From my teenage years until recent times, I firmly believed that all people had their needs for love fulfilled in five different ways, as outlined in Dr. Gary Chapman’s best seller The Five Love Languages.
Now that I have been exposed to Orthodox theology and have come to know my own heart more deeply, I feel that Dr. Chapman’s book needs a critique.
As outlined by Dr. Chapman, there are five ways in which people give and receive love. When someone in a relationship feels unloved, it may be because their significant other is not “speaking” their “love language.” The five are:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Receiving Gifts
3. Acts of Service
4. Quality Time
5. Physical Touch
Very little of my blog will make sense for a person who has not begun the long and difficult journey into their heart, which is at the center of Orthodox spirituality. Demanding any of these “love languages” ultimately reveals hidden pride, egotism, and attachment to the world, as harsh as that sounds.
In their purest form, these five languages are innocent and are common practices between healthy individuals. In that sense, I have recommended the book to friends and those to whom I have provided spiritual counsel. However, if we assume that this is all there is to love, then it reveals our unhealed nature. Ideally, we should not feel a need for others to give them to us. Nor should we become upset because others do not recognize that we are making an effort to offer this type of “love.” I have seen people manipulate others into providing the love language they feel they need. That’s unhealthy, and I would imagine Dr. Chapman would agree with me on that point.
WHY IT IS INSUFFICIENT
I began writing a detailed rebuttal for each of the individual “love languages,” but then I realized a theme was appearing in each response: we should practice expressions of affection for others, but we should never hope for, desire, or expect to receive absolutely anything in return, not even a smile or a “thank you.” If we do, then we’re not acting in love, which never considers others debtors to itself.
For example, there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving, in fact, there is something wrong with someone who does not give. However, when we feel a need or desire to receive some kind of gift, then our souls have material attachments to the world that are hindering us from entering into a deeper place of true love in Christ. Additionally, if we give to someone who does not appear to be pleased or thankful and, consequently, that evokes an emotional response of hurt or anger, then that is a sign of egotism. We have given with an impure heart.
The Christian message is about dying to this world and resurrecting to life exclusively in Christ. Dying and resurrecting in Christ is a process that will take us our entire lives, but it is the place where we humans were designed to be. When we begin to receive true love directly from God within our hearts by dwelling in Christ, we will no longer feel a need to receive any of the five “love languages.” It is nice to receive them, and we will always accept the attempts of others to express their affection and love towards us. But we won’t demand it.
GIVE WITHOUT RECEIVING
So rather than tediously addressing each language, I think the best summary is to say that we should show meaningful affection to others as often as is appropriate, but we should never expect anything in return. When we expect anything in return (gifts, kind words, an act of service, time, or even a hug), then we have given with an impure heart.
If we feel an aching need within our hearts to receive “love” in any of those five ways, then it reveals that we have work to do within our souls. Nearly all of us are in that place (myself included), so I don’t say that to condemn anyone. I simply want to emphasize that we should be striving to find our fulfillment through a life in Christ.
When we spend our time looking to be fulfilled in any one of these five ways of affection, then we cannot simultaneously commune deeply with the angels, the saints, and God Himself. The two modes of living are incompatible, as can be clearly seen from the lives of innumerable saints who cast off the world entirely to embrace a deep relationship with God.
We have already received the ultimate expression of love from God through Christ’s incarnation, His death on the cross, His resurrection, and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If we are not perpetually abiding in the joy, hope, and presence of this Giver, then we (myself included) have not fully opened our hearts to God and no amount of human affection can compensate for that.
When we fail to look toward God for fulfillment, then we begin to demand it from others. But these demands cannot be fulfilled to our complete satisfaction. Because of that, we can end up making others around us feel miserable. God is the only perfect lover, nobody else comes close. We should therefore spend time daily attempting to draw closer to this Perfect Lover. Granted, we often receive His love through others, but we shouldn’t become dependent on whether or not someone fulfills our love language for our daily happiness.
As the Christmas season approaches, let us give to others, let us edify them with words of truth and love, let us perform acts of kindness, let us spend time with the lonely, and give a warm, pure touch to those who are discouraged. But may we not expect anything in return; in fact, let us try to be like the saints who performed their acts of love as secretly as possible so that only our Heavenly Father knows. By doing so, we crucify our ego and material attachments and can begin even now to live in the Heavenly Kingdom.
A SAINTLY PRAYER
There was a saint of the Orthodox Church who often prayed:
O Lord, allow me to help others, even if I am never helped myself. Give me the strength to love, even if I am never loved. Give me the strength to be understanding, even if I am never understood.
This prayer succinctly describes the point that I am making here. We should all be moving toward wholeness in Christ, and if we are, our love will be unselfish. We will desire to help others, even if they don’t help us; we will love even when we receive no love in return; we will give to those who never say “thank you;” we will comfort those who never comfort us; we will listen to those who don’t listen to us. We will spend time with those who don’t make time for us.
In other words, divine love is always giving and not demanding reciprocity.
Update (May 2017):
I received a letter from someone regarding this essay and I felt that an update was in order. So, I updated a bit of the text here and also posted my reply to the reader here.
When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. – Luke 14:12-14
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matt. 6:3-4
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 2 Cor. 5:17
Photo credit: http://jpdean.deviantart.com/art/Love-50316085
 The above prayer is slightly paraphrased. It comes from The Art of Salvation by Elder Ephraim, pg. 254 in the 2014 edition.
3 thoughts on “A Critique of the Five Love Languages”
Very insightful. As a former protestant, this was very revealing. Thank you for sharing the truth of God
Someone lent me a book from the 5 Love Languages series, and I was looking for an examination of the ideas from a Christian viewpoint. How pleased I was to find your site. I am inquiring into the Orthodox Church. From AOG background. Thank you.
Hello Anthea, I’m glad you have a copy of the Five Love Languages to read. I would definitely recommend reading it and learning the ways people give and receive affection for one another. It’s a very useful life skill. We just have to be careful that we don’t begin demanding our “love language” from other people. May God bless your spiritual journey.