Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Just in case you’ve never heard of it, this is a marriage book that proposes that all spouses communicate in one or two of five Love Languages (Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts and Acts of Service), and argues that we need to learn the “language” of our spouse in order to communicate our love to them in a way they’ll understand. According to Chapman, problems in marriage arise when spouses speak the wrong Languages to each other and no one ends up feeling (or “hearing”) love.

This book annoys me.

Firstly, it’s badly written. The short, choppy sentences are patronising and irritating to read.

Secondly, I find it hard to believe that Gary Chapman is actually able to solve all marriage problems for a couple in one conversation (often with strangers on planes or in carparks, it seems). If it was really that easy for him, he’d have no work.

Thirdly, it seems simplistic to say that all (or even most) marital conflict boils down to spouses not speaking the right Love Language to their mates. I can see how it could help, but the Love Languages philosophy seems to deal with superficial symptoms with a fake-it-til-you-make-it plan, rather than delve deeper to search for an underlying cause. It assumes that your spouse isn’t speaking your Language because he or she doesn’t know it, when sometimes, surely, it’s because he or she doesn’t care, and sometimes, surely, he or she doesn’t care even when you have been speaking their Language eloquently.

Perhaps I don’t love this book because I don’t feel a connection with one particular Love Language; I’m pretty sure I’m happy being “spoken to” in any of them. As much as I’d love to be able to give my husband a quick, “Just-clean-the-bathroom-and-I’ll-think-you’re-tops” solution, for me the Love Languages theory doesn’t completely capture how I think I “hear” love. Along with the gifts and cuddles and quality time, I want to feel fought for and respected and prioritised, and I’m not convinced that the last three always translate into the first. For me, at least.

Having said all of that, this book has made it to my list of Helpful Marriage Floaties for the simple reason that my hilarious, clever and handsome husband felt very much like he fit into the Words of Affirmation box (which makes him very much like every other man in the universe, we’ve since been told) and I appreciate the fact that I now have a tangible idea of things I can do to communicate my love to him (did I mention he’s clever and handsome and funny?).

Unfortunately I’m not very good at the whole affirming-words thing; it doesn’t often come naturally and so makes me feel self-conscious and awkward when I'm forcing myself to do it. A few weeks ago, just after we’d both finished reading this book, I decided to write my husband a note telling him how wonderful he is, but to save time I skipped a draft and just wrote straight on to the card. Reading back over what I’d written, I realised I’d overused the word “really” (as in three sentences in a row containing lines like, “You’re really great” and “You’re really nice” and I really like you*), so, thinking this would seem overdone and therefore lessen the impact of what I was trying to say, I crossed them all out. The final result was a card that looked like a passive-aggressive rant (“You’re really great”, I really like you) rather than a heartfelt declaration of my love (I did provide an explanation on the envelope in an effort to make my intention clear). As Gary Chapman would like me to say, “In time I’m hoping to become fluent in my husband’s Love Language.”

If you can look beyond the writing and listen to what Chapman says over the loud beeping of your Tall Poppy Radar, and if you think of this theory as a starting point rather than a solution to all of your marriage woes and realise that not all divorces are a result of a lack of Love Language knowledge/practice, this is a helpful book. And if you can’t, maybe just do the quiz at the end and save yourself a few hours.

*I didn’t actually say any of these things. In these words, at least.