I previously blogged what was meant to be a slight critique of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It has been one of the more popular posts on this website and I recently received a letter from a reader who was skeptical of Dr. Chapman’s book. My intention never was to throw Dr. Chapman under the bus. Therefore, I thought my response to this reader may help provide a balancing counterpart to my original essay.
Congratulations on several decades of marriage. That is a wonderful gift from God. Many marriages do not last that long these days; and even many marriages that do have no guarantee of continuing in a healthy manner. Like the Christian struggle that never ends, our marriage is a gift that needs continual upkeep and love.
You are right about the “give-to-get” mentality that is widespread throughout our entire society. It distorts loving relationships and turns them into something other than what God designed. Despite that, I would actually recommend you follow your therapist’s suggestion of reading The Five Love Languages. But do so with discernment.
While you are right that we are all unique, there are still innumerable similarities that all humans share from all ages. Dr. Chapman quite accurately observed the five most common ways that human beings share affection for one another. For that achievement, his book is praiseworthy. However, where his message veers off course is, as you have mentioned, presenting his findings with a slight selfish bias. When we speak another person’s “love language” with the expectation of that person doing the same for us, then we are not truly operating in real, deep love.
We should absolutely study our marriage partner to understand the ways in which she seems to appreciate giving and receiving love. We do this, not with the hope of receiving something in return, but with a desire to make her feel more loved and to learn the ways in which she is saying “I love you” to us so that we can appreciate her efforts — even if it is not the way we prefer to receive affection. That is how we follow Dr. Chapman’s advice is an unselfish manner that focuses on the other.
Dr. Chapman’s observations about the ways humans give and receive affection are helpful to most, if not all, marriages. For that reason, I would not recommend people dismiss his book. But we must read it with the following mindset: “How can I become more observant about the way other people around me like to give and receive affection? I want to do this even if nobody shows any more love or affection toward me, but simply to make others around me feel more loved.”
Our society is obsessed with self-help, but I think if we genuinely begin trying to love others and focus less on ourselves, then we will slowly walk into our own healing.