More about love languages

I’ve seen a few criticisms of the “love languages” concept recently, mostly in the form of people taking for granted that it’s a bad and useless concept.

And that keeps puzzling me, because the idea that different people have different modes and approaches that make them feel valued seems straightforwardly and obviously true to me.

I think that a lot of the disconnect is that when people criticize love languages, they’re often specifically criticizing the original version that Gary Chapman came up with and continues to promote, in which there are exactly five love languages, and everyone has exactly one primary love language, and an online quiz can tell you which one is your primary one, and so on.

But to me, the details of the Chapman model aren’t at all the important or interesting part. I’m fine with saying that Chapman’s model is wrong; I just think that the focus on Chapman’s model being wrong results in discarding the interesting and useful aspects of what I see as the core idea.

I elaborated on some of this in a 2019 blog post in which I listed a couple dozen kinds of interactions that I speculated could be seen as “value languages”—things that make someone feel valued.

I’m now looking at some articles from the past couple of years (links below) that talk about scientific studies refuting the idea of love languages. But here, too, what the studies are testing and refuting are mostly specific to Chapman’s model.

The one thing that I find really surprising about the studies is that at least some of them apparently indicate that most people rate all five of Chapman’s love languages equally. Part of why the “love languages” concept resonated so much for me when I first heard about it is that I do strongly feel that some of them are much more important to me than others. (For example, I actively dislike receiving gifts. Whereas physical touch is hugely important to me, and no, that’s not just a euphemism for sex.) And that’s been true of most friends who I’ve talked with about this stuff, too—my experience has been that different people tend to feel significantly more valued by some kinds of interaction than by other kinds.

So if it’s really true that most people rate all forms of interaction as equally important in making them feel loved/valued, then I guess I’m just an outlier. But I’m inclined to suspect that that’s not really true, and that what’s really going on in the research is that Chapman’s set of five is phrased so generally that different people interpret the category labels differently.

At any rate, one of the critics of the love languages concept, John Gottman, is quoted in one of the articles as saying that the important question is really this: “What can I do to make you feel more loved now, and help me understand where you are right now?”

But to me, the underlying idea of these love/value languages is just a generalization of that question—it’s asking “What kinds of things tend in general to make you feel loved/valued,” which I feel can provide useful patterns and guidance to avoid having to ask the more-specific “right now” version of the question all the time.

(Note: This topic is a little tense-making for me, and I feel a little defensive about it, because I brought it up in couples therapy shortly before Mary Anne broke up with me. So please try to be gentle in your comments here, especially if you feel the need to criticize the ideas I’m talking about or this post.)


See also the comments on the Facebook version of this post.

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