Acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch. If you’ve gotten this far in your life without being able to recognize these pop-culture pillars of modern relationship meta-narratives, we’d be quite impressed. These five “love languages” for understanding how people express and receive love are everywhere — from Tinder bios to residence hall programs around the country.
The concept appears to make sense — if you and your partner understand how you each give and accept love, you’ll be more compatible, and your relationship will be more satisfying as a whole. Right?
As it turns out, not necessarily.
Sure, there’s something immensely sweet about the idea of being able to speak your partner’s language. But using love languages to determine compatibility yields lukewarm results.
Some early investigations of love languages and relationship satisfaction concluded that knowing the partner’s primary love language doesn’t do much in either the short-term or long-term: Studies found both having the same love language as your partner and just being aware of your partner’s love language were not enough to achieve a satisfying relationship.
“We wanted to go with something that is more scientifically based and empirically valid. Even the guy who made the five love languages, Gary Chapman, said that they aren’t used to predict relationship compatibility and satisfaction,” says Joy Zheng, a researcher on the Marriage Pact questionnaire team.
“They instead are a tool you use in order to adapt and grow together as people. Love languages aren’t the be-all, end-all of whether or not your relationship will be successful, but they’re more a method you can use.”
In addition to the mixed results found in relationship science literature, the Marriage Pact Questionnaire team was hesitant to include the concept into the overall framework of the questionnaire for even more challenges the core concept introduced:
“There are a lot of reasons why we couldn’t include love language questions on the Questionnaire,” said Zheng.
“There’s very limited real estate on the questionnaire as is. . . so even if we were to ask one question for each love language, that’s already taking up a significant number of questions all for one framework.”
“They’re also not essential deal-breakers, right? One reason why we devoted so many questions to substance use — we have four of them — is because substance use can be a huge deal-breaker, and love languages really aren’t.”
Despite their mixed empirical value, love languages continue to live on one of many pop psychology-concepts-turned-cultural-phenomenon.
“People are so able to believe in the validity of love languages because they’re so intuitive. They’re a very practical thing you can apply to your life. When you think about them, you’re like, ‘oh, of course, I like to hear words of affirmation! ... It also sells this idea that ‘hey, if you speak this person’s love language, you’ll feel a connection and be better partners together.’”
“People subscribe to this because it’s a simple method of trying to better their relationship in a way that’s not too deep. It’s not as much of an investment as other ways of trying to improve your relationship satisfaction such as changing your entire way of life or adapting to theirs. It’s much easier to employ.”
Marriage Pact sets itself apart from other pop psychology trends by pulling away from other simple-to-sell concepts like MBTI, love languages, and horoscopes in favor of a personality test that doesn’t look to retrofit users into a given category.
“In other popular personality tests, it’s easy to categorize people, whether someone is a Libra or is an ENFP. There’s a limited selection of personalities,” Zheng said.
“The way that Marriage Pact really sets us apart from everyone else is that we don’t try to categorize people into exact profiles. We’re not looking to put you in a box — our questionnaire lets you express your values and your personality and so many aspects of you because we’re trying to understand you as a whole person ... it’s less limiting.”