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Five love languages aren't enough

In 2005, a guy with an obsession for the number five wrote a book called "The Five Love Languages."

The premise of the book is pretty straightforward, and in hindsight reasonable; different people express love and affection in different ways. The author, Gary Chapman, went on to start an entire empire around the notion, and has even trademarked the phrase "five love languages™". Since then, he's continued on to explore the number five in other aspects of human interpersonal relationships; there's a new book out or coming out or something called "The Five Languages of Apology."

Which is all well and good, as far as it goes, but I'm a little skeptical about the number five. Why would there be five different ways to express love and also five different ways to apologize? Why not four or six or seventeen? Is it because five is half of ten, and we human beings have a deep sense of emotional resonance with the number ten? Is it because the number five has some sort of magical connection with the ways we interact with each other? Is it just a load of bollocks, and five happened to be the number of ways that Mr. Chapman could think up off the top of his head?

I suspect the answer is the latter. According to Chapman, the five l"love languages"--the five ways that people express love for one another--are words of affirmation, spending quality time together, giving or receiving gifts, giving or receiving acts of service, and physical touch.

And to be fair, there's some merit in that list. I know people who express affection in each of those ways, and for someone whose preferred way of expressing affection is, say, through words of affirmation, giving gifts might not be as effective. (I personally don't care much for gifts, giving or receiving, but physical touch is very important to me.)

Problem is, I think that folks have built a religion around the notion that there are exactly five and only five love languages, and I think the reality is that the list is woefully incomplete. There are at least three more that are important to me, and I bet there are still more important to other people.

The three that are missing for me are:

Creating together. This is not the same as "quality time." It is, instead, the act of bringing another person into the process of making something new, which for me is an extraordinarily intimate thing. When I have created something with someone, I am quite likely to feel much greater intimacy for that person; the birthing of something new is something that's powerful to me, and sharing it is an expression of love.

The thing itself, once created, becomes a tangible representation of that love. There's something incredibly powerful in being able to see and touch and hold a thing that would not have existed save for the act of will I've shared with another person in bringing it to life.

Nesting together. I would not have guessed this about myself before I moved to Portland. The making of a shared space with zaiah has been something that I feel very strongly about. It's not an expression if love in the creation of the space, although there's something of that in there as well; it's about having that space, which I share with a partner, that carries with it each of our unique signatures.

I've lived with partners before, and even built a house with a partner, but that was different; those spaces did not carry our own personal touches the way the home I'm building now does.

Sex. Anyone who thinks that "sex" is merely a spacial case of "physical touch" doesn't have sex the way I do. Past a certain point, physical touch alone isn't enough to carry the day. There is a unique kind of vulnerability in sex that is absent from any other kind of touch, and that unique vulnerability, at least for me, carries a tremendous ability to create intimacy.

Note that "sex" in this context does not necessarily imply sticking tab A into slot B. Sex is highly contextual; in the right context, whipping is sex. It's not the slippery bits touching; it's the thing that we become when I'm sharing sexual intimacy with a partner, or partners. When I have sex, especially good sex, I let down barriers that other sorts of touch don't pass through.

And, like I said, I bet there are others as well that Mr. Chapman, in his near-religious fixation on the number five, has missed. Got any more? I want to hear 'em!


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 12th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Adding To The Mix: Intimacies
different people express love and affection in different ways

Your 3rd extra aka 8th language o' love brings up what, to me, matters just as much as - if not more than - expressions o' love & affection: shared intimacies. Sharing intimacies & being intimate (close, trusting, open/vulnerable, yourself) - all this is a big part o' what's good 'bout love/caring to me.

Along w/the trad'l (or at least oft-listed ;-) four (4) intimacies: SEIP (Spiritual - I'm still trying to figure out what this means...but think when I'm out in Nature w/a love this is the closest I get to it, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical), there're different intimacies shared in problem-solving, crisis (surviving and dealing with), creation (your 1st extra/#4), and s'more I've forgotten.

That being said, it seems as if your "Creating together" (#4/your 1st extra) could be lumped under "Quality time," as it describes at least one aspect/example of what quality time is for you. Breaking it out as a separate one shows how incredibly important it is for/to you.

Aug. 13th, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
Re: Adding To The Mix: Intimacies
I don't agree that co-creation is a subset of quality time.

