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When readers have discussed love languages in the comments over the years, we’ve definitely seen a split. Most who have mentioned them recommend using the concept within a relationship to help understand each other better. Others say the concept of five love languages has dubious origins or that it can be weaponized within relationships.
A Washington Post story [gift link] in this week’s Brain Matters column has an attention-grabbing headline: “Does your ‘love language’ really matter? Scientists are skeptical.” It was written by a neuroscientist turned science journalist, so it definitely has more of a factual focus than most articles about the topic.
First off, though, in case not everyone is familiar with the love languages philosophy, here’s a rundown. Gary Chapman, a Baptist pastor who had counseled couples for years (though not as a therapist), published The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts in 1992. It has sold more than 20 million copies.
Chapman wrote that each of us has a primary and secondary love language and that partners need to learn each other’s languages and act accordingly. (If you’re interested, here’s the quiz to discover yours.)
Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post story:
This month, a paper published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science reviewed the scientific literature and concluded that core assumptions about love languages stand upon shaky ground unsupported by empirical evidence.
The article shares the researchers’ findings: (1) “People don’t really have a primary love language.” (2) “There are more than five love languages.” (3) “Sharing the same love language may not improve your relationship.” (Note: The book emphasizes identifying each other’s love language and learning to “speak” it, not that partners need to share one.)
A few more excerpts are below:
One key concern about love language advice is that it could be interpreted as suggesting the unhappy partner change or compromise their own needs rather than finding common ground.
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John Gottman, one of the pioneers of scientific relationship research, is also skeptical that learning your partner’s love language is a key to relationship happiness. “My general conclusion is that these dimensions are not very distinct conceptually, nor are they very important in terms of accounting for variation in marital happiness and sexual satisfaction,”
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[Psychologist Emily] Impett said she hopes the research challenging love languages can start “conversations between partners about the importance of all kinds of needs, maybe opens up conversation of there being other idiosyncratic needs that people have in relationships.”
Readers, do tell! Do you think the love languages concept can be helpful in relationships? Has it improved your own? Have you read the book?
Stock photo via Stencil.