Hot take: I’m not a huge fan of this famous relationship self-help book.
Whaaaaat? Yep. I said it.
I do think it’s helpful–and necessary in most cases–to communicate to your partner when and how to show you love, but I don’t think these actions alone are going to make or break your relationship.
When we’re feeling disconnected and dissatisfied in love, we need to look deeper than this. We need to communicate our feelings and fears–and our partner needs to be able to listen while showing us empathy and acceptance.
Trust me– when we’re communicating on this level, whether your partner remembered to do the dishes or not isn’t going to matter as much.
5 Love Languages
First published in 1995, The Five Love Languages continues to be a highly recommended relationship self-help book. It’s a shorter read aiming to reconnect couples by helping them acknowledge that they may be speaking different languages when it comes to showing their love.
The idea being, we may be showing our partner love regularly, just not in the way they want to receive love. This can keep us both stuck; feeling like we’re showering our partner with love while receiving nothing in return.
Chapman writes that there are 5 main love languages: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. All we need to do is learn our partner’s love language and communicate on that level.
Sounds helpful, right? So what’s the big problem, you ask?
My beef with the book is that too many of my couples who have read the book use it to validate their DIFFERENCES.
Commonly heard in my office:
“I just really need words of affirmation and my partner likes physical touch. We’re so different! I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to meet each other’s needs.”
If we are hurting in our relationships, focusing on our differences can really keep us stuck. I like to look deeper than our differences—finding the similarities and commonalities that keep us connected.
In other words, instead of trying to speak a NEW love language, let’s try to speak the language we both share.
Words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch are all wonderful ways to show love—most of us enjoy a mixture of these love languages in our relationship.
Underneath the desire to have our partner show us love in this way, is the longing for more connection. This is a human desire: to feel connected to the people who are most important to us. Loving someone is a vulnerable act and we can need reassurance that we are understood, accepted and loved back. This longing for connection is the shared experience we have in common.
Before requesting acts of love, we need to be comfortable communicating openly with our partner about our vulnerable feelings: our love, our fears, our hopes, and what we need emotionally.
When we’re not communicating on a deeper level with our partner, they can do all the acts of service or words of affirmation in the world and the connection might still feel empty.
Once we can acknowledge our deeper feelings, share these with our partner and feel really understood, the other needs we have come much more naturally—and feel genuine.
Here’s a quick example to show how we can get stuck by focusing on actions when we really need deeper communication:
Ron has been feeling disconnected in his relationship lately. He has noticed that Hermione hasn’t been spending as much quality time with him lately. He goes to her and says, “Remember when we read 5 Love Languages? I need more quality time.” They decide to go on a date that Friday. It goes well, but Ron still feels disconnected and can’t figure it out.
What’s going on with Ron? Well now that you ask, he’s recently had some health issues that are causing him some anxiety. Additionally, he didn’t get offered the promotion he was up for at work. Hermione has been focused on her work and hasn’t noticed that he’s been in a bad mood lately.
When Ron asks for the dinner date, she happily obliges, but remains clueless that Ron is hurting inside. Ron needs more than some quality time together, he needs to open up about his stress and to feel supported by Hermione. When they are able to do that, Ron will truly feel less alone in the relationship.
I don’t want to completely knock The 5 Love Languages. Showing love to our partner through daily action is so important. It’s just not the whole story—and sometimes we need to go a little bit deeper and open up in order to get the love we really want.