The Love Language Barrier

collage of a couple, old-school telephones, and the shrug emoji

The 5 Love Languages have taken the world by storm. This simple system developed by Gary Chapman claims that you can demonstrate and receive love in five different ways: acts of service, gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, and physical touch. Everyone appreciates a certain degree of each, and by speaking your partner’s unique combination of these languages, your relationship will be better. 

Because it’s so intuitive, anyone can implement it. If your partner’s primary love language is acts of service, do the dishes for them and fold the laundry. If it’s physical touch, hold their hands or hug them to make them feel loved. Regardless of the system’s intuitive nature though, there is still academic debate on the true validity of this model.

Some criticize it as a piece of pop psychology that lacks basis in research. One study of 250 couples found no correlation between the 5 Love Languages and marital satisfaction. However, cross-cultural differences are cited as a reason that the model fails. Even though the languages are supposed to be a “universal” model of love, expressions of love can vary widely based on different societal and cultural norms. For example, public display of affection is something that is acceptable in most Western cultures, but in some places such as Dubai, hugging your partner in public is not only frowned upon, but against the law.

On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that the 5 Love Languages do correlate with relationship quality, to an extent. In a cross-cultural study with an Indonesian sample, it was concluded that some statements were indeed valid in measuring one’s love language. For example, “I feel elated when I hear my partner say that he/she admires me” for words of affirmation or “I feel that it is something romantic to be helped by partner to do some tasks” for acts of service. Couples who share similar love language combinations were also found to experience less distress in their relationship than those who don’t. 

So, what does this mean for Chapman’s 5 Love Languages? Should we disregard it as pseudoscience? Not completely. Most people treat it as if it is black-and-white — they think that if their partner doesn’t have their exact preferred love language configuration, they’re just simply not compatible. 

However, that isn’t the intended interpretation of the model. Instead, love languages can play a great role in maintaining an already existing relationship. For example, people who think that their partner is speaking their primary love language tend to feel greater feelings of satisfaction and love. Chapman himself recommends that if your natural love languages happen to differ, you should learn your partner’s love language and actively act on them. While we take the idea that the 5 Love Languages are a sign of compatibility with a grain of salt here at The Marriage Pact, there might be something to it when applying it to your relationships that already exist. It might be worth it to learn your partner’s love language and have them learn yours. If anything, it’s a good exercise in better communication.