Forget the Five Love Languages — Only One Matters
Forget the Five Love Languages...
Only One Matters
Since 1995, people have been drooling over Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. According to Chapman's book, each of us has a primary love language, and it has to be one of the following:
- Words of Affirmation;
- Quality Time;
- Receiving Gifts;
- Acts of Service; or
- Physical Touch
Chapman's theory has seeped into our society so deeply that "love languages" have become common talking points for couples, the model is the cornerstone of many marital counseling programs, and the book has remained a New York Times "Best Seller" since the summer of 2009. The five concepts are easy to understand and the model feels good. It's comfortable. But at some point during the cultural Kool-Aid party, we should pause and think critically.
In looking at the "Five Love Languages" and considering our personal experiences, we should question whether this finite list is capable of capturing the full vocabulary of human love. More specifically, are there expressions ("love languages," if you will) that are not covered in this list? What's missing?
What about protection? What about attention? Statements of respect? Acts of vulnerability? Times of spiritual support? Confidence? Guidance? Tolerance? Humility? Trust? Patience? Excitement? Compassion? Humor? Emotional presence? Obedience?
I'm sure you could add to this list. And, now that you're thinking about it, I'm sure you will. In considering what's missing, it quickly becomes clear that Chapman's "Five Love Languages" lack many tremendous and common expressions of love.
Limiting love to only five primary expressions is simply a gross oversimplification. It's similar to restricting color to only Roy G. Biv; it seems comprehensive until you start mixing things up and getting colors like white, black, brown, and all the Crayola colors. If you're limiting yourself to only five love languages, you're going to find yourself with a limited emotional vocabulary, which will impact both your expression and your understanding of others. While Chapman's five languages often are expressions of love, they're not the love languages.
Nevertheless, while Chapman may have failed to accurately define the love languages, I believe he hit upon a truth: It is utterly important to understand that people express and receive love in different ways. And, like Chapman, I too believe that there is an underlying means through which we express love. I believe we can understand it, define it, speak it, and become fluent in it.
But notice that I said "it" — not "them."
I believe there is one universal love language: Enthusiastic involvement.
True expressions of love always center on this. It must be enthusiastic, in the sense of being emotionally-invested and intentional. The enthusiasm of love comes from love's sincere passion. And it must result in involvement. Involvement can take many forms (five of which are captured in Chapman's book). Whether such involvement is cerebral, physical, tangible, spiritual, or something else, it always leads to a definable sacrifice of energy on behalf of the one you love.
Enthusiastic involvement is the Tower of Babel of love languages; it's the source from which all other love languages flow. Even Chapman's five love languages are meaningless without enthusiastic involvement. For instance, quality time isn't "quality" unless it is rooted in active, enthusiastic involvement from both parties. Physical touch without enthusiasm and intentional involvement generally leads to frustration and hurt.
When a grocery store gives me a cake, I don't feel that they love me. But when a friend excitedly labors to give me a cake, the gift means something. The gift giving isn't the real love language. The true, underlying love is expressed through the enthusiastic involvement of the giver. A gift given either begrudgingly or without personal involvement isn't an expression of love.
All true expressions of love share in both genuine enthusiasm and personal involvement. We all know it. When you attend the funeral of a loved one, that act of love doesn't fit neatly inside any of Chapman's "Five Love Languages," but it's an expression of your love for that person. When you eagerly tell a co-worker about an accomplishment of your spouse; when you provide guidance to your child while they're facing a difficulty; when you take the time to learn a song because your friend likes it; when you put forth the effort to actually seduce your spouse; when you text an unsolicited business idea to a friend; when you take the time to independently learn about the industry of your spouse's career — all of these things can be expressions of love if they're rooted in enthusiastic involvement.
Enthusiastic involvement is a choice. Choices require intentionality. Intentionality requires mindfulness. The more you focus on living in an enthusiastically involved way, the more you will find yourself surrounded by love. Your friends and family will become more acutely aware of your love for them, and those who are capable will reciprocate your feelings. All you have to do is choose to become enthusiastically involved.