April 23, 2024

Science – “The Five Love Languages”: Popular – and Problematic – Knowledge

Berlin (dpa) – What means more to you: when your partner takes time for you or kisses you? When he gives you a gift or does the laundry? More than 34 million people around the world have answered questions like this to find out which of the “five love languages” is really theirs.

The assumptions behind the relationship test come from Gary Chapman, a pastor and couples counselor from the USA, whose book of the same name, published in 1992, has become a zeitgeist phenomenon over the past 30 years. There are millions of videos on this topic on social media platforms like Tiktok, and many people use love languages ​​as conversation starters for flirting on dating portals.

But what actually lies behind the preferred love language thesis? Is it true that it is better for partners to have the same thing in order to be happy together?

At least Chapman is convinced of that. Accordingly, every person “speaks” one of the five love languages ​​and expresses his affection either with tenderness, praise, appreciation, help, solidarity, or through gifts. If one partner places special importance on tenderness such as hugs or kisses, while the other primarily wants help in the form of support around the house, according to Chapman, it is as if they are speaking a foreign language to each other. According to this logic, relationship problems are almost inevitable.

“There is no evidence for Chapman's theories.”

Both couple therapists and relationship scientists criticize the concept of love languages. One of them is Amy Moyes. The psychologist from York University in Canada, along with two colleagues, put Chapman's central claims to the test and compared them with the results of ten experimental studies. Her conclusion in an interview with the German news agency: “We have found no evidence to support Chapman’s theories.”

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To find out your love language, you take the Chapman test – but it pits love languages ​​against each other in the form of either/or questions. “However, the researchers asked study participants to continuously rate individual items such as affection or gifts. They did not have to choose, but were able to express how important the individual items were to them,” Moyes explains.

The result: “People rate all five elements of love languages ​​as very important. This makes sense. What would an intimate partnership be without one-on-one time—that is, togetherness—or gestures of affection like gifts or touches?” That's why, Moyes' advice, you shouldn't take the test too seriously – its result isn't necessarily your preferred way to be liked.

Overall, Chapman's metaphor for love languages ​​doesn't fit, Moyes and her colleagues say. “We think it's helpful to think of love as a balanced diet. All components are important.” However, Chapman did not even mention some of these ingredients, Moyes wrote. Accordingly, there are other behaviors that contribute to relationship satisfaction, such as developing effective strategies for dealing with conflicts or being willing to integrate your partner into your own social network.

A couples therapist recommends other terms

The “five love languages” are a static concept, says couples therapist Neil Sehrt. “It means we are going in one direction and will stay the same. But that is not the case. Neuroplasticity, the ability to learn and change, stays with us throughout our lives.” That's why it's important to keep updating each other about the needs and feelings in the relationship.

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You can use love languages ​​as starting points. Sehrt recommends different terms than Chapman: “intimacy rather than tenderness, appreciation rather than praise and recognition, commitment rather than assistance, prioritization rather than teamwork, and attentive cooperation rather than gifts.”

This is also how Muise wants to understand the “Five Love Languages”: as a fun way to talk to your partner about what you might be craving.

However, if the concept is misunderstood as a basis for making decisions when dating, for example, it can certainly be associated with risks. “There is no evidence that partners who have the same love language are happier together than couples who do not match in this regard,” says the scientist.

Muise also finds it difficult to support Chapman's assumptions, the idea that you just have to find a partner who is as compatible as possible – and thus immune to problems. “We know from research that relationships require a lot of work and commitment, and that people with this mindset are better able to deal with challenges than people who believe in pre-determined relationships.”

“Relationships are lived more individually.”

What both Moise and Cyert mainly criticize about Chapman is his lack of psychological training and the couples' style on which his theory is based. They were all married, religious, heterosexual, and most likely shared similar traditional values.

“His concept uses stereotypes like: women want gifts. The book dates back to 1992, but nowadays relationships are lived more individually,” Sehrt assesses. “It's no longer about meeting all of each other's needs – after all, there are needs that a partner can't meet that can otherwise be fulfilled consensually.”

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But why are the “5 Love Languages” still so popular that even participants in dating shows like Netflix’s “Love is Blind” point out them? “People like intuitive metaphors that help them understand relationships,” Moyes says. “And they like to take tests to learn about themselves.” For her as a relationship scientist, this means one thing above all: “The public is almost hungry for information about how to have a good relationship.”

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