Over 30 years ago, Baptist pastor Gary Chapman introduced a theory of love languages, suggesting five typical ways people express and perceive love. His book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” has become very popular since that time in many countries around the world. Chapman’s theory suggests that love means different things to different people. The author identified 5 different meanings and corresponding ways of expressing love. These languages of love are
- words of affirmation (giving compliments),
- gifts (presents big and small),
- acts of service (helping your partner with chores or in other ways),
- quality time (doing things together) or
- physical touch (such as hugs, kisses or sex).
Gary Chapman claims that understanding your partner’s love language is the key to a good relationship. Many people who read his book have found it to be helpful in their relationship with a partner. This competency can have a tremendous positive impact on romantic and marital relationships.
Is the Theory of Love Languages Science or Pop Culture?
Chapman strongly believes that almost everyone has a primary love language. And this language “tends to stay with us throughout a lifetime,” he said. According to his opinion, the only people he has encountered who say all five are equally important are those who either were always loved or never loved.
Chapman admits, “I’m not a researcher.” He said that some researchers criticizing his theory of 5 love languages interpret his work too strictly.
“I was never dogmatic to say that there’s only five love languages. I’m still open, but I’m a little more confident that these(five)are pretty much fundamental to human nature.”Chapman said.
Some researchers, however, question the scientific validity of the concept of 5 love languages. Emily Impett, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, Canada, and her co-authors Haeyoung Gideon Park and Amy Muise recently published an article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science presenting an extensive review of the scientific literature on the topic (Impett et al., 2024). They concluded that core assumptions about love languages stand on shaky ground, unsupported by empirical evidence.
Their analysis of scientific publications has shown that there is no strong empirical support for the book’s three central assumptions that
- (a) each person has a preferred love language,
- (b) there are five love languages,
- (c) couples are more satisfied when partners speak one another’s preferred language.
Here are the main points of critiques:
1. Do People Have a Primary Love Language?
The existence of the person’s “primary” love language is a cornerstone of love language advice. So, a key assumption of Chapman’s book is that you need to know the primary love language your partner speaks. Researchers found that people tend to connect with several love languages, not one.
“In real life, we know that people often don’t need to make these kinds of trade-offs between do you want a partner who is going to touch you versus express love in some other way,”Impett said.
“If that’s the core assumption, then everything that follows kind of falls apart in a lot of different ways,”said Sara Algoe.
2. People Have More Than 5 Love Languages
Researchers show that people experience and express love in more than the five ways, or five key love languages, as defined by Chapman.
Other expressions of love are possible, such as the support of a partner’s autonomy and personal growth.
“We know that these things are really key for relationship satisfaction and might be more meaningful to couples with more egalitarian values,”Impett said.
“Just being nice to your mother-in-law, being on time for the opera, creating interests together, learning things together, doing novel things together. It’s a little different than just spending time together.”said Helen Fisher
3. Having the Same Love Language May Not Lead to Relationship Satisfaction
Chapman’s theory of love languages implies that learning the love language of a partner and speaking the same love language as your partner’s would lead to a successful relationship.
However, studies show that partners who have the same primary love languages do not necessarily have higher relationship satisfaction compared to those who have different love languages.
According to Emily Impett, research suggests that perceiving expressions of love in any form leads to high relationship satisfaction.
Family therapist Dr. Gottman, co-founder with his wife Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, is renowned for scientific relationship research. He expressed his doubts that learning your partner’s love language is a key to relationship happiness.
“My general conclusion is that these dimensions are not very distinct conceptually, nor are they very important in terms of accounting for variation in marital happiness and sexual satisfaction,”said Dr. Gottman.
Gottman believes that the idea of love languages focuses on the important question of partners’ needs and their satisfaction in a relationship:
“What can I do to make you feel more loved now, and help me understand where you are right now?”
Responding to all criticism, Chapman said that
“He understands that love languages aren’t “the answer to everything in marriage, for sure. But I think it could be a helpful tool for any individual or any couple that wants to enhance their relationship and especially meet each other’s need to feel loved.”