I suspect you're working from an image of two people working side-by-side in the same room. While that probably could be counted in there, what about two or more people working in different rooms, different buildings, different countries even, all to create a project that they feel is worthwhile? They're not spending the time *together* so I don't think many people would call it quality time, and yet it's still something very special.
The focus on an end-product is the important difference here - quality time as I understand it means it wouldn't matter if there was an end product or an end goal, the being together is the important thing, but to some of us creating something that the world hasn't seen before is an act of love and beauty in and of itself. The draw is the ability to, at the end of the process, sit back and view what you have created - together - with pride, whether that is a building, an event, a political movement, a work of art or even a family.
Aug. 12th, 2010 07:11 pm (UTC)
That list of five is sorely lacking.

Maybe it just speaks of my character, or my particular life circumstances, but why are all the ways of expressing love so sweet-and-cuddly? What happened to "kicking ass that needs to be kicked" - like when I put my foot down and convinced Steven seek help for his alcoholism? Or does Chapman lump all that into "acts of service" along with simple favors like doing laundry and running errands?

And why limit "love" to romantic love? What about the love I feel for my son, which is expressed through creating security, structure, and routine. Or the platonic love I feel for my best friend, which is often expressed through the telling of the unpleasant but necessary truths that my friend refuses to recognize on his own?

And the oh-so-ignored concept of self-love, which I express daily through my take-no-shit attitude and the act of cutting psychic vampires out of my life?
Aug. 12th, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
Actually, Chapman goes on to write other books that discuss "love" in other contexts, such as the love for a parent to child, between siblings, and even between co-workers.

That's why, in spite of the fact that his system is limited to 5, I continue to recommend the book as *one tool among many* in the communication tool box. One need not limit oneself to only 5 languages, as long as one learns the more important lesson, which is that people express love and feel loved in different ways and learning to identify those ways and communicate them to one's loved ones is important in building relationships. Of all kinds.
Aug. 12th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
Aug. 12th, 2010 09:14 pm (UTC)
Actually, his list isn't limited to 5. I've read the book and in each chapter he states that each of the "5" is really just a general cover for lots of different styles of communications that are similar. I like this particular book as long as I tune out the overtly fundamentalist christian overtones. He has some good points and some good exercises in them. One must remember that he is writing to the general public and not those of us who are more in tune with our own feelings and needs as well as those we love.

I also tried listening to his podcasts, tried being the operative word here. Gods but the southern fundamentalism comes through VERY strong.
Aug. 12th, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Heh, I'm in agreement. I had to comment as there were 5 comments!
Aug. 12th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
Why five?
There are five dimensions of personality which gradually arose through mathematical factor analysis of personality profiles; there even were 16 at one point (Cattell's PF16) but further analysis reduced those down to the same Big Five: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits

I imagine there are five love languages because there are five dimensions personality can vary across; the number does not seem arbitrary to me with a psychology background.
Aug. 12th, 2010 10:16 pm (UTC)
The categories of love languages are certainly fuzzy and have overlaps. I like to think of them more as traits that particular expressions of love can have (eg sex can be quality time, touch, and words of affirmation all at the
same time) You should make it into a big Venn Diagram type chart. :-)

If I were to call out categories that are not explicitly addressed by the five love languages, I'd point out:
- Teaching (It contains elements of quality time and acts of service)
- Tough love (eg interventions, getting someone into rehab)
- Therapy (playing the role of therapist for someone as they're going through a difficult time... this isn't quite words of affirmation though it often contains them. Sometimes it's problem-solving or just listening)

Aug. 13th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
Oh man, great point about Teaching!
Aug. 12th, 2010 11:20 pm (UTC)
I've never cottoned to the whole "five love languages" thing, because all of those things (including the ones you mentioned) are important to me as well, though of course some more than others. I think it's just psychobabble designed to sell books, honestly.
Aug. 13th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
There's also Looking. There's nothing more important to my J than looking at him with love. Nothing.
Aug. 13th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
This is an excellent post, really insightful. (Love the comment thread, too)
Aug. 13th, 2010 11:19 pm (UTC)
He's just lumping a lot of things together. He probably doesn't mean that there are 5 ways, it's just his way to structure the huge variety of love expressions. Other structures can be just as valid.

