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The 5 love languages – Science versus the need to be loved

The 5 love languages – Science versus the need to be loved

If you’ve ever explored ways to enhance your romantic relationships, you’ve likely come across the concept of love languages. Introduced by Gary Chapman 30 years ago, it theorizes how people express and receive love. However, scientific scrutiny questions its validity.

Some argue that relying on love languages may be detrimental, possibly keeping individuals in challenging or abusive relationships. A recent paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science reviewed the scientific literature and found that fundamental assumptions about love languages lack solid empirical support.

More info about the 5 love languages

Chapman’s book, ‘The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts’, has sold over 20 million copies since its 1992 release and has been translated into 50 languages. The core idea is that individuals perceive love differently, and understanding your partner’s love language is crucial for a successful relationship.

Love languages include words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. In response to scientific scrutiny, Chapman emphasized the book’s success and the positive impact reported by millions of readers on their relationships.

Is it rooted in science or popular culture?

Academic research on love languages is limited, prompting Impett and her co-authors, Haeyoung Gideon Park and Amy Muise, to investigate existing literature. Their examination revealed that certain fundamental assumptions associated with ‘love languages’ lack support from relationship science.

The following presents their findings.

01. Individuals don’t typically possess a singular primary love language.

Identifying a primary love language is a central concept in Chapman’s book. However, studies using a 5-point scale consistently show that people tend to rate all five love languages highly, suggesting a broad connection with multiple languages.

In reality, individuals often don’t face trade-offs between different expressions of love, challenging the idea of a distinct ‘primary’ love language, according to researcher Impett. Psychologist Sara Algoe suggests that if this assumption is flawed, it undermines much of the advice based on finding a primary love language.

02. Love languages extend beyond the count of five

Chapman asserts five love languages, but research suggests that humans express love in various ways beyond these. In their review, Impett and her colleagues propose additional expressions of love, like supporting personal growth and autonomy.

Factors such as conflict management strategies and social integration also contribute to relationship satisfaction. Relationship experts, including Helen Fisher, note numerous significant behaviors that don’t neatly fit into specific love language categories, such as being considerate to family, shared interests, and engaging in novel experiences together.

03. Aligning on a common love language might not enhance your relationship

The practical implication of love languages implies that sharing the same language is crucial for relationship success. However, research indicates that partners with matching primary love languages don’t necessarily report higher satisfaction.

Rigorous statistical analyses suggest that receiving love expressions in any form correlates with increased relationship satisfaction, regardless of language alignment.

John Gottman, a pioneer in relationship research, is skeptical about the significance of learning your partner’s love language for relationship happiness, emphasizing the lack of distinctiveness and importance in explaining marital happiness and sexual satisfaction.

Is it possible for 20 million readers to be mistaken?

Chapman, with degrees in anthropology and a doctorate in adult education, developed the five love languages after a decade of counseling couples as a pastor. While not a researcher, he notes significant positive feedback over 30 years, with 133 million people taking the quiz online.

Chapman asserts the enduring nature of a primary love language for most individuals, acknowledging exceptions during certain life stages. Despite criticism, he emphasizes the flexibility of his concept and remains open to the possibility of a sixth love language. He believes that while all five languages are valid, feeling loved depends on one’s primary language, even if other languages are spoken.

Is it time to abandon the concept of love languages?

Impett hopes that research challenging love languages can spark conversations about various relationship needs. Brian Swope, a marriage and family therapist, notes clients discussing love languages in therapy, prompting couples to ask important questions and initiate change.

However, Gottman believes the focus on love languages misses the crucial inquiry of how to make a partner feel more loved.

While Chapman acknowledges love languages aren’t a cure-all, he sees them as a useful tool for individuals or couples seeking to enhance their relationship and fulfill each other’s need for love.