The Love Language Lie

girl points to clock

When someone loves you, they have the time. But is that really true? The Five Love Languages disputes this notion, claiming that there are five equal ways to love. According to their creator, Gary Chapman, instead of having the time for you, a lover might shower you with compliments instead.  

The Five Love Languages are a famous framework for understanding how your partner best gives and receives love. Supposedly, once you understand that your partner loves gifts and s/he learns that you want constant touch, you’ll be happy. An oversimplification but you get the gist.

The five love languages are:

·      Physical touch

·      Quality time

·      Words of Affirmation

·      Acts of Service

·      Gift giving

My fear is that this framework has become the justification for undesirable behaviour. Recently, I’ve heard friends talk about their partners having different love languages to them. They use this to explain away absence and aloofness instead of just calling it out: A lack of interest.

I believe that the Love Languages have the potential to improve a relationship. But this only works if both people identify their partner’s preferences and accommodate them. More often than not, I think people do not acknowledge and fulfil the other’s needs, by simply holding their hands more or bringing them small gifts. Instead, people start to undermine their own feelings. Deep down, they don’t feel right. But they falsely attribute this to a difference in communication style. That is not a language barrier; that’s a lack of love.

My second issue with Chapman’s theory is that each “language” is given equal weight. When, of course, time is the most precious resource of all. Money can be spent but more can be earned. You can’t win, buy or regain time – it is the essence of our finite existence. When someone does not have time for you, they have time for something else. We all have twenty-four hours in a day; their priorities may simply not align with yours. Or may not be you.

Just in case you doubt me on this, science has my back. This magnetism I’m describing is also seen in prairie voles, according to Robert Liu, an associate professor in the department of biology at Emory University. “As a prairie vole forms a social bond with another individual, they actually prefer to spend more time with that individual,” he said. Yes, I know humans aren’t prairie voles! But they do like to spend large amounts of time with the people they adore.

Rather than view them as five equal forms of communication, I believe that the Languages should be re-designed similar to the food pyramid. Time is like vegetables, the biggest chunk of the pyramid – the foundation upon which all other gestures can be laid.  (Goodness knows that the Healthy Eating Pyramid needs updating but I am using it for a simple analogy – let’s save talk of dairy lobbyists for another time.)

Quality time is the biggest indicator of someone’s care and attraction. They want to spend time with you. They like your being. All the other languages are hollow acts without quality time underpinning them.

The Love Languages have taken on gospel status. They are a very interesting way to conceptualise romantic* expression. But they ignore the very basis of love – the desire to spend time together. Designed to better romantic connections, if not looked at critically, the Love Languages can actually form the basis of a very unhealthy relationship.  Make like a prairie vole but for goodness sake, do not Google them.


*Love Languages also apply in the workplace. Although unsurprisingly, Physical Touch does not make the list.

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