For me, for example, special kinds of conversation are tremendously important, but in his classification it would fall under "quality time", just as sex would fall under physical touch. In order to see if he really got it wrong, we have to know what he did next with the categories, or how he defined the things within.
Dec. 27th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
I think that's a very good point. It's valuable to realize not everyone expresses love the way you do (I don't nest together, and I've just realized recently that's a deal-breaker for a "real" relationship), but there are definitely more than five. Thanks always for starting me thinking again on things I'd once thought about but haven't in a while...
Oct. 20th, 2014 01:16 am (UTC)
"real" relationship
(I don't nest together, and I've just realized recently that's a deal-breaker for a "real" relationship):

I am sorry that is a deal breaker for someone. My primary and I love each other most for *accepting* we work best by not living together. Since everything changes and grows, that may not always be the case, but that is where we are right now...which has allowed other relationships I never saw coming blossom into beautiful equivalencies where *everyone* is nurturing one another and learning unconditional love and acceptance.

I (and the rest of our group) am so grateful for these journal entries and for the book. Like Chapman's "5" books, not everything is dead on for each of us, but the book at least has given us a common language. I am grateful for the book, this site, and all the intelligent and well-thought out responses...so nice to be insulated from knee-jerk reactions.
Mark Young
Jul. 19th, 2019 11:25 am (UTC)
Glad I'm not the only one. I take those 5 Love Language tests and get multiple conflicting answers all the time. I really like the Creating, Tough Love, and Therapy mentioned here.

For me, it's Illumination or Bridging as I call it. When you share experiences and inform each other to grow in knowledge. We humans garner so much from this form of communication of story telling and information that animals don't have. For example, being vulnerable about your past or dark secrets. You talk about your flaws and mistakes. This form of honesty is extremely important for some people, for others it's completely irrelevant. Some guard that stuff very closely.

It also extends to storytelling. I am able to connect with my partner, as well as friends, by talking about experiences I had or heard from my family, vice versa. This creates a sense of familiarity, understanding, kinship, and interconnected sympathy. This way, the two individuals create a bridge from one realm of experiences to another.

But also helping one another with knowledge. I love her, so I will warn her about potential pitfalls and problems ahead of the way. Sacrificing time and energy to create understanding of a situation. Doing everything I can to make sure she is equipped with the best information for success and happiness to be as accessable as possible.

the other thing I want to stress is that I felt the book was informative but it didn't have a lot of practical application. Even for the couples I know that use it, it's mostly been a point for couples to better understand each other and then they have to find their own way. But not everyone has the same Love Language dynamic; it's not linear. We have 'easy everyday love' and 'hardcore I'm really trying' love.

For example, I dislike doing Acts if Service most the time. But I'm perfectly ok with Gifts and I love paying money for meals as well as receiving those. But you know I Love you a lot when I'm picking up extra chores or performing manual labor in your name. Because I'm doing something I perceive as a hated act and sacrificing myself to do it. I also see this with my cousin. He's perfectly okay with Acts of Service, but he's a miser and strongly holds onto his money and almost never gives it up for anyone else. So when he pays money in your stead for something, he's personally going above and beyond for you.


I actually found the book and concepts lacking fundamental Christian value. I don't know where people get this. Fundamental Christianity is about the highest form of Love of all... Self-sacrifice for nothing in return. Agape is another form of Love. You don't enter a relationship to receive something or push pull or take some or feel entitled. It's completely one directional.

A relationship is 100% perfect if both people are giving 100% while expecting 0% back. It cannot falter in those circumstances. Not this failing 50-50 selfish garbage being thrown around. Obviously being human means 100% at all times is impossible but that's going to be the source if the most successful relationships.

If it's a 50-50 pull, it means you only selfishly put in half in return for half. But what if your partner can no longer provide that? What if they become bedridden in a coma, or forget who you are, or become mentally challenged and wheelchair bound? The wrong feeling of modern entitlement would not support this.

By the same token, when things get hard in a relationship and the other person somehow hurts you or cheats on you. Maybe they feel they're not getting enough and go somewhere else. You feel the need to be heard and you get into an argument.

That doesn't exist in a relationship built on Agape, because it's 100% for 0. My girlfriend can do all this, I still Love her.

I'm not just willing to die, but I'm willing to sacrifice my togetherness with my girlfriend for her well-being. I constantly think that she would be happier and better off with someone else and I approve of her leaving me in an overwhelming suicidal depression to be with someone else who can do better to provide for her. And I'll support her 100% in that, at the expense of my own health and well-being.

Edited at 2019-07-19 11:40 am (UTC)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )