The book “The languages of Love” was reissued in 2015 under the title The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.
Note: this review is brought to you by Geneviève and Luciane, of the blog En couple, Simone!
Chronicle and summary of “The languages of Love”
Of all the books on relationships I’ve read, this is the one I found the most striking. Gary Chapman is a marriage counselor. He is also a pastor. Although his speech is impregnated by his belief and his religious convictions, it doesn’t alter anything he conveys about the love languages, which concern everyone, believers or not.
Part one: The Need for Love
Chapter 1. What Happens to Love after Marriage?
Here’s the starting premise :
- we all desire to experience everlasting love,
- there are a lot of failures in marriage,
- all the magazines talk about how to make love last.
The latter, which steadfastly comes back to this premise, is not useless, but there is something that hasn’t been addressed: people speak different love languages.
If we want to communicate effectively with people from another culture, we have to learn their language. It’s the same thing with love. If we want to experience a lasting love, we have to learn the love language of our partner.
There are 5 basic love languages, which can be broken down into several dialects.
Each of us developed this language according to our psychological structure and the environment in which we grew up, the way in which our parents and other significant people in our lives have expressed their affection. Those who don’t feel loved and well-cared for will also learn a language, but they won’t be fluent in it. They will have to work harder to become good communicators.
Between husband and wife, we rarely speak the same language. We can express our love, but the message doesn’t come through because we are using a foreign language for the other; therein lies the essential problem. Thus, so that love does not fade after marriage, we have to express ourselves in the love language of our spouse, in their channel of expression.
Of course, all of this is valid for any relationship!
Chapter 2. Feeling Loved!
This chapter deals with needs. Love is a fundamental emotional need. Thinkers and psychologists agree that this has always been the case.
There are many meanings and uses of the word love (I love french fries, I love my mother, I did what I love): so what kind of love is essential to our emotional health?
The most vital need of a child is love and affection. Ross Campbell uses this metaphor: in every child there is an emotional tank waiting to be filled. The need to feel like they belong to someone and that they are wanted. The child would go on a quest to fill this tank, adults as well. When I fall in love, it temporarily represents this same quest.
Note: We don’t agree with Gary Chapman’s statement that what he calls “love” we call “bonding”. For us, the struggling child who puts him or herself in danger needs to rebuild his or her bonding with one or more resource persons. Bonding is the organization of emotional exchanges between the mother and her child, on a priority basis and in a respectful way.
In the absence of bonding, if there is abuse, rejection, neglect of the child, he or she will put him or herself in danger and distress, which will be the breeding ground of all the violence in adolescence and in adult life.
Although the author equates this emotional imbalance to a quest to fill one’s love tank, we equate it to the need to restore the lack of bonding suffered during early childhood, and that’s the case from 0 to 99 years old!
After the beginning of the love encounter, the “love obsession” diminishes, the need reappears, because it persists as long as we are alive. The need to feel loved is at the heart of marital desires. And material goods can not make up for it. Marriage meets the need for intimacy and love.
By contrast, bad behavior, harsh words, all the skirmishes that can occur in hurting or separating couples only reveal that each person has an empty love tank.
Is the state of this tank the key to a healthy marriage? Yes, it is as important for a marriage to keep the emotional tank full as it is for a motorist to maintain the proper oil level of their engine. What is discussed here can save many unions.
Warning: someone’s behavior can change dramatically when their love tank is full.
Chapter 3. Love at First Sight
When I fall in love, my man is the best in the whole world: at its peak, the experience of love at first sight is euphoric. Each person is obsessed with the other and feels a romantic euphoria.
The one in love has the illusion that their beloved is perfect.
Before marriage, we dream only of marital happiness: “We will make each other supremely happy. Other couples argue and fight, but it definitely won’t be our case.” We have the belief that nothing will ever come between us.
Yet, the average life span of a love-at-first-sight romance is two years. We end up admitting that some character traits of the other are irritating. The spouse has the capacity for hurt and anger. In the real world of marriage, there is always hair in the sink and spots on the mirror. We argue about whether the toilet lid should be up or down.
The mistake is believing that romantic love lasts forever.
Romantic obsession gives us the false sense that all our egocentricity has been eradicated. But none of us is completely altruistic. The euphoria of the romantic experience only gives us that illusion. Once the feeling of falling in love has faded, we are in the presence of two beings with different desires, emotions, and thoughts.
At this point, either they separate, or they decide to love each other without the euphoric need “to be in love.”
The love obsession has nothing to do with love:
- first, it is not a conscious choice,
- secondly, it’s not love because it requires no effort,
- finally, the one who is in love is not really concerned about the personal growth of the other.
Being in love gives us the impression of having reached the pinnacle of human happiness.
Therefore, let us recognize love at first sight for what it is: a strong focus on a temporary emotional experience and now seek true love with our spouse. This love combines reason and emotion. It involves a voluntary act, requires discipline with the need for personal growth.
