Hadley’s intro: My marriage may have been saved
if my former husband and I had learned how to speak
each other’s love language to be sure we each felt loved.
Time for you to speak a new love language? Find out
why love languages have become a cultural phenomenon
as you read this guest post courtesy of the New York Times
These days, it seems as if everything is a love
For some, it’s iced coffee.
For others, it’s sarcasm.
Or a mechanized mattress.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts
once declared that policy was her love language.
For Drew Barrymore, it’s Giphy, the gif search
In the third season of the popular Netflix series
“You,” the murderous yet charming stalker Joe
Goldberg realizes that violence is his love
For some, Stanley Tucci is an entire love
Ariana Grande sang a whole song about her love
The Sixth Love Language Does Not Exist
The author of the seminal book on love languages
is surprised that the concept has become a
cultural phenomenon. But he still wants couples to
heed his advice.
By Alisha Haridasani Gupta Illustrations by Luis
It wasn’t always this way; there was a time when
the words “love” and “language” were
rarely combined and certainly not used as a
stand-alone noun. Then, three decades ago, Gary
Chapman, a 50-year-old Southern Baptist pastor
with a doctorate in adult education, introduced
the concept to the world with his seminal book,
“The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That
Lasts.” People have different ways of expressing
and understanding love, Dr. Chapman explained, and
in order to make your partner feel loved, you
simply need to speak that person’s language. As
the book’s introduction notes:
Your emotional love language and the language of
your spouse may be as different as Chinese from
English. No matter how hard you try to express
love in English, if your spouse understands only
Chinese, you will never understand how to love
Dr. Chapman based the five love languages on
anecdotal evidence he found while working as a
marriage counselor at his church for more than 20
years. They are words of affirmation (verbal
compliments), quality time (doing something
together and being focused in that moment),
receiving gifts (anything from a spontaneous
bouquet of flowers to more significant presents),
acts of service (helping your partner with chores
or cooking a meal) and physical touch (holding
hands, sex and everything in between).
In the years since the book was published, the
term “love languages” has been tossed around
with such abandon that it has become disconnected
from its creator. It has evolved into a cultural
phenomenon and shorthand for anything that brings
a person joy.
“As much as I knew about the love languages, I
did not know the person behind it,” said Kasey
Borger, a comedian who, with her fiancé, James
Folta, co-wrote a satirical list of new love
languages for the humor website McSweeney’s
(sample entry: “talking about your commute”).
“I didn’t even know his name,” she said.
The cultural explosion was also unexpected for Dr.
Chapman, who is now 80. “I’m as surprised as
you are,” he said in a recent interview. Despite
the enthusiasm, though, he doesn’t think anyone
has discovered a sixth love language.
To him, the memes all sound like “dialects”
— or versions — of the original five.
“I’ve seen some of those — you know, ‘The
sixth love language is tacos,’ and one guy said,
‘The sixth love language is chocolate,’” he
said. “Well, if they bought it, it’s a gift.
If they made it, it’s an act of service. I’m
not dogmatic, but I think most of the ways of
expressing love fit into one of these five.”
‘How Did You Know This About Me?’
About a year after graduating from Wheaton College
in 1960, Dr. Chapman got married — to Karolyn,
who, like him, grew up in China Grove, N.C., and
went to the same church. When they first met, Dr.
Chapman was actually dating her best friend.
In 1967, the couple moved to Winston-Salem, N.C.,
where Dr. Chapman became a pastor and started
offering adult education classes that covered
day-to-day advice on matters such as financial
planning. In those courses, he would discuss
marriage and family, and couples who were
struggling would often turn to him for advice, he
“I really got pushed into counseling,” he
said. “It was not even in my job description
when I became a pastor.”
As he was helping couples in his professional
life, his own marriage was difficult, Dr. Chapman
said. He and Ms. Chapman would get into heated
arguments over small things. Ms. Chapman, for
example, never closed drawers and cabinet doors,
which bugged him. And Ms. Chapman expected him to
do his fair share of chores around the house —
which Dr. Chapman did not do. “We knew nothing
about resolving conflict,” he added.
“I would tell her how nice she looked, how much
I appreciated everything she did, and I would tell
her, over and over, ‘I love you, I love you, I
love you,’” he said. “But one night she said
to me, ‘You keep saying, “I love you,” but
if you love me, why don’t you help me?’”
That was the eureka moment: Dr. Chapman realized
that what he appreciated in a relationship was
receiving compliments (or words of affirmation),
which he said he had gotten from his parents while
he was growing up. Those didn’t matter as much
to his wife; she valued acts of service. “A lot
of my counseling and writing has been influenced
by our experience,” he said.
He noticed that the couples who had sought his
help at church seemed to be having the same
problem: They did not know how to express love in
a way that the other person appreciated. In one of
the examples he included in the book, a woman came
into his office frustrated that her husband had
been procrastinating on painting their bedroom.
Dr. Chapman suggested: “The next time your
husband does anything good, give him a verbal
compliment. If he takes the garbage out, say,
‘Dan, I want you to know that I really
appreciate your taking the garbage out.’”
Three weeks later, she returned to his office to
tell him that their plan had worked. Her
husband’s love language was kind words and
Over time, Dr. Chapman gathered his notes and
looked for patterns. He found that what most
people said they needed from their partners fit
into the five broad buckets he would write about
in his book. And in October 1992, “The 5 Love
Languages” was born.
That first year, the book barely made a splash,
selling about 8,400 copies. But slowly, more and
more people started buying it. “My publisher
told me that every year it sells more than it did
the year before,” Dr. Chapman said. It has now
sold more than 20 million copies (including print,
e-book and audio versions), according to the
publishing company, Moody Publishers.
There are now half a dozen versions for a variety
of audiences — including “The 5 Love Languages
for Men,” “The 5 Love Languages of
Children,” “The 5 Love Languages Military
Edition” and even “The 5 Languages of
Appreciation in the Workplace.” Dr. Chapman
hosts a weekly hourlong podcast and “Marriage
Conferences,” daylong seminars in churches
around the United States, to help couples
understand the basics of the love languages.
Roughly 1,000 people attended his last conference
in April of this year, in Winston-Salem.
He devised a simple multiple-choice quiz to help
people understand their own and their partners’
love languages; Oprah Winfrey answered it live
during his appearance on “Oprah’s Lifeclass”
in 2013. When asked whether she would appreciate
it if her partner helped clean the house, Ms.
Winfrey paused. “I think cleaning the house is
number one, two and three of foreplay,” she told
an amused Dr. Chapman, seated next to her.
After just a few more questions, Ms. Winfrey’s
love language was revealed: words of affirmation.
“‘Kind, encouraging and positive words are
truly life-giving’ — so true; how did you know
this about me?” she asked him, seemingly echoing
what many couples have thought when taking the
Arming Couples With Words
Among other well-known couples therapists, opinion
of Dr. Chapman’s work is split. For Dr. Julie
Gottman, a clinical psychologist and a co-founder
of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, the book
“assumes that people don’t have the capacity
to learn different ways to express love.”
“The categories are superficial and rigid,”
she said. “People are much more flexible than
they are given credit for in ‘Love
Dr. Gottman used physical touch as an example. If
someone is uncomfortable with intimacy, she said
it would be important to understand why it makes
that person uncomfortable. “Maybe they were
touched too little in their early years, or they
were touched too much,” she said. “Maybe they
were physically or sexually abused.”
However, she added, there are ways of introducing
someone to touch in a way that feels safe and
affectionate and warm. Though physical touch might
not have been that person’s love language, it
might become one. People can evolve in terms of
how they express and receive love. The five
languages aren’t set in stone.
Another criticism of Dr. Chapman’s work is that
it’s entirely based on anecdotal observations of
the couples who turned to him for help, and to
date, scientific evidence to support his work
remains sparse. And his educational background and
doctorate are in anthropology and adult education,
not psychology. “That’s what drives me
nuts,” Dr. Gottman said.
For Dr. Orna Guralnik, the plain-talking star
psychologist of the Showtime series “Couples
Therapy,” the lack of scientific evidence
isn’t a deal breaker. “It’s what we call
face validity — if it wasn’t useful for
people, if it didn’t tap into something that
matters, it would have disappeared,” she said.
Many of the couples who have come to Dr. Guralnik
for therapy have either read Dr. Chapman’s book
or have a cursory knowledge of the theory, she
said. But to her, the love languages are a
MacGuffin: a vessel, usually an unimportant or
seemingly random object, used in fiction to move
the plot forward. The five categories themselves
are not as important as what the overall theory
signals to people — that “their own frame of
mind is not the way their partner is processing
Though the literature isn’t robust, some
researchers have started to set their sights on
Dr. Chapman’s books, publishing their work in
peer-reviewed outlets. In 2006, a study found that
the concept of five disconnected love languages
was difficult to confirm. Instead, the study
suggests that individuals are more likely to use
all five languages, at varying levels, and not
just one or another.
In another study, published this year, researchers
at the University of Warsaw in Poland recruited
100 couples between the ages of 17 and 58 who had
been together for at least six months and asked
them to rank their preferences out of the five
(rather than singling out one love language) and
their relationship satisfaction. The researchers
found that couples who seemed to speak each
other’s love languages — meaning individuals
who preferred expressing love in the ways that
their partners preferred to receive it —
reported having greater relationship satisfaction.
They also found that not only did people want
their partners to communicate with them in their
own love languages, but also that when you speak
your partners’ love language, it “makes you
more happy in the relationship,” said Maciej
Stolarski, one of the authors of the paper.
Last August, the Chapmans celebrated their 60th
wedding anniversary. They went for dinner to the
same local restaurant in Winston-Salem that they
go to every year — an upscale steak house, where
they often order their favorites (steak for Dr.
Chapman, salmon for Ms. Chapman).
It took just a couple of years for the Chapmans to
figure out how to overcome their initial marriage
troubles, Dr. Chapman said. Now, Ms. Chapman,
though still inclined to keep drawers open, is Dr.
Chapman’s unofficial editor, reading and
cleaning up his manuscripts before he sends them
to his publisher. She also helps keep him
grounded. “I tell people, ‘Don’t tell him
he’s famous,’” she said.
And Dr. Chapman has learned to do more around the
house, including all the post-dinner cleanup, his
wife said. “He’s very good at it,” she added.
“I just walk out of the kitchen now.”
Speaking a new love language may create happy, sexy love