christianity ethics general

languages of love?

In 1992, Gary Chapman published the first edition of ‘The Five Love Languages‘, which is a well-known book in Christian circles. It offers 5 very practical ways of understanding how your mate shows affection.

  1. Quality Time
  2. Words of Affirmation
  3. Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

I don’t want to disagree with his 5 points, because I think they are quite helpful, but I do want to share some further thoughts I’ve had about them.


First of all, the title of the book –in my quite picky opinion!– should have been ‘The Five Affection Languages’. Love is a robust and rich of a thing, and I’m nervous about it being described in a 5-point way. Love has less to do with the way someone shows affection, and more to do with maintaining relationship with a person no matter how well (or not!) they show affection.

Again, it’s not that I disagree with the 5 points, it’s just that I think they aren’t really ‘Love’ languages, but rather they are more ‘affection’ languages. In this sense, discovering your own ‘language’ and your partners ‘language’ can still be a really helpful thing, but simply because you have increased your understanding of their personality and preferences.

Too much of a good thing?

Secondly, I think each of the 5 points needs to be understood with a grain of salt, so to speak. Each of these personality and preference points are good things, but you can have too much of a good thing. Furthermore, I suspect we have a tendency to fall back on our ‘personality’ to excuse uncaring, lazy or unthoughtful gestures. You can imagine someone saying ‘I’m just not a thoughtful person’ or ‘Thoughtfulness is not my love language.’ I’ll give examples for each…

Quality Time. This is the ‘language’ of spending time with someone. And yes, spending quality, meaningful time with one another is essential to a good relationship. But perhaps we’ve all seen people who place their relationship with their partner so highly that they neglect other relationships – family, friends, work relationships, etc. Again, the quality time thing is great – but too much of this ‘love language’ can be un-loving.

Words of Affirmation. This is the ‘language’ of verbally expressing positive affirmation. And yes, all too often, we are quicker to complain than praise. Indeed, making the effort to verbalise your appreciation can be a powerful thing. But this too can be problematic if not balanced. Honesty and straightforwardness are just as vital to a relationship as praise and compliments.

Gifts. This is the ‘language’ of expressing affection by way of giving gifts. And yes, spending money on someone shows that they mean something to you. And some people might appreciate giving and/or receiving gifts more than others – that’s fine. But this can be an excuse for simply spending too much money and being too materialistic. This is the ‘love language’ of consumerism, and Christians would do well to speak this language with appropriate caution.

Acts of Service. This is the ‘language’ of expressing affection by way of doing things for the other person. And yes, this is a more-than-valid way of showing affection. But some caution is needed. For example, I might use my lack of this ‘language’ to excuse my hesitance to help with the house-hold chores or cooking dinner, etc. In a sense, serving each other is not an optional ‘language’, but a very real responsibility for all relationships.

Physical Touch. This is the ‘language’ of expressing affection by physical touch. And yes, a hug, a kiss, running your fingers through your partners hair and of course sex itself can ‘say things’ that words perhaps can’t. But this ‘language’ can be used to manipulate your partner – i.e. ‘I know you’re tired, honey, but physical touch is my main love language…‘ Physicality is not love.

So there you have it. These five ‘languages’ are helpful ways of understanding what your partner prefers, but Love itself is more to do with putting your preferences aside. (In a sense, a later chapter in the book –‘Loving the Unlovely‘– is the most important chapter in the entire book.) Also, these ‘languages’ are best understood as areas of essential relational activity.

No cop-outs allowed. No excuses: ‘Well, that’s not my love language, so it’s hard for me to do that…‘ and no manipulation: ‘Well, that’s my love language, so if you love me you will do that…‘ Love makes no excuses. Love does not manipulate. Love transcends language.