Our deepest emotional need is not falling in love, but being genuinely loved by others. I need to be loved by someone who has chosen to love me. That kind of love necessitates effort and discipline.
Good news, then: love is a choice. This means, “I’m married to you, so I decide to look out for your interests.”
It’s not a bland love compared to love at first sight, it’s a transcendent love. We are beginning to see the world in a new light and we are thriving.
Note: For us, Gary Chapman presents love at first sight too quickly because he doesn’t distinguish a love-at-first-sight romance from a budding romance, described by Francesco Alberoni, specialist of being in love.
The main characteristic of love at first sight is a hormonal and euphoric upheaval, which we often find in Hollywood romantic comedies. It can be experienced by a person who is in a state of dependency, therefore unable to love, in Alberoni’s terms. This causes a lot of drama and relationship difficulties for the future.
While the budding romance is an experience that will also cause a hormonal upheaval, allowing, at the same time, the person to return to what Alberoni calls “the nascent state”. This experience can only be felt by a person who is capable of loving, that is, free from emotional dependency. This is a lesser-known love story, in which the film industry isn’t too interested! I can acknowledge my partner, all while protecting my identity, my territory, my secret garden.
There is something sweet, simple, easy, as I lived it myself. There is neither drama nor confusion.
The difference between the two is in the ability to be committed to myself and to my partner.
In search of a soulmate? I recommend this short article that will introduce you to tips involving Zen.
Second part: The Love Languages
Chapter 4. Words of Affirmation
Speaking words of encouragement is a way of telling my spouse how much I value him or her.
- These are all words that do good.
- The kind words exchanged have an extraordinary power.
- They are simple and direct.
Note: Be careful, words of affirmation are something other than value judgments! It’s more impactful to say, “I like your eyes” rather than “you have beautiful eyes”. However, for us women, there are no restrictions for our men: “you are handsome”, “what a man!”
In fact, these words are all signs of recognition to which you, men, are particularly attuned. Careful, aword of affirmation is not flattery or manipulation to get something from the other person.
These words can be a valuable support in my spouse’s projects: reiterating my trust, my consideration, how much I believe in what he / she undertakes (if that’s the case!), getting the message out: “I know, I share, I’m in your corner, how can I help you? ”
On the other hand, the delivery matters as much as the substance: it is up to us to use a sympathetic tone and kind words. Words can have quite a different effect depending on the tone (the heart) with which they are pronounced. It can also be said publicly, there is no limit to creativity in a love letter!
To put it into practice: I can start by making a list of everything I like about the other person (in a precise way), to say it to them and to stop all criticism and blame. For love does not preserve the list of wrongs suffered. If we have done wrong, we can only take responsibility and acknowledge that we have done wrong. And if the other person has done wrong, I can choose to make them pay or to forgive.
Forgiveness helps to restore intimacy. It’s not a vague feeling, it’s a firm resolution.
To acquire this language, if I’m not familiar with it, I can write down in a notebook all the words of affirmation that I come across, reminding myself of those to which he / she was attuned at the beginning of the relationship. Over time, I will acquire a fine collection that can be used with my spouse. I decide to share one a day. It is through practice that I become familiar with this language.
Chapter 5. Quality Time
- It is giving your undivided attention to the other person.
- It is gladly accompanying the other to do an activity that they enjoy.
- And it is being together: the quality of my attention counts; it is not only the physical proximity.
- The important thing is not what we do but the reason we do it.
For example, a husband and wife who play tennis will initially be interested, not in the game itself, but in the opportunity to strengthen their relationship.
For those who feel unavailable, it can be costly to spend time. This requires a decision and discipline to take the time and organize these moments. And it’s cost effective!
I can make a list of everything that the other would like to do with me, then walk the walk. The important thing is that, romantically, we spend intense moments together.
That’s what will help make these moments quality time:
- Maintain eye contact,
- Don’t do anything else,
- Listen for feelings,
- Observe body language,
- Don’t interrupt.
At the same time, it is also learning to open up to the other person, to share your feelings with him or her.
To put it another way, sharing an activity together:
- At least one of them wants to do this activity,
- The other agrees to join in,
- Both know why they do it: expressing each other’s love of being together.
This will form a bank of memories which the couple can draw from.
Chapter 6. Gifts
A gift contains a message in itself: “he thought of me”.
- No need to wait for an opportunity.
- The market value is distinct from the gift itself. What matters is that he conveys the expression of love.
There are all kinds of gifts: an improvised gift (a flower picked on the way), an expensive gift or a hand written card with a “I love you”.
Like other love languages, this language is also acquired: I’ll make a list of all the gifts that my husband received and that he appreciated.
Note, for you men: if you are tempted to give a great gift, for the occasion of the year, an anniversary (offering a trip, a weekend, THE gift she has been waiting for months…), let’s agree that women whose love language is that of gifts will have their tanks considerably fuller by receiving many inexpensive little gifts than a few expensive ones.
Nothing like setting up a routine, like offering a gift every week for his wife!
Chapter 7. Acts of Service
This includes any assistance that would make my husband happy. Relieving him by doing certain things for him: anything regarding chores around the house, the yard.
As with the other languages, at the beginning of the relationship, lovers often do favors for each other naturally. Therefore, it is a question of keeping the freshness of this surge.
What happens naturally before the life-long commitment together can then require a decision. This decision is freely taken: I am challenged to make requests rather than to criticize, challenged to realize that what seems obvious to me is not necessarily for my spouse.
However, my husband’s criticism indicates his love language, even if it is an inefficient way of asking for love.
Acts of service are not done out of obligation. I can do favors for 20 years without it being an expression of love. And I can even build up resentment, if I expect from the other person recognition or something in return.
“I have been serving him for twenty years. I have always been at his beck and call. And I was his doormat, while he ignored me, mistreated me and humiliated me in front of my friends and family. I don’t hate him, I don’t wish him any harm, but he sickens me and I don’t want to live with him anymore. “This woman did me favors for twenty years, but they weren’t expressions of her love. She carried them out with feelings of resentment.
Providing acts of services may require going beyond its stereotypes, the societal stereotypes of the roles of husbands and wives. What matters is doing what is important for the other person. Gary Chapman recounts how, after swearing in his youth that he would never touch a vacuum in his life, today he doesn’t allow anyone else besides him to touch it, because his wife feels loved when he does the vacuuming in their house.
Chapter 8. Physical Touch
Holding hands, kissing, hugging, having sexual intercourse – these are just some of the ways to make your partner feel loved.
The quality of touch matters, because we immediately feel whether it is an affectionate touch or a hostile one. It is the spouse who will be guiding, to know what kind of touch is the most satisfying:
- random touch of affection,
- snuggling up against each other,
- rubbing the neck of his or her spouse,
- kissing when leaving the house.
The right and wrong touch is determined by the spouses themselves.
I will take the initiative, for example by coming to cuddle against my husband, if I know he is attuned to this language. People who are receptive to this language are eager to see their spouse come to them and hug them in their arms, hold hands, kiss them, make love.
Part Three: Love in Action
Chapter 9. Discover your Love Language
Gentlemen: don’t make the mistake of assuming physical touch is your language because you have a strong desire for sexual intercourse. Sexual drive is different from the emotional need to be loved.
Here are some ways to know my love language:
- Which one is my primary love language?
- What makes me feel most loved by my spouse?
- What do I desire above all else?
- Which thing does my spouse say or do that hurts me deeply? It’s probably when he or she uses my love language negatively. Is it when he refuses to help around the house? When she criticizes me or says something nasty to me?
- What did I most often request from my spouse?
- In what way do I express my love to my spouse? I probably use the language that I would like him to use with me.
In a practical way: list in order of importance the love languages for myself, for my spouse. Compare the answers.
Assess 3 times a week the level of my spouse’s tank, ask him or her: “What can I do to fill it?”
Chapter 10. Love is a Decision
How do both spouses talk in each other’s love language when they are bitter over past failures?
We can recognize that we have done wrong and decide: “I want to love you in the language you understand.” This creates an emotional climate conducive to resolving past conflicts and failures.
After the love at first sight that temporarily bridges the emotional needs of love, these continue to be fulfilled if my spouse has learned to speak to me in the love language that I understand. Otherwise, my tank will empty little by little and I will end up not feeling loved anymore.
The fulfillment of my spouse’s needs for love is the result of a free choice that I make. Gary Chapman says he makes it every day.
Note: We don’t agree with Gary Chapman here. He seems to be caught in this very common illusion that I am responsible for my spouse’s happiness, as Hollywood comedies suggest to us. While for us, each member of the couple is responsible for their own emotions, their needs, their happiness. The other person shares all of this with me but is in no way responsible. My spouse owes me nothing.
Certainly, expressing one’s love in a foreign language doesn’t come naturally. We can even have disgraceful depictions, for example, concerning vacuuming, if it had been a chore during childhood. Yet, love can be a powerful driver for choosing to do it.
And we do things every day contrary to our nature! We then can express our love in a language that doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s not about looking for strong emotions or a particular excitement, I decide to do it for the benefit of the other person.
Love is a decision. Each spouse can make it today.
Chapter 11. Love Makes a Big Difference
If someone loves me, it’s because I’m valuable; my existence has a purpose.
The love I receive has a positive impact on my other existential needs (security, self-worth, recognition). I am then freed to develop my potential.
Love creates a climate of security conducive to finding solutions to the problems that beset us.
Love can be reborn in a couple, by learning to speak the love language that my spouse understands and by committing myself to speaking it.
Note: this chapter leaves us with the impression that love would be enough to build a relationship. While this is not our opinion: love is neither sufficient nor necessary. A couple can live a passionate love relationship and tear themselves apart. On the other hand, a couple that has enough bonding and appreciation may very well be harmonious without love. Occasionally, love either happens or it doesn’t.
Chapter 12. Loving the One Who is Unlovable
It is the same idea, which goes further: is it possible to love a spouse who has become an enemy?
For Gary Chapman, love is always repairable. He quotes the Bible, “Give and you shall receive”, and explains that if I learn the love language of my husband, if I speak it long enough to fill his love tank, he will end up doing the same.
Note: Indeed, the best option is to avail oneself with any means to make it work. Afterwards, I will be able to draw conclusions, and I won’t regret anything.
Careful, it is not a question of manipulating the other person into doing what I want! This is where Gary Chapman states his belief in the miracle of love.
Sometimes, at the beginning, loving can be purely of the order of the decision, not of the feeling: to go to touch the other, to give them a word of gratitude. Hence the importance of availing ourselves the means to express it: first, recognize the other’s love language (which is already a job in itself, with pen and paper or with someone), then make a list, put together a plan of action and stick to it.
Chapter 13. Children and Love Languages
Filling the love tank also applies to children. The child emotional needs dictate their behavior. It is enough to observe them to find out their love language: what he or she sets out to do for others, what he or she requests.
Children themselves are able to speak in their parent’s love language.
Gary Chapman elaborates on this in his book The Love Languages of Children (it is not our goal here to talk about children, but to go through this book to take the matter further).
Chapter 14. A Personal Word
This is where Gary Chapman shares his dream: that this insight he has put into such simple terms can benefit the greatest number of people. “I believe that the concepts in this book could make an impact upon the marriages and families of this country”
His book was not written to fill the shelves of the libraries: “It is my desire that this brief volume will kindle the flame of love in your marriage and in the marriages of thousands of other couples like you.” He encourages us to offer this book to someone in our inner circle.
Note: You too, it’s your turn to share this article with someone you know personally 🙂
In the spirit of the book (and this blog) that encourages you to take action, this guide offers assistance for practicing the love languages.
“The gap between ignorance and knowledge is much less than the gap between knowledge and action”
– Chris Guillebeau
For example, here is an excerpt:
- Look back on your childhood. Did you feel adequately loved by your parents? How did they mainly express their love? In considering the results in your life, how did they influence the way in which you express your love to your spouse?
- List the shortcomings and strengths of how your parents loved and appreciated you. What similarities do you see in the way you express your affection to your spouse?
Book critique of “The Love Languages”:
Gary Champan’s approach is great. With simple words, common sense and many examples, he shows how everything can change in a couple when we look at it from the perspective of each other’s emotional needs.
Ultimately, some will not need to read the book: just know that these 5 love languages exist to identify my language of love, to recognize my spouse’s and to take action!
He speaks pragmatically; he shares what he has developed from his encounters, his experience asa husband and marriage counselor.
Coaches will find in his book a double benefit: that of knowing the love languages and an account of how he helps couples. His framework is often the same: he listens, he asks questions, he sets out a path and helps with the transition to action (which often starts by making a list), then checks its realization after an agreed upon time.
He has his specialty, which has all its merit and genius. Even so, it’s continually frustrating when reading it because it addresses certain topics without mentioning the fact that other specialists have gone further than him. There are times when common sense is not enough!
There is also a bias in this book: marriage is presented as self-evident truth; the couple is indissoluble. Gary Chapman has the merit of clearly positioning himself in his Christian faith. Maybe references to the Bible will bother some readers. We welcome the fact that this book has been so successful despite the bias.
He offers restorative practices that may have limitations
His approach can be compared to that of a mechanic for whom any car is repairable, without acknowledging that, sometimes, it is simply beyond repair. To sum it up, he believes in miracles!
Another drawback is only talking about the need for love. As important as it is, love is neither necessary nor sufficient. The couple is above all a story of energy, bonding and recognition.
Gary Chapman doesn’t say that we ourselves are responsible for our emotional needs. However, when I give signs of recognition, the other person will most likely do likewise, unless I am in a relationship with a disrespectful person. And we should not do so with the expectation that the other person will appreciate us; that would be a form of manipulation.
- The concept is great; it really makes a difference in the life of a couple, in all relationships.
- It allows me to better understand how I function, and to know what I need.
- Easy to read with a simplicity of language, a theory easy to remember and many illustrations: these are stories that impact us.
- The author calls to take action immediately, with the help of many exercises.
- He gives a positive vision of the couple; he gives hope; and he creates a decision-making dynamic, which is very modern.
- Missing theoretical references.
- Religious reference that can annoy some readers
My rating :
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