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Enough with the Love Languages

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a book and concept that says each person has a primary love language they most prefer and respond to. The language we like to give can be different from what we like to receive, and these can also differ from our partner's. The Love Languages laid out are:

  1. Physical Touch

  2. Quality Time

  3. Words of Affirmation

  4. Acts of Service

  5. Gift Giving

This concept has become the new personality test and it's become shorthand for ways we like to describe ourselves in relationship. I've seen the rise in people using it as identifiers and it's become part of our cultural knowledge, hell I've done many a presentation on them. However where many couples go wrong, is treating the love languages as if they are fixed truths about themselves. It's important to remember that the concept of love languages was never designed as a scientific model, but it was designed by a religious pastor who simply claimed the title as a relationship therapist within his church so the research behind it is questionable at best. The love languages offers us a structure to talk about our needs and normalise having different needs from our partners. However it's not the entire frame - it's just a starting point.

There's so much more to love than a series of five dot-points. Beyond that, there's so much more to ourselves and our identity. We're human - we're fluid, dynamic and beyond any five point structure and that applies to many of the diagnoses and therapy-speak we find cropping up in our everyday conversations. There is so much hype around finding the narcissists and gaslighters in your life, asserting your boundaries and developing a secure attachment style. I understand it, I did an undergrad in psychology solely so I could do more personality tests and figure myself out so I get the appeal probably more than most. However I have the privilege as a relationship therapist of seeing this play out through a variety of lenses and intimate relationships. I can and have seen it used for point-scoring, for avoiding taking responsibility and in order to distract from bigger underlying issues like communication, vulnerability or intimacy.

Integrating therapy-speak into our cultural knowledge and into our everyday conversations is a monumental step in increasing accessibility to what is a failing healthcare and economic system. Sharing this knowledge and resources is a game-changer for those who cannot access therapy or mental health services for whatever reason. However in doing so through the power of the Internet, there is a sincere lack of nuance and understanding of the gray zones that can exist in these topics like boundaries or gaslighting. It adopts an all-or-nothing mentality that can do more harm than good because the human experience exists in these gray zones. The Queer Collective have also done a great episode on this which I recommend, called Is Therapy-Speak Ruining our Relationships.

Does this mean I'll stop using the love languages? Absolutely not. The reality is that the love languages as per Gary Chapman are starting points and necessary ingredients to any good relationship. It offers a great place to begin understanding one's needs and wants in a relationship, and to remember that they don't have to and probably won't align with our partner's because we're separate human beings. We can use the love languages as a launch pad for deeper conversations and that it should be an expectation to be talked about openly within our relationships and to even revisit the conversation every now and then. The ways you like to give and receive love will evolve throughout your lifetime, and we need to be having regular conversations about it